Across the globe, there is a movement of human beings placing themselves lower on the food chain. They're becoming vegan, and in doing so, they abstain from all animal products. Some say it's for animal rights activism, others for health and food safety concerns, and while there are a number of concerns to be dealt with within the meat industry, going green (food-wise, at least) doesn't immediately equate to perfect health.
That's because some vegetarian and vegan foods are just as unhealthy as foods containing animal byproducts, and some are even worse off. "Vegetarian simply means someone who does not consume animal protein, but does not indicate that this person is otherwise consuming a healthy, balanced diet," Shannon Kadlovski, a nutritionist, told Huffington Post Canada. "Processed soy such as tofu is high in estrogens, which can cause hormonal imbalances if consumed in excess ... [white pastas] are heavily processed, fiber-deficient and lead to spikes in blood sugar levels."
A 2014 study in the journal Nutrients titled, "Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet" reveals that going vegan might not be the best possible choice for someone hoping to maintain a nutritionally balanced diet. According to that study, "The most restricted diet, i.e., the vegan diet, had the lowest total energy intake, better fat intake profile, lowest protein and highest dietary fiber intake in contrast to the omnivorous diet."
"Calcium intake was lowest for the vegans and below national dietary recommendations," the study continued. Still, Americans and people around the world are becoming more and more attracted to the vegan lifestyle. As the New York Times reported last year, its proponents have made the diet "glamorous, prosperous, sexy and epidermally beaming with health."
For some people hoping to lose weight or reach peak physical health, abstaining from certain foods might seem like a healthy first step, but it simply is not. "There is an emerging trend in the Free From lifestyler - that is the person who wants to cut something out of their diet for another reason - not because they're allergic to it, but because they feel better when they do it, and they think it might be healthier," food expert Tom Treverton told BBC last year, as Mic previously reported.
Meanwhile, being healthy might not be about abstaining from certain food choices at all — instead, it might be about limiting those unhealthy foods and focusing instead on overall health. "I joke that a big juicy steak is my beauty secret, but seriously, I love red meat," Angelina Jolie was once famously quoted saying, according to Vegan.com. "I was a vegan for a long time, and it nearly killed me. I found I was not getting enough nutrition."
That isn't to say a well-balanced vegan diet won't help someone in the throes of dieting. In fact, there are a number of healthy and tasty vegan meals which provide substantial nutrients and protein. Still, most experts say transitioning toward a healthy lifestyle might not necessarily be about cutting everything you love out of your diet, but instead controlling portion sizes and focusing on moderation and exercise.