The beginning of each new year inspires and motivates us to make positive recent changes in our lives, especially in health. In addition, with the knowledge of the importance of food, as it relates to our overall health and well-being, many of the new year’s resolutions are primarily in the areas of diet. The Mediterranean Diet continues to be my personal choice as the healthiest way of eating. Consequently, according to US News and Report, the Mediterranean Diet continues to rank No. 1 as the best, most nutritional diet for the sixth consecutive year for 2023. However, ranking in second place is the Flexitarian Diet. The flexitarian diet is relatively healthy and becoming more popular as it is an alternative variation to the plant-based Vegetarian (vegan) diet. Simply put, Flexitarians are vegans who periodically allow for the addition of small amounts of animal protein, eggs, and dairy foods to their diets. Let’s take a mindful perspective analyzing why the flexitarian diet rates as the second healthiest diet for 2023.
Plant-based vegan diets are incredibly healthful, with most of their content deriving primarily from fruits and vegetables. Evidence-based research reports numerous health benefits from eating a plant-based diet, such as preventing the risk of obesity, diabetes (lowers HbA1c), hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (lowers cholesterol) and reducing the overall risk of some cancers. The health benefits are astonishing; however, it does not rank in the top 3 healthiest diets for the year.
There is a default in the fundamental core bases of the plant-based vegan diet. Unlike the Mediterranean and Flexitarian, a plant-based vegan diet restricts meats, dairy products, and eggs, eliminating the vital nutrients these foods provide. Vegan plant-based diets are deficient in the following essential nutrients, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and iodine which are all derivatives of animal sources. Thus, including small amounts of meat, dairy products, and eggs into the healthy plant-based vegan pattern creates the second most nutritional diet for 2023-Flexitarian.
The introduction of animal sources into a Vegan lifestyle can be difficult. However, making mindful, healthy choices is tremendously helpful. Here is a list of conscious considerations:
- Grass-Fed Beef Grain-Fed: Grass Fed beef is a better choice. Grass-fed cattle live a much healthier natural lifestyle. As a result of being able to gaze in green pastures, the beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin K, and other micro-nutrients vs. grain-fed beef. More importantly, grass-fed beef is lower in phytoestrogen derivatives of the grain-fed soy-based corn given to grain-fed cows. Additionally, grass-fed beef contains fewer contaminants, antibiotics, growth hormones, and glyphosates (herbicides) than grain-fed. Thus, making grass-fed beef a better choice when feasible.
- Pasture-Raised Poultry vs. Free Range: Pasture-raised is the gold standard. Unlike free-range, pasture-raised chickens live in excellent outdoor pastures and, during the night, can sleep indoors to protect themselves from predators. In addition, due to their natural environment, the meat is more tender, juicier, and flavorful than free-range chickens.
- Pasture-raised Eggs vs. Cage-free Eggs: I prefer pasture-raised as I grew up eating the eggs from my grandparents’ yard. Pasture-raised eggs contain more omega-3 fatty acids than cage-free eggs and are free to roam outdoors. Cage-free eggs (chickens) primarily live in barns with restrictions on movement and outdoors access. These chickens are not housed in a battery of cages and can exhibit some natural behaviors compared to standard caged chickens. Pasture-raised eggs are the healthiest choice.
- Grass-fed Milk vs. Conventional: Grass-fed and organic dairy cows contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of Omega-6 fatty acids. Studies show that consuming organic dairy products lowers intakes of omega-6, increasing omega-3, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is remarkably heart-healthy. Therefore, grass-fed Milk is the healthiest and most preferable choice.
When choosing the Mediterranean, Flexitarian, or DASH diet for 2023, always maintain a mindful perspective of the variations in the food types available for consumption. Then, choose foods that will enhance overall health and well-being when feasible. It is all left up to your perspective. Choose wisely.