It seems like a new food villain crops up every day. One day processed foods are bad for you, the next it’s sugar, then salt, then red meat.
Eliminating seemingly harmful foods is at the core of many popular diets, like veganism or the paleo diet. But is that really necessary?
“Dietitians usually warn people against diets that exclude certain food groups unless there are medical reasons to avoid them,” says Francesca Simonella, R.D., a clinical dietitian at Harborview Medical Center. “It’s good to think of foods as a variety of options that are all good.”
Nonetheless, there are health benefits to certain ways of eating versus others. If you’re considering trying a new diet—or simply want to change your eating habits—it can be hard to figure out what is right for you. We asked Simonella what about some of the pros and cons of popular diets to help you make an informed decision.
The fine print: All animal products—even things like honey and eggs—are off limits.
The pros: Since vegans don’t eat meat, milk or eggs, they consume less saturated fat—though there may be benefits (or, at least, not much harm) to consuming small amounts of saturated fat, new research shows. Veganism may help lower blood pressure and prevent diabetes development.
The cons: Protein intake can be an issue for vegans, Simonella says. Since vegans don’t eat many conventional sources of protein (like red meat), they should make sure they’re getting enough from other foods, such as soy. It’s also important for vegans to take a vitamin B12 supplement, a nutrient only found naturally in animal products. “It’s not necessarily a problem if vegans consult with dietitians,” Simonella says.
Vegetarian and Pescatarian Diets
The fine print: Vegetarians forego all meat, while pescatarians eat fish, but not read meat or poultry.
The pros: Like veganism, a vegetarian diet can lower someone’s risk for chronic disease. If you’re vegetarian, you likely eat more fruits and vegetables and benefit from all the fiber, vitamins and minerals they contain. Pescatarians may also have a higher intake of healthy fats from fish and lower intake of saturated fat in meats like beef and chicken.
The cons: Vegetarians and pescatarians should make sure they’re getting enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12. In the past, doctors used to think vegetarian diets were lacking in these nutrients, but that can be avoided by sufficient meal planning, Simonella says.