In order to live we must eat life. All our food must come from living things. We cannot live on eating stones or other inorganic matter. So the question is what living things should we eat to be healthy? The answer to this question is not just medical, but also personal and cultural. From a pure medical perspective, vegan, vegetarian and paleo diets can all be very healthy. The choice is yours.
Vegans eat only plant foods. They do not eat any foods from animals, such as eggs or milk. Vegans have the lowest rates of cancer, and have very low rates of cardiovascular disease. The biggest problem with vegan diets is developing nutritional deficiencies. Vegans must be very diligent to get adequate vitamins, minerals and proteins.
Common nutrient deficiencies from a strictly plant based diet are: vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acid DHA, sulfur, heme-iron, creatine and the protein amino acids carnosine and taurine. Most vegans will take supplements to correct these potential deficiencies. Only Vitamin B12 is essential for all vegans, and like for everyone else, vitamin D3 is important for adults over age 50 when the vitamin D conversion in the skin starts to wane. Casual vegans will notice things like their hair falling out from a lack of protein and vitamins. Nuts and seeds are an important addition to the many colored vegetables and healthy whole fruit vegans eat daily.
There are several types of vegetarians and I will focus here on those who include egg and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarians). Healthy eggs, from chickens fed a rich, natural and organic diet, are packed with nutrients such as protein and the fats, including cholesterol, that enrich our body, especially our brain. Dairy, especially milk from cows, is problematic since many people are lacking in the enzyme to digest the sugar from milk, lactose. The proteins of milk, especially casein, may be inflammatory to the body. The healthiest part of milk is the fat, making cheese a healthy choice for those who tolerate the other components. Only full fat or whole milk should be consumed. Alternatives to cows such as goat or sheep milk allow one to avoid the casein, but the lactose is still present. I recommend being frugal with milk from animals and rather use unsweetened coconut or almond milk.
The paleo diet recognizes that man has always been an omnivore. Animals in the wild that were not eating contaminated foods were healthy for man and we ingested most of the animal, not just the muscle, what we find in the market. Terry Wahls, MD in the Wahls Protocol and Mark Hyman, MD in Eat Fat, Get Thin, make a strong case for why some animal foods are optimal for human health. Dr. Wahls makes an especially strong case for organ meats. When eating meat, the big challenge is realizing that you are eating what your food ate. Fish are in general healthier than animals and the challenge is finding the right fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, that are not contaminated or raised on less healthy feed.
Whatever diet you choose, be well educated and mindful about what you put in to your body each day.