Which diet(s) to choose?

By nature omnivorous (from the Latin omni meaning "everything" and vore meaning "swallow, eat"), humans can eat foods of both animal and vegetable origin. Within this broad field there are myriad diets, and while it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between them all, let’s give it a try!

A term has emerged to describe a new and rapidly growing approach to food in society: flexitarianism. For reasons that may be ethical*, ecological* or health-related, flexitarians aim to reduce the amount of meat and fish the eat, without giving them up entirely. In other words, meat and fish are only occasionally present in their meals.

A person who follows a vegetarian diet refrains from eating animal flesh: meat, fish or shellfish (oysters, for example). On the other hand, this does not prevent them from consuming certain products derived from animals, such as eggs or milk.

A semi-vegetarian diet is one that does not contain any red meat, but may occasionally feature poultry and fish, or indeed exclusively fish. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products, but not eggs. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but exclude dairy products, while lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume eggs and dairy products!

Another diet quite close to vegetarianism is the pescatarian diet. Like vegetarians, pescatarians exclude meat but tolerate fish and seafood.

The so-called vegetalian diet excludes any food derived from animals: meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products and even honey. Vegetalians therefore eat only foods from the plant world. But to avoid nutritional deficiencies*, their diet must be sufficiently varied.

Vegans, as opposed to vegetalians, extend their dietary convictions to their daily lives and reject all forms of violence against animals. They do not wear leather or wool and abhor animal-tested products, such as cosmetics or detergent.

In addition to the diets above, there are people who, by choice or for medical reasons (intolerance, sensitivity, allergies), avoid certain products like lactose or gluten (you will have surely seen items labelled “lactose-free” or “gluten-free”). Since they find these elements difficult or even impossible to digest, they benefit from adapting their diets accordingly.

Warning: When you’re still growing but want to follow a specific “meat free” diet, you should make sure you get enough vegetable proteins, iron and vitamins to replace those present in meat. Otherwise growth may be slowed or disrupted. Veganism is not recommended at all for children and adolescents due to possible deficiencies.

Your choice of diet is not trivial: it has an impact on your health and on the environment.

To promote healthy eating, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating less red meat and processed meats (after several decades of excessive consumption.

Today, specialists such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concur that meat production has more impact on the environment than that of other foods, particularly in terms of water consumption and pollution. The figures speak for themselves: it takes 120 times more water to produce 1 kg of beef than to produce 1 kg of potatoes. That’s 13,500 litres of water per kilo of meat! Diet also impacts biodiversity, as this video from FAO explains.

Lexicon

Dietary deficiency*: Absence or insufficiency of nutritional elements in the body.

Ethics*: Behaviour that is considered good for oneself, for others and for the world.

Ecological*: Aiming to minimize the negative impact of human activities on the environment.