Allow me to start by suggesting that vegans aren’t healthier than meat eaters, and that meat eaters aren’t as healthy as vegetarians, and that vegetarians aren’t as healthy as vegans.
If you felt as though the above statement was lacking in common sense than hopefully I've made a point of illustrating that dietary labels don't win or lose like a game of rock-paper-scissors. As a nutritionist, such labels tell me little about what a person DOES eat!
I’ve known vegans that live off the staples of bagels, chips, pickles and coffee, and I’ve known “meat eaters” who enjoy a colourful variety of vegetables, whole grains and legumes at every meal. Whichever way you swing, a healthy diet should consist of a minimum of 80-85% plant-based foods. Let’s face it; healthy diets are defined by more than the simple presence of fish, yogurt and eggs on the dinner plate.
As a nutritionist, I’m not going to talk philosophy of the ethics and morals of one diet or another but from a scientific standpoint, labels like “vegan”, “vegetarian”, “fruitarian”, “raw-ist” and “omnivore” can be roadblocks to healthy eating when someone tries to cling to the label by living within its confines. A label-free healthy diet should consist of a wide variety of beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, vegetables (including the green ones), fruits, fortified foods and healthy oils. A plant-rich diet will provide a bounty of fibre, vitamins, minerals, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, clean protein and disease-fighting phytochemicals. In this way, the vast majority of nutrients required by our bodies can be obtained through plant-based foods entirely; but not without a few small exceptions.
While the health advantages of animal products are indeed few, they undoubtedly fill gaps that are difficult to achieve through plant diets alone. Vitamin B12, vitamin D, long chain omega 3 fats such as EPA and DHA, and occasionally iron and protein are more difficult to obtain through vegan-friendly sources for strong scientifically-evident reasons. Healthy animal products such as chicken, turkey, eggs and fish are able to fulfill those deficiencies when eaten in moderation, and preferably those choices should emphasize organic and/or antibiotic and hormone-free varieties.
However as nutritional science evolves, vegan and vegetarian solutions to these nutrient deficient problems such as fortified foods, and supplements such as vitamin B12 lozenges, vitamin D drops and algae based omega 3 oils have made eating a healthy and complete vegan diet a reality for informed eaters. Eaters of all types should also remember to focus on whole foods, and minimize sweeteners, preservatives, artificial chemicals and preservatives. At the end of the day, a properly planned diet regardless of label will yield healthy results.
For the record my family normally eats like “raw – foodish vegetarians who focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes; occasionally eating organic, free range animal products from time to time.” (except on cheat days - let's be realistic). Is there a label for that?