Just read a menu of a very common restaurant or take a tour of the supermarket shelves to realize how much vegetarian and vegan choices at the table are widespread. More and more people are giving up on the consumption of meat and fish for ethical reasons, but also for health reasons.
This attitude could be attributed to the growing awareness of vegetarianism and veganism around the world. According to Eurispes 2022 data, recently published, as many as 6.7% of Italians eat neither meat nor fish. Of these, 5.4% are vegetarians, while 1.3% declare themselves vegan. But what is the difference between vegetarians and vegans? Here’s what you need to know and the ad hoc tips to put balanced menus on the table.
What is the difference between vegetarian and vegan?
Vegetarians do not eat meat and fish, but in some cases they consume eggs, milk and derivatives (lacto-ovo vegetarians), in other cases they also exclude eggs (lacto-vegetarians) and in other cases they still eat them, but do not consume milk and its derivatives (ovo-vegetarian).
Vegans, on the other hand, eat only foods of plant origin, therefore cereals, vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, legumes and their derivatives, excluding any food of animal origin, including honey.
Tips useful for everyone
“Those who choose not to eat meat at the table must pay attention to any iron deficiencies, especially the assimilable one, also known as heme iron, whose deficiency favors weakness, states of fatigue and problems of anemia, which affects to a greater extent women because of the losses with the cycle », says Maria Rosaria Baldi, nutritionist biologist. Iron is a key mineral for the proper functioning of the body. «It participates in the formation of hemoglobin, which is used to transport oxygen to the muscles. To increase stocks as well as an ad hoc supplement, you can combine foods rich in vitamin C in the menus, for example kiwis, lemon juice with classic salads or legumes that contain good amounts of non-heme iron, not easily assimilated. On the other hand, the consumption of foods rich in tannins, which hinder their absorption, such as tea, coffee, grapes, but also dried fruit, including walnuts and almonds, should be avoided in the same meal ».
Ad hoc advice for vegetarians
Vegetarians who therefore do not eat meat and fish, but consume milk, eggs and cheese should try to vary their diet as much as possible. «The risk that is often run is to take excessive quantities of saturated fats present for example in cheeses and dairy products, which in excess increase the cardiovascular risk and overweight. One way to replace them in the menus is to include foods such as legumes, which are a source of protein, but which have zero cholesterol and fat, three times a week ». For those who are lacto-vegetarians, the exclusion of even eggs often causes a deficiency of vitamin B12, known as coblamine. “This vitamin present in abundance in the liver and meat, but also in lower percentages in some fish products, such as oily fish and mussels, is involved in the front line in the processes of metabolism, in mood regulation and in the functioning of the nervous system. To avoid shortcomings in this case as well as resorting to a specific supplement when necessary, it is possible to opt for soy and its derivatives, which contain good quantities »».
Tips for vegans
Those who choose not to eat any type of food of animal origin must also pay particular attention to the risk of protein, fat and calcium deficiencies. «To stay away from protein deficits, it is necessary to enrich the menus with foods that are a source of essential amino acids such as soy and its derivatives and to combine legumes with cereals. For example, chickpeas, as well as beans or lentils, combined in the same meal with pasta or rice provide a good protein intake ». Then we must pay attention to the intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, essential for the proper functioning of the body, of which fish is an excellent source. «They have a protective action for the brain, for the immune system and for the cardiovascular system. To make sure it is essential, not eating fish, take them through supplements and menus with foods rich in their precursors, including alpha-linoleic acid, of which algae, nuts, but also oilseeds and avocado are a source. Another useful strategy is to bring vegetables such as spinach and black cabbage to the table more often, which are also excellent sources ». And finally, pay attention to calcium, which is essential not only for bones and their health. «This mineral is also involved in muscle contraction and participates in the production of hormones that regulate mood. By not eating milk or derivatives, those who are vegan must include foods such as rocket, tofu, almonds, but also dried apricots, which are good sources, more often in their menus. But in certain conditions such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause and in general, when the diet is not enough,