In recent years, vegetarian and vegan diets have become more and more known and recognized. It is estimated that around 5% of the world's population have adopted this type of diet, especially among the younger generations in Europe, for health or environmental reasons. Elliot Page, Joaquin Phoenix and Greta Thunberg are all vegan celebrities. Spain is a country that has very positive attitudes towards vegetarians and vegetarian diets, especially in terms of taste and variety. But what exactly are the consequences of such diets?
A recent study by Complementary Medicine Research brings together researchers from around the world to synthesize the knowledge and findings on this issue.
Harmful effects of animal products
It has been proven that diet plays a major role in the health of individuals. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are on the rise in industrialized countries. Other studies tend to show that hypertension, dementia and depression are also linked to diet, hence the importance of studying the different diets and their consequences. Among the foods suspected of playing a role, cow's milk, which is a major dietary component in the Western population, increasingly appears to be linked to type 2 diabetes.
In addition, in the case of meat, food animals are exposed to diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Salmonellosis or campylobacteriosis are examples of bacterias transmitted to humans through food.
There seems to be little doubt that a plant-based diet is healthier. These diets are consistently associated with a decrease in the number and severity of heart attacks. Among the many possibilities, the Mediterranean diet has proven itself. It consists of an abundance of fruits and vegetables, lots of bread and other grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, with olive oil as the main source of fat. It also includes moderate amounts of dairy products, small amounts of fish and poultry, and even smaller amounts of red meat and wine. This dietary pattern is associated with very slow brain aging, and a lower risk of cognitive dementia.
But what about iron deficiency? In proteins? Researcher François Mariotti of the Institute of Life, Food and Environmental Technology points out that protein-rich foods, such as legumes, nuts and seeds, are by far sufficient to achieve a correct protein level. In addition, a vegan diet has the potential to also meet the energy and nutrient needs of younger children. Some research advocates the use of a checklist to verify the intake of all necessary nutrients.
A place in medicine
In general, nutritional therapy is becoming an increasingly important part of modern medicine. This is not surprising, since an optimized plant-based diet reduces organ weight and leads to a significant remission rate for diabetes. In Germany, the public insurer BKK ProVita, the German Institute of Hospitals and the consulting company a'verdis offer a guide for the implementation of a plant-based diet in hospitals and other health care facilities, with the long-term goal of enabling all hospitals in Germany to offer such a diet, both for staff and for patients. Such a menu is also planned in the canteen of the Olympic Center in Berlin.
The medical breakthrough on the causes and consequences of nutrition makes sense when you consider that the WHO recognizes that nutrition-related chronic diseases are the main sources of co-morbidities, mortality and high healthcare costs worldwide. A good investment in nutrition could save 3.7 million lives by 2025. That's why it's more than urgent to train health professionals on the issue.
"A good investment could save 3.7 million lives by 2025"
However, some researchers speak of eating disorders: some people take it as a "must" to eat only healthy food and refuse anything unhealthy, which may be associated with an eating disorder. Studies are underway to investigate the conditions of this compulsive focus. Moral beliefs, fear of loss of control, compulsive personality type, perfectionist demands, sense of belonging? Only the future can answer these.
In any case, the global food system has important direct and indirect impacts on human health, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. It is one of the main drivers of global environmental change, including climate change, land degradation, biodiversity and habitat loss, and deforestation, which in turn have significant impacts on human health. In addition, food production has a direct impact on the well-being of billions of farmed and wild animals. Hence the importance of the way we eat.