GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Many Americans are seeming to gravitate towards a lifestyle of being a vegan or vegetarian. Some think they will gain a healthier lifestyle out of it, or it will benefit animals and the environment.
However, a recent study conducted by the University of Georgia proposes that having a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle may not be as beneficial as some might think.
The research found that eating a diet that consists of plants and local humanely raised animals may help the environment and safeguard human rights. Amy Trauger, author of the study and a professor at the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences said, “there’s nothing sustainable about this plant-based model. It is really just a lot of green washing. You really don’t have to look very far to see how problematic this narrative is.”
In 2019, WebMD also suggested while having a vegan or vegetarian diet is beneficial, it could have risks to someone’s health.
Some believe that if Americans were to eat less meat, the quality of the environment would improve. Although, UGA found that eating animals is not the problem, it’s how meat production is managed.
The university used the example of how one pig can produce more than 150 pounds of suitable meat such as pork and 20 pounds of bacon. The pig is raised outside, in a pasture and in the woods. The diet of the pig would comprise of tree nuts, surplus milk and vegetable waste. The study says that pig will promote to the soil, forest and ecosystem around it. When the pig needs to be harvested, the processing plant avoids using plastics. The processing plant also has highly paid professionals to aid the short supply chain and keep the supply chain transparent.
Trauger stated that one pig could feed a family for months. She also said, “what is left in the wake of that pig’s life is soil restoration, small business health and a short supply chain that is traceable. There’s definitely an argument for reducing the amount of meat that we eat, but we can get a good deal of our protein needs met with a small amount of animal products like meat or eggs. Meanwhile things like avocados, coconuts, cacao and coffee are plant-based, but are harsh on the environment.
UGA adds that many soybean products are not grown in the U.S. A large portion is grown in India, which has led to deforestation.
“And the pollution and environmental impact from transporting soybeans hundreds of thousands of miles to the U.S is its own environmental catastrophe,” a UGA report said.
There have also been reports of human rights violations associated with some of the world’s palm oil industry, the UGA report added.
Trauger added that, “People prioritize the lives of livestock and domesticated farm animals over the lives of the people who grow palm oil or soybeans. Corporations love to market to people that eating this way will make a difference in the world, but it won’t.”
The Vegetarian Resource Group says a vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or poultry. A vegan has a much stricter diet than a vegetarian. While vegans still do not eat meat, fish or poultry, they also will not eat milk, eggs and cheese. They do not use animal products such as honey, wool, silk or leather. According to WebMD, a vegetarian diet can lower the risk of heart disease by 13 percent.
Dr. Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said, “For generally healthy people, I don’t see any reason that eating a vegetarian diet is risky to health. Sun’s research indicates it is the quality of the plant-based food that gives positive health benefits. However, Sun says there are downsides to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
An observational study was done in the United Kingdom looking at the commonality of strokes in vegetarians and vegans. Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said to treat this study with discernment. The definition of what a vegetarian or vegan is in the U.K. may be different than what Americans say a vegetarian or vegan is. Additionally, vegetarians or vegans in the U.K may eat differently than vegetarian or vegan in the United States. Researchers in the U.K. followed 48,000 men and women that had no known medical account of heart disease or stroke for the last 18 years. They found that vegetarians and vegans had a 20 percent higher chance of stroke than someone who eats meat.
Another authority found that vegetarian diets can result in a low amount of choline in the body. Choline is vital for brain health, and it cannot be produced in the body alone. Choline is found in meat and poultry. Weinandy recommends, “Eating a few eggs a week can really help boost intake for those who include eggs in what they eat.” If someone does not want to eat eggs, she also advises taking a supplement especially for women who are of childbearing age. The supplement should be USP certified, in turn means that an impartial business has authenticated the ingredients and amounts. Vegetarian and vegan diets may also lead to hair loss. A report found that vegetarian and vegan diets have a lack of iron, vitamin B and zinc. These three components are crucial to hair growth.
Sun says, while iron is present in foods like dried beans and dark green vegetables, it is hard get the proper amount of iron from a strict vegetarian diet. He says that taking iron supplements should help provide iron in a vegetarian or vegan’s diet.