The Diet Debate

Paula Martin

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It was not until a year ago that I was exposed to many new beliefs about food choices and eating habits. As an individual from Spain, my diet has been intact for 20 years due to the constant confidence that in the Mediterranean diet we eat everything, with variety and equilibrium — because that is the key to a healthy and long lasting life.

Last year, I began to surround myself with individuals who are very aware of their diet, who introduced me to the concept of a “plant-based diet” also known as veganism. I decided to try it, since I was constantly hearing facts about the detrimental impact of meat and dairy on our bodies. I watched a documentary called “What the Health,” which, inevitably and completely one-sided, claims that the American Cancer Society knows that eating animal products is the main cause of cancer, but that the organization refuses to claim that fact because they are sponsored by large meat corporations. The documentary was eye-opening in many ways, but I could not understand then: why is it that Spain, Italy and Japan have the longest life-span rates with cultural diets that have a lot of animal consumption?

I decided to go vegan for a few months. I lost a lot of weight, my skin cleared up, and I felt incredibly light and energetic all the time. I was learning more about hearty vegetables that carry different vitamins, and I was learning about different beans, tofu and tempeh as my protein choices. It felt amazing. I was very happy. I did not think I was lacking any vitamins since I was taking B12 and other women’s multivitamins. Suddenly, half a year later, I am very weak in Vitamin A and very weak in Zinc. My skin had begun to breakout more often, and I felt a little lathargic.

The thing is, with the healthy diet that I believed I was consuming, a lot of animal products were unconsciously being replaced by carbs, and therefore, my body was taking in much more sugar than I thought. Sugar is in almost everything but most animal products and fats, and it is hard to notice how much of it is consumed when we don’t necessarily consume sweets. For instance, sweet potatoes, beets, onions, pasta, bread and even bell peppers — they all add up to more than one is aware of. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are for men 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or nine teaspoons) for men and 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) for women. However, a normal portion of plain pasta already carries 25 grams of sugar alone.

Overall, the debate with diets is a matter of learning what works for your own body. I have met many vegans and vegetarians who are in perfect health, not lacking any vitamins, and I have also met many people who do not cut anything and simply shoot for a balanced diet. There is a field beyond ideas of right and wrongdoing and one meets their own lifestyle and food choices by simply trying, switching, learning — not simply strictly eliminating something so broad as animal products.