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I wasn’t feeling well today, so when the kids took a nap I curled up on the couch with some Netflix documentaries. Since I’ve been struggling a little bit with getting my diet where it needs to be, I like to watch documentaries about diet like Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead because it helps me keep my head in a good place. I decided to give Forks over Knives a try, and I’ve been pondering whether a vegan diet would actually be beneficial ever since.

My sister and her family have been vegan for almost 20 years, and I know several people who follow either the Paleo diet or Whole30, which are very similar. The documentary, which pushes for a strict vegan diet, references research stating that eating animal products of any kind exponentially increases your risk for cancer. It also follows several people who get rid of diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune disease, and other health issues by following a strict whole food plant-based diet. What’s interesting about this is that there are countless examples of people following a Paleo or Whole30 diet (which encourages eating meat but avoiding anything even slightly processed) that have also rid themselves of chronic illnesses and extra weight after adopting their new diet.

It’s kind of brain twisting that two diets that are so different can make the same claims because it would seem that one has to be wrong. I have to wonder if the claims in the documentary would still hold true if they looked at vegans that still eat processed foods (rather than the whole food vegans in the film). I suspect that the reason both lifestyles have similar benefits is that the research is done on people who follow a version of the diets that don’t include processed food, but that would imply that the decision to eat meat or not has almost no effect on overall health. Could that be true? It really makes sense how people can eat terrible food day in and day out and not have any idea why they’re overweight — there are so many conflicting recommendations backed by “research” that it’s hard for someone without an education in nutrition to sort through all of it. Even with my background in fitness training and a sister with a background in nutrition to bounce ideas and questions off of, I don’t always know the best way to structure my family’s diet.

I think that vegans get a lot of benefit from eating so much more plant food than the average American, but would a diet that includes a high quantity of plant food but also includes meat products gain the same benefits? And do vegans lose out on nutrients because of their lifestyles?

I don’t have an answer to this, I’ve just been pondering the way my family eats and the different food lifestyles out there, and what would make us the healthiest. I would love for anyone who’s gone down either of these paths to talk about your experience and give me more insight into what the best option might be.