These five popular diets have varying effects on health. Studies indicate plant-based diets provide many health benefits not offered by a non-vegetarian diet.
A well-balanced vegan diet features a rich variety of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Although vegan diets avoid all animal products, including eggs and dairy, a properly planned vegan diet meets nutritional needs. Vegans consume more dietary fiber yet less saturated fat and cholesterol than other vegetarians. Generally, vegan diets are high in phytonutrients, vitamins C and E, magnesium, and folic acid. A Loma Linda University study compared each of these five diets and found that vegans have the lowest average BMI of 23.6 when compared to other vegetarian diets and a nonvegetarian diet. Other studies have found that vegans’ low body mass index is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Pesco vegetarians, or pescatarians, eat fish and seafood in addition to plant-based foods. This diet does not include meat and poultry but may include dairy and eggs. Some pesco vegetarians have chosen the diet to reap the benefits of omega-3 rich fish. Pescatarians have a higher average BMI (26.3) than vegans but a lower one than nonvegetarians.
This diet is primarily plant-based. It includes eggs and dairy products, however, it excludes fish, seafood, poultry, and meat. US vegetarians also have a lower average BMI (25.7) than meat eaters.
A flexitarian diet emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and plant-based protein. Flexitarians limit animal protein, processed foods, sweets, and added sugars. Flexitarians have a higher average BMI (27.3) than people who follow true vegetarian diets, however, flexitarian BMI is lower than a diet that doesn’t restrict animal-based protein.
A meat eater consumes a non-vegetarian diet. This includes all forms of animal-based protein. Meat eaters have a higher average BMI than other diet types. According to Loma Linda University, this diet is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than the other diet types.