I was enrolled in dance at a very young age, and I used to dream about being a ballerina when I grew up. The problem was that I didn’t LOOK like how a ballerina is supposed to look. I was a tubby wubby kid that grew up into a tubby wubby adult. My parents were never particularly health conscious, so naturally I wasn’t either. By the time I moved out on my own in my early 20s I didn’t know anything about nutrition, and heck, I barely knew how to cook for myself. My diet consisted of a lot of cereals, ramen, frozen TV dinners, and toaster pastries. Even when I did start learning how to cook it was things like pancakes and spaghetti. I had the stereotypical idea of what health and nutrition was supposed to look like in America. I kinda-sorta watched what I ate but not really (because calories are all the same, right?), and I had a gym membership where I would go in and walk on the treadmill for 20 mins then I would leave frustrated when there weren’t any changes to my physique. Obviously, I had a lot to learn!
Over the next several years I continued to expand on my cooking ability, tried and failed every fad diet in the book attempting to find something that worked for me, and trying any type of exercise looking for something that I didn’t hate. It wasn’t until my mid-20s when I finally started doing my own research on health and nutrition focusing on how to fuel the body rather than just weight loss. Along the way I investigated the nutritional differences between meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans trying to find the diet that is the most beneficial.
Meat eaters: consumes meats, fish, dairy, and eggs.
Fish eaters: consumes fish but no meats.
Vegetarian: consumes eggs and dairy products, but no meat or fish.
Vegan: does not consume meat, fish, eggs, or dairy.
Well, I suppose it’s based on what your intentions are. My intentions when researching diets comes down to reducing inflammation in the entire body. We all know that chronic inflammation is bad and can cause a whole slew of problems later in life. More specifically, some of the most preventable conditions that are directly related to diet are heart disease and stroke. So, how can one fuel themselves to avoid these chronic conditions?
It should come as no surprise that fish eaters and vegetarians show lower rates of ischemic heart disease when compared to meat eaters. And that makes sense because a diet high in saturated fat (i.e. animal fat) leads to atherosclerosis [the buildup of fats and cholesterol in the artery walls] which can restrict blood flow to the coronary arteries causing heart disease. However, vegetarians (including vegans) had a significantly higher rate of hemorrhagic (ruptured blood vessel) stroke compared to meat eaters, and a higher overall rate of total stroke. Now why is that? What’s missing from a vegetarian diet that would increase the risks of hemorrhagic stroke?
When prescribing treatment plans to my patients, more often than not I include the use of omega 3 supplementation, otherwise known as fish oils. Omega 3 fatty acids are CRUCIAL with maintaining the integrity of arterial walls. This allows them to keep their elasticity which can better withstand the pressure of blood flow from the heart. The arterial walls are just like a rubber band; they can expand and stretch, and then bounce back to their original shape. That’s what arteries are supposed to do. Now imagine the rubber band is old and dried out…what happens when you try to stretch it? It doesn’t return to it’s original shape as nicely and it loses a majority of its tension. Then stretch it one too many times and what eventually happens? The rubber band breaks. When an artery breaks, we have an emergency situation on our hands and you’re headed straight to the hospital! Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. So, it makes sense that vegetarians that include fish in their diet have more omega-3's in their system and show a lower rate of hemorrhagic stroke. Helping to prevent heart disease and stroke are just a couple of the many benefits of incorporating healthy fats in our diets!
Keeping that in mind, I’ll ask the question again; what type of diet is the “best?” The best answer I can come up with in a single blog is moderation. The basis of one’s diet should be plant-heavy incorporating veggies and fruits of all colors of the rainbow with the occasional oily fish and lean meat for the omega 3’s and proteins, respectively. Everything else can be enjoyed in moderation! So go forth and eat! Let me know how I can help with your diet questions!
Tong, Tammy Y. N., et al. “Risks of Ischaemic Heart Disease and Stroke in Meat Eaters, Fish Eaters, and Vegetarians over 18 Years of Follow-up: Results from the Prospective EPIC-Oxford Study.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31484644/.