MADRID – In addition to All Saints’ Day, November 1 is also World Vegan Day. Moreover, according to a survey, 4% of the Spanish population is vegetarian and 0.8% is considered vegan.
Around 7% are considered flexitarian (vegetarian with occasional meat or fish consumption). Vegetarianism, veganism or flexitarianism are some of the dietary options that partially or completely suppress the intake of meat, fish or animal by-products. More and more people are choosing one of these options to either;
- eat more sustainably
- not to passively participate in animal cruelty
- for health reasons
In most cases, people exclude certain foods without expert advice. Furthermore, many are unaware of the potential health damage that can result from not eating certain foods. This is apparent from the report ‘Trends in food exclusion in the Spanish population’. This has been prepared by the Mapfre Foundation together with the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The report seeks to identify and quantify the proportion of the Spanish population that excludes, in whole or in part, a specific food, or ingredient. Therefore, a sample of 3,150 residents of Spain was surveyed in a random and stratified manner.
Avoiding specific foods
A high percentage of subjects surveyed stated they avoid or try to avoid various foods, nutrients and ingredients in their diet. The majority of these were considered objectively unhealthy. Women and the middle-aged population were the groups most likely to exclude “unhealthy” foods.
77% of the respondents stated that they eliminate food additives (substances deliberately added to foods to improve their properties) (27%) or try to eliminate them from the diet.
The lactose-free diet is probably the most commonly practised type of exclusion diet. In this study, up to 9% of those surveyed reported following a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAPs or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They tend to absorb water and ferment in the large intestine. 8% of the respondents indicated that they follow or attempt to follow a gluten-free diet.
According to the research, most food exclusions are initially made after personal reflection, such as when deciding whether to follow a flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan diet. However, for gluten-free, lactose-free or ketogenic diets, a prescribing health professional’s recommendation outweighs personal reflection.
In any case, there is a high degree of self-prescription of food exclusion. Many of which, according to experts, is not fully justified. In addition, the experts warn that following exclusionary diets can pose a risk to maintaining the optimal health of the population as well as entail economic and social costs.
Risk of shortages
“Those who reported following a vegetarian or vegan diet without adequate knowledge or guidance could be deficient in vitamin B12,” the report said. Those on a gluten-free diet without medical justification could be exposed to a lower intake of fibre, vitamin D, B12 and folic acid, as well as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium, and higher consumption of saturated fats.
Among those who reported following a lactose-free diet for no health reasons, the risk of insufficient calcium intake could increase. Moreover, this could negatively impact their general health and, in particular, their bone health.
The same happens with those on a low-FODMAP diet: their nutritional status can be compromised and negatively impact their gut flora, while those on a ketogenic diet with no health justification can experience medium- or long-term related side effects, especially with the digestive system.