Omnivore vs. Vegetarian
With enough knowledge and planning, it is possible for omnivores and vegetarians to have diets that are equal in nutritional quality.
A diet that promotes health and longevity contains what is needed for daily tasks, such as providing essential nutrients, replenishing cells and providing energy, without clogging arteries or promoting cancer.
Vegetarians are often leaner and have better lipid profiles than omnivores. The diet typically includes plenty of fiber and antioxidants, which are considered to be beneficial to human health.
There are some concerns that go along with the diet. Vegetarians need to include a variety of plant foods every day for high quality protein, such as beans with rice. Vitamin B-12 is naturally found in animal products, but not in plant foods.
Vegetarians need to be mindful of including B-12 fortified products, such as soy or almond milk. Non-dairy calcium sources should be consumed daily, like dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and legumes.
Fortunately, a variety of calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice and soy milk, are now on the market.
Omnivores’ diets include meat, which is a good source of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12. Fish contains health promoting omega 3 fatty acids. Dairy foods are nutritious, on average supplying 70 percent of our calcium and 18 percent of our protein, and a good source of vitamin D. The body needs calcium for numerous functions, including building and maintaining bones and teeth, blood clotting, transmitting nerve impulses and regulation of the heart beat.
On the down side, full fat dairy products contain high amounts of saturated fat, the type that has been associated with increasing blood cholesterol levels. High intakes of dairy foods are linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer in some studies, but not in others. At this point, there are too few studies to draw firm conclusions. The same holds true for ovarian cancer. Researchers found an increased risk only when they looked at women who consumed, at least, two and a half cups of milk per day, and the link was very weak.
When omnivores choose protein-rich foods, they need to pay attention to what comes along with the protein.
The Harvard School of Public Health recommends limiting dairy intake to two low fat servings per day. They recommend that red meat (beef, pork, lamb) be limited to no more than two 3-ounce servings a week, if consumed at all. Processed meats, like bacon, hot dogs and deli meats, should be skipped, since they are linked even more strongly to cancer, heart disease and diabetes risk.
To summarize, consuming a pseudo-vegetarian diet may be the easiest way to get what your body needs for ultimate functioning. Choose a variety of healthy protein, including nuts, beans, seafood and poultry to make sure you get important nutrients without promoting chronic disease.
Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. To contact Margie, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 264-3061.