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Vegetarian, Vegan or “Flexitarian”?

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As spring melts into summer and a wider variety of fresh produce arrives in grocery stores and farmer’s markets all over Ontario, it’s tempting to add more fruits and vegetables to your regular diet. But have you ever considered going fully vegetarian or vegan? If so, you’re not alone. Interest in vegan diets is on the rise, according to Google Trends, and 2.5% of Americans identify as vegan.

Part of this increased interest stems from the China Study, based on the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, a 20-year study that evaluated the causes of mortality in 64 rural Chinese counties. The study compared the health impacts of animal- and plant-based diets on populations that were essentially the same. They found a correlation between “Western” diseases and a high concentration of blood cholesterol, which develops after prolonged consumption of animal products like meat, milk, and butter. After publication, the study was endorsed by celebrities like Bill Clinton and Sanjay Gupta. The study was also profiled in a documentary feature film called Forks Over Knives.

But is a vegetarian or vegan diet right for you? Ultimately, you’re the only person who can answer that question. You should always speak with your doctor or a nutritionist before committing to any one diet in particular. A blood test can determine if there are deficiencies in your diet. And keep in mind that if you are menstruating or pregnant, you still need the extra iron that red meat can provide. And just because you’re eating no meat doesn’t mean you’re necessarily eating healthier — remember, donuts are vegan!

Further, there’s no need to completely renounce animal products from your diet unless you truly want to, for ethical or health-related reasons. A “flexitarian” diet, wherein you eat meat and other animal products only infrequently or only on certain days of the week or month, allows you to test out how going meatless makes you feel. As with any change in diet, it’s a good idea to keep a diary or log of all the meals you consume, and whether you notice any change in weight or energy level as a result.