What is the difference between Vegan and Vegetarian?
Vegan diet philosophy excludes all animal based products (meat, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy). Some people following a vegan diet philosophy even avoid honey.
Vegetarian diet choices exclude all animal products, but include animal produced foods such as eggs and dairy (which is what we call ovo & lacto respectfully).
What is the benefit to me?
With an increasing amount of focus on climate change and our environment vegan and vegetarian diets certainly leave a smaller carbon footprint through their reduced impact on production & agriculture.
In terms of health, vegan and vegetarian diets are typically lower in total and saturated fat and higher in dietary fibre (from all those vegetables and fruits). However, being 'vegan' or 'vegetarian' does not guarantee someone is eating 'healthier' .
So vegetarians eat more vegetables?
You would think so right? Unfortunately this is not always the case. Often there continues to be a low intake of fruit and vegetables and a dramatically higher intake of carbohydrates (such as mushroom risotto, hot chips or spaghetti napolitana). Mammals (including humans) instinctively eat to the point at which we we have consumed enough protein and; unless well balanced; adequate protein can be tricky on vegan (and to a lesser extent vegetarian) diets, thus increasing portion size consumed.
Is there any risk to my health?
Mostly a well balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is very healthy, although the key is well balanced. On a vegan diet getting enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamin B12 is very tricky (B12 typically needs to be supplemented). The key is to focus on plant based proteins (legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy (milk, tofu, cheese) products) and ensure some at EACH MEAL. Specifically legumes/lentils, cashews and amaranth (it's a grain) are key sources of iron for vegetarians/vegans (key particularly for women). A squeeze of lemon juice should always be added to meals to increase absorption of iron from your digestive tract. You should always check the calcium content of your non-dairy milks to ensure it at least matches dairy milk at 300mg/250ml serve.
Vegetarian diets are much easier to balance (with eggs and dairy providing more protein, B12 and calcium options), however iron is still tricky (particularly for women who have a higher need for iron than men).
What is pescetarian?
Pescetarian eating is choosing to avoid meat and poultry but continuing to eat fish and seafood. This strategy adds in a lot more flexibility (particularly when eating out) without the carbon footprint from land based livestock.
What is flexitarian?
This is the strategy we like the most. Flexitarian philosophy (otherwise called 'casual vegetarian') is when people mostly chose vegetarian choices (with a high intake of legumes, lentils, tofu and nuts), however are accepting and happy to consume chicken, fish or meat occasionally.
We like this option because it promotes plant based diets, while still being 'flexible' enough to manage social situations (like family BBQ or eating out). It also is more of a choice than a 'rule' that is often attached to vegan/vegetarian diets.
Are all milks created equal?
You have probably noticed an explosion of choice in the milk section of your supermarket, particularly on the shelf. With increasing numbers of consumers choosing vegan lifestyles, and the perception that non-dairy milks are 'healthier' a whole new market has opened up for manufacturers.
Firstly lets just clarify, all milk is nutritious and beneficial to your body. Dairy milk is low GI, high in protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphate and Vitamin B12. Making it naturally the most nutritious (providing close to 10g protein and 300mg calcium per 250ml serve) of all the milks. There is a myth that 'skim milk contains higher amounts of sugar', or that 'when they take out fat they replace it with sugar'. This is completely incorrect. Skim milk does contain minute amounts of increased sugar (0.5g/250ml serve - so less than 1/10 teaspoon), due to the very small concentration that occurs when the fat is removed. This 0.5g is largely insignificant when looking at your entire daily nutritional intake. Given the fat in dairy milk is an animal based fat (and thus predominantly a saturated fat) it can increase cholesterol levels. So if cholesterol is a concern, best to not be a "milk-o-holic. But if you are only drinking milk in your tea it really won't make that much difference which milk you choose if you are not drinking large amounts.
Lactose free milk is a great first place to look if you are concerned milk isn't 'agreeing with your digestion'. It has exactly the same nutrition profile as regular dairy milk with the addition of lactase (the enzyme that breaks the lactose double sugar molecule into single sugar units). Otherwise it is exactly the same and mostly available in full fat, low fat and skim varieties.
Soy is the closest plant based milk that resembles dairy nutrition profile while being naturally lactose free and low Glycaemic Index. It's protein content is almost the same and most soy milks are fortified to 300mg/serve (with some as high as 400mg/serve), although contains no Vitamin B12 (as is all plant based foods do). Soy milks also contain good amounts of isoflavones (which are protective against heart disease and LDL-C (the 'lousy' one). Often people (women) are concerned soy products increase risk of breast cancer, however 2 - 3 serves/day have been shown to lower risk of all cancers (including breast cancer).
Almond or Macadamia Milk
Almond and macadamia milks (and other nut milks) are increasing in popularity with the perception they are 'more healthy'. While they are naturally lactose free and low in saturated fats, they also contain minimal protein (<10% that of dairy and soy milks), calcium and carbohydrates (so provide very little nutrition overall). Most are not currently fortified with extra calcium, although this is changing (so make sure your almond milk contains at least 300mg calcium/serve). It is certainly not suitable for anyone who struggles getting sufficient protein in their diet or are underweight.
Similar to almond milk, rice milk is naturally lactose free and contains very little saturated fat, protein or calcium (unless fortified). However these milks are very high in carbohydrates (mostly double that of dairy milk) so not a great choice for people with PCOS, diabetes (or pre-diabetes), liver disease or wanting to loose weight (plenty of hidden sugars)
Likely the least popular of all the milk alternatives, and very similar to rice milk above with some extra fibre (5g/serve). However, oats are a gluten containing grain and in turn this milk is unsafe for people with coeliac disease.