Shape it Up

Different People, Different Dietary Lifestyles

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Joy is visiting her good friend, Carol. Waiting for her are fantastic barbecue steaks and chicken alongside several other meat dishes, a tiny bowl of vegetables and some French fries.

Pleasantries aside, Carol notices that Joy is not serving any of the meat dishes she's prepared.

When she asks, she's caught by surprise: Joy tells her that she became vegan two weeks ago.

There's an awkward silence that follows, because for friends who had never shared secrets across their ten year connection, this felt like a betrayal to Joy.

Recent years have brought forth a new wave towards the conversation around dietary lifestyles.

Many people in our side of the world wonder what exactly these dietary lifestyles mean, and which is best suited to them.

A 2018 report states that about 11 % of the world's populations are either vegan or vegetarian. The highest concentration of vegans is in Israel where 5% of their total population lives a vegan lifestyle.

However, the fact remains that the majority of the world's human population is omnivorous and has been that way for centuries.

But what exactly do these terms mean?

Vegan

A vegan is a person who does not eat meat or animal products, and goes the extra mile by not using animal products as well, such as animal skin clothing like leather boots or jackets. Basically, a vegan is a strict vegetarian.

Vegetarian

A person who does not eat meat or fish. Their meals are full of vegetable dishes but sometimes they do eat dairy products as well as eggs.

Usually this Dietary lifestyle is adopted for religious, health or moral reasons.

Meat eater/ Omnivore

Those in this category eat both plants and meat. The majority of people fall in this category.

Historically humans have always killed animals to survive on food including as well as simultaneously developed tastes in various plants.

Kenya's increasingly sensitive conversation about health,  chronic diseases and the contribution of the food we eat, means that  many of us are increasingly exploring new dietary lifestyles to address these challenges.

So it wouldn't be a surprise if you have already come across these definitions while searching for suitable diet option to keep you healthy.

We're not going to go in-depth into the various reasons why people choose these dietary lifestyles but we will explore what studies say some health outcomes.

One very key question is ‘do we really need meat to function’?

We are naturally omnivores, but there is a growing conversation that humans operate at the optimum level when the predominantly vegetarian or vegan.

Physically vegans tend to be leaner.

Omnivores have the highest body mass index (BMI), followed by vegetarians and vegans have the lowest BMI of the three.

Vegans tend to have lower cases of heart disease and stroke as well as vegetarians.

Studies in Finland have shown that vegans are less susceptible to high blood pressure compared to meat eaters and vegetarians.

The problem maybe is not the meat but the quality we consume.

There have been reports in Kenya of contaminated meat or game meat being consumed by unsuspecting citizens.

Possibly, processed meats is the biggest wild card of all: they are associated with higher rates of heart disease.

However meat helps us grow our brains due to its higher protein content. It also helps in bone health and muscle mass.

Plant-based diets offer many great benefits, but they lack vitamin B12 and no plant sources have adequate amounts. So vegans eat fortified foods like soy milk to get this.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also hard to find in vegan diets. This makes a case for supplementing a plant-based diet with a little meat every so often, where Vitamin B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant.

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It's difficult to rule out animal products from daily life. They are almost everywhere:  shoes, belts, food, car seats and many more.

There are cultures you will encounter in the world which are heavily vegetarian or vegan and learning the nuances will prepare you well in how to blend in with them.

Respect and appreciate diversity.  If possible empathize and understand people's choices as opposed to ignorantly sounding them out.

Eat more organic food and avoid processed as much as possible.

There's always a middle ground and we can all co-exist where some of us thrive on nyama choma, sukuma wiki or eggs.

So the next time you are having guests over, consider that some of them might be more inclined towards plant-based food while others might be inclined towards a meat-based diet. Try to balance across the divide in the best way that your resources and inclination will allow to suit your guests.

God created us to explore and appreciate the richness, colour and diversity that different foods bring to our everyday lives.