From a young age, they conditioned us to consume animal products. It is perceived as usual to have meat, chicken, or fish on our plate, cheese on our toast or cereal with milk or yogurt.

However, some people choose to avoid consuming products derived from animals, whether for animal welfare, health, or the environment.  A vegetarian or vegan diet is a ‘hot topic’ these past years, while it has been around for many centuries.

Environmental benefits

Animal products (especially meats) are more harmful to the environment than plant-based products. The environmental impact is higher due to the greenhouse gas emissions produced and the extra energy, land, and water needed. For example, in the Netherlands, meat and dairy are responsible for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions. Consuming fewer animal products and replacing this with plant-based products can have a substantial effect on the environment.

Health benefits

Many consider a vegetarian/vegan meal or diet healthier than one that directly contains animal products. However, this is not always the case. Yes, consuming less (red) meat and dairy has shown to have positive effects on health and risk for cardiovascular diseases. However, to fully enjoy these benefits, it is not merely about taking away animal products from the diet, but also about adding wholesome products.

While vegetarians may choose to consume eggs and dairy products and pescatarians can still benefit from the nutrients from fish. Vegans need to pay extra attention to consuming products that contain lots of protein, calcium, iron, and B vitamins.

For a wholesome vegetarian/vegan diet and to prevent nutrient deficiencies, the following products can be incorporated;

  • Whole grain products (e.g., whole grain bread, cereals, granola, rice, pasta or quinoa),
  • Fruits & vegetables (a reasonable variation in type and colors, but especially green leafy vegetables),
  • Nuts and seeds (such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin- and chia seeds),
  • Legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney-/red
  • -/black-/soy beans),
  • Meat substitutes (such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan),
  • Fortified plant-based milk or yogurt (such as soy- or almond milk with added calcium and vitamins),
  • Supplementation of vitamin B12 and D may be needed.

As the diet has gained popularity, we can find more vegetarian/vegan products in the supermarkets, which makes it easier for people to substitute animal products. But be aware of the highly processed products! E.g., some ready-to-eat meat substitutes may contain high amounts of salt. And vegan ice cream is still ice cream, high in calories, (bad) fats and sugar!

 

A diet containing more plant-based and fewer animal products may indeed be the new norm for the well-being of the animals, our health, and the environment. However, not everybody needs to adopt a vegan diet to achieve these benefits. Starting with a meatless day every week or a flexitarian diet may already have a positive effect!

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