Vegetarian and vegan diets do not involve the intake of animal protein. With vegetarian diets, the restriction applies only to the consumption of meat and fish, while with the vegan diet, the consumption of any animal-derived food is avoided, which also eliminates foods such as eggs and dairy products.
In recent years, more and more people have adopted vegan or vegetarian diets. There are many reasons for this, including beliefs surrounding animal exploitation and the impacts of intensive livestock farms on the global climate.
To shed some light on the topic, we interviewed Alessandra Cremonini
, a Biologist Nutritionist and Naturopath with a Master's degree in vegetarian and vegan nutrition and dietetics and PNEI Master's degree in neo-alchemic rebalancing.
What are the pros and cons of a vegan diet?
A vegan diet can be healthy and provide benefits if well planned and balanced, but there are also some risks of nutritional deficiencies to consider.
- Nutrient richness: a well-balanced vegan diet can provide a large amount of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. For example, fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, while whole grains, legumes, and nuts are good sources of protein and carbohydrates.
- Some studies have shown that there is a decreased risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
- Nutritional deficiencies: an improperly planned vegan diet can lead to deficiencies in some essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Difficulties in choosing foods: vegans may have difficulty choosing foods that provide all the nutrients they need, especially children and adolescents. Therefore, nutrition education, from the choice of ingredients to their preparation, is necessary to have as balanced and balanced a diet as possible.
- Social isolation: depending on the contexts in which they grow up, young people who follow a vegan diet may find it difficult to socialize with friends, or they may encounter resistance with their respective family, which does not share the child's food choices.
"About the first con, I think a clarification should be made," adds the nutritionist. "Vitamin B12, which is essential for nervous system health and red blood cell formation, is synthesised by micro-bacteria in the soil and then taken up by grazing livestock. Nowadays, where livestock farms do not allow animals to feed directly from the soil, their diets are artificially fortified with vitamin B12. Several cases of iron, vitamin D and B12 deficiencies have been found in meat-eaters in my career. I think this is mainly due to how you manage your diet, where vegans generally show more thoughtfulness and care, but also the efficiency of the gastro enteric system for example. So it is crucial that you take in, through supplements, nutrients that the diet does not offer in sufficient quantities."
How does the diet of a teenager who chooses a vegan diet change?
It is crucial that the vegan diet evolves with development. During adolescence, for example, the body is going through a period of rapid growth, and nutritional needs increase. Here are some tips for adapting a vegan diet to the various stages of development.
- During puberty: adolescents need more protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 to support growth and development of muscles and bones. It is important for vegan adolescents to include adequate sources of these nutrients in their diet, such as legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds, and products fortified with vitamin B12.
- Between the ages of 14 and 19: Teens need more energy to support their increased physical activity. It is important that vegan adolescents include adequate sources of complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, to ensure that they have enough energy to cope with daily activities.
- Between the ages of 20 and 30: Those under 30 need a balanced diet to maintain health and prevent chronic diseases. It is important for young vegans to include adequate sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and other essential nutrients in their diet.
Even for young children, it is important that the vegan diet is well planned and balanced to ensure that they receive all the nutrients they need for healthy growth and proper development.
Dr. Cremonini concluded the interview with the following statement, "The main problem I often encounter is the lack of diet planning. Both parents and young people should be followed at least in the beginning by a doctor or nutritionist
to lay the foundation for a balanced diet with the right supplements.”
From the interview with the nutritionist, therefore, it emerges that a well-planned and balanced vegan diet based on gender, age and habits is sustainable for anyone, with the right attention. However, it should be pointed out that there are individuals who need more attention, such as very young children in weaning, people taking medications or with assimilation problems, pregnant women or athletic.