Vegetarian & Vegan Diets: Health Benefits & Lifestyle Effects Video

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  • 1:38 Health Benefits
  • 3:04 Why Choose This Lifestyle?
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

A vegan diet is a diet made up of only plant-based foods while a vegetarian diet may allow limited animal products. Learn about the health benefits and lifestyle effects of these diets, including a reduced risk of obesity and chronic diseases.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

What do some of the world's largest animals, such as elephants, gorillas and giraffes, have in common with vegetarians? The answer: they all eat a diet composed of mostly plants and green vegetation. So, if a mostly plant-based diet is good enough for some of our planet's most powerful animals, it's not too much of a stretch to consider the fact that this type of diet might have health benefits for humans as well. In this lesson, we will look at some of the health benefits and lifestyle effects for people who follow a vegan diet, which is a diet that contains only plant-based food, and a vegetarian diet, which is a diet that contains mostly plant-based foods, but may allow limited animal products.

Vegan diets are straightforward. They exclude all dairy foods, eggs and other animal products. This means that a vegan would not have a glass of milk and scrambled eggs for breakfast, and they would not put a piece of meat or chicken on their dinner plate. Vegans only eat plant-based foods, which means their diet is completely made up of vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.

With vegetarians, however, there are different diet patterns. Some individuals follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which means they consume milk and eggs within their diet. This is an easy term to remember because lacto means 'milk' and ovo refers to 'egg'. Other individuals consider themselves mostly vegetarian, yet might allow a small amount of seafood or poultry in their diet.

Health Benefits

Regardless of the variations, all of these plant-based diets provide health benefits. One benefit is a lower risk of obesity, which makes sense when you consider that plant-based foods, especially non-starchy vegetables, like salad greens, are very low in calories. Also, vegans and vegetarians take in more fiber, which make their diet more filling on fewer calories.

Another benefit is a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, which can be explained by the fact that plant-based diets are not only lower in total calories, but also calories from saturated fats. Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products, and these fats have been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Additional benefits include a lower risk of diabetes and certain cancers. The reduced risk of these chronic diseases may be partly attributed to the lower body weight and lower intake of saturated fats, but it may also be due to the increased intake of vitamins and minerals, which help promote good health as well as an increased intake of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds that occur naturally in plant-based foods that reduce the risk of chronic disease. There are many different types of phytochemicals, but you might recognize them as the components that give your favorite fruits and vegetables their rich colors. So, it is the phytochemicals that make your colorful bowl of fruit so photogenic.

Why Choose a Vegetarian/Vegan Lifestyle?

Reasons for choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle may seem obvious. With all of the positive health benefits, you might think that a person makes the switch based solely on their desire for improved health. Yet, there are other important considerations that lead people to follow this type of diet.

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