Fahmida Jafri, Clinical nutritionist living in Ajman Image Credit: Supplied

There is a culture war happening on the dining table. The meat-lover faces off with the hipster vegan, each claiming their style of diet is the one best for the body, soul as well as the environment. While there are several studies that highlight how badly the beef industry affects the environment but poor farming and agriculture practices also raise questions on the environmental impact of vegetarian diets. So, which is better for our health, wellbeing and the environment? Gulf News readers debate.

‘Cool’

Right now, vegan is the new paleo

I am not vegetarian, but I do not eat red meat simply, because I don’t digest it well and feel tired after having it. I do eat chicken and a lot of fish. Because I do a lot of fitness routines and am very active, it is the easiest and quickest way to get protein into my body. But I don’t judge people for being vegan or vegetarian or not. I think people should do whatever works for them. If they are not allergic or intolerant to dairy, they should consume it. Why not?

I do think there is a trend for extremism when it comes to the vegan fad. Earlier the trend was the paleo diet, when CrossFit was moving into and exploded in the UAE. CrossFit is associated with the paleo, caveman diet but then it works for some people and not for others. Now, the newest trend is vegan so it is cool to be vegan at the moment.

I did try it, but it did not last long. I definitely felt light but with the amount of exercising I do, it was very difficult for me to get enoguh calories and proteins. I also did not feel satisfied eating any vegan meal. For me, the choice of food depends on how it makes me feel and how it helps me with my fitness regime. I take food as a fuel and mostly go for clean, whole foods as often as possible.

From Ms Maria Markovicova

Fitness blogger living in Dubai

Food chain

Look at good, clean and fair food

I went vegan when I came to Dubai five years ago. That is when I started the slow food convivium and in doing my research on the food system I faced a big problem with finding food that meets the criteria that I was looking for – good, clean and fair. Those are the pillars of the slow food movement.

Whether something is produced using pesticides or chemicals and questioning whether it is free of all antibiotics should be the question. Because for your health, whether it is meat or vegetables, if something is not produced with the least amount of chemicals and pesticides, it is not good for you. I do not believe that if the whole world went vegan it would save the planet or stop global warming. We need animals to graze and to put things back into the soil. Without anmals, the world wouldn’t exist. The problem is that because of the high demand for cattle, we have killed the wild ruminants that would run the planes and replaced them with sheep and goats and cattle. They now are unforunately force-fed and it has turned into a crazy, vicious circle. Everyone wants to make money on everyone and everything. But if you look at from the perspective of holistic management, regenerative agriculture is what we have to look into and that is what a lot of the world is turning to. There are some farmers in US and Australia who realise that, as a farmer, they need to put back what they have taken out.

Officialy, the United Nations has stated that up to 40 per cent of the food produced does not reach the market. 38 per cent of the food that does get to market, according to UN again, is wasted as well. So, we are talking about billions of tonnes of food. If that food could get to the people and we could just stop wasting, we could feed twice the world population. So, at the end of the day, unfortunately, it comes down to economics and politics.

From Ms Laura Allais-Maré

Founder and current leader of the slow food convivium in Dubai

Diversify

I love meat, but might consider vegetarianism

I am a meat eater, however I am not judgemental of others who are vegetarian or vegan. I actually respect them for it. I like what they are doing and in the future I might be interested in it, but I don’t think my consciousness has grown as much, I would say I have got my head in the sand a bit on this issue. Maybe I am purposely ignorant to some extent because I do enjoy having meat as part of my meal. But when I shop for food I look for locally produced because it is going to be fresher and they will have to do less to the produce to get it on to my plate. So, my preference is to find locally produced things. As a nutritionist, I do understand the implications of being vegetarian or a meat eater. For me, the benefit of eating meat is obviously that you are going to find it a lot easier to get the full spectrum of amino acids, while a lot of plant-based proteins are incomplete. So, you will need to mix and match to get a full source of proteins if you have a vegetarian diet. There are a lot of minerals in meat that are also quite difficult to source in high quantities in a vegetarian diet.

On the other hand, a lot of meat is mass produced and with a lot of antibiotic and hormones, according to some studies. Also, eating meat causes our bodies to work a little harder to break down the meat, so it can produce more free radicals in our bodies that can age us quicker and potentially cause cancer. It is important to be aware of what you are eating. I like to be as balanced as possible. If you want to eat meat, just get enough and from good sources as possible. There are a lot of sources for proteins and minerals in vegtarian food as well and it is good to try and diversify your diet a little more than the standard intake.

From Mr Rob Donker

Fitnesss professional and nutritionist living in Dubai

Middle ground

A vegetarian diet can lead to nutrient deficiency, so consider being a pesco-vegetarian

There are a lot of definitions around but, largely, vegetarianism means having anything based on plants or without meat. While vegetarianism always promises better results I won’t say that a non-vegetarian diet is harmful. It depends on moderation in quantity, the preparation and the food choices you make. A vegetarian diet ensures that the person has a good amount of fibre intake and it lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases and blood pressure, so a person can expect a longer life because it reduces bad cholesterol. But then again, there is always a concern with vitamin B12, which is an important nutrient for blood formation and even Omega 3. Also, people who have gastrointestinal problems cannot follow a fully vegetarian diet becase of the high fibre in the diet and the absorption of nutrients, which will be at risk if they have irritable bowel disease or any colonic diseases. Such people need to have more nutrient-dense choices, which is only possible through a non-vegetarian diet, through lean meat choices, for example.

In a vegan diet, a person stays away from any animal product like milk and egg. This puts them at the risk of not taking in enough calcium, which is one of the most important element in the body. People who follow a vegan diet argue that they can get these nurtrients through supplements, but how can we monitor that? The way any nutrient gets absorbed by the body naturally is different and when you take supplements there is always a co-factor, which means that the supplements can interact with the food you eat. So, they are always at a risk of having certain nutrient deficiencies. So, people following a vegan diet have to very carefully plan their intake, which is not possible for the average person. They might even have a very good knowledge of food and nutrition but they might not be able to balance it or implement it correctly. The burst in vegan blogging can be misleading because every person is different and their requirements are different, too. Someone who wants to switch should consult a professional first. For example, someone might be anaemic and then might plan to go on a vegetarian diet.

Ultimately, there should always be a middle way. So, being a pesco-vegetarian is very good, which basically means eating only fish, twice or thrice a week, and having a lot of other vegetables along with it.

From Ms Fahmida Jafri

Clinical nutritionist living in Ajman

— Compiled by Huda Tabrez/Community Web Editor

Gulf News asked: What kind of a diet do you follow?

Vegetarian 16%

Non-vegetarian 28%

A little bit of both 56%

Have your say: Do you think people truly understand the benefits and disadvantages of their food choices? Has the boom of food blogging helped make people conscious consumers? Which diet would you advocate for a holistic lifstyle? Write to us at readers@gulfnews.com