Growing trends that lead to vegetarianism

A greater awareness of the benefits of good nutrition for our health, a lifestyle choice, ethical or sustainability issues, a philosophical belief… What has led to vegetarianism or veganism, in all its multiple variants, becoming one of the fastest-growing dietary trends today? An ever-increasing number of people are adopting this lifestyle. Let’s look at the details of these options.


Eating solely plant-based foods, or with these as the fundamental basis of our diet. This is the common factor for multiple options surrounding veganism, the strictest form that completely excludes any animal-derived substances, including honey. This is undoubtedly a dietary movement which is on the rise, as revealed by the statistics on current trends produced by Google, well ahead of options such as a vegetarian or Paleolithic diet. In Spain, the study entitled The Green Revolution published last year, indicated that eight percent of the Spanish population is veggie (a term which includes several of the options we examine below), having experienced a 27 percent increase in just two years, especially among millennials. Two-thirds of this group are female and, moreover, one in ten Spanish women follow one of these trends.

The main reasons cited for adopting this kind of diet are sustainability, health or ethical issues, the latter being the main motivation for 57 percent of Spaniards according to The Green Revolution. In fact, the origin of the movement can be traced to highly active animal welfare collectives. A UK judge recently ruled in favor of the Spanish zoologist Jordi Casamitjana, recognizing veganism as a philosophical belief and therefore entitled to similar legal protection under that country’s Equality Act as that afforded to workers discriminated against on grounds of race or sex. Another recent example of this movement’s influence is that, also in the UK, a Cambridge University college removed a 17th-century Flemish still life from its cafeteria, following complaints from vegan groups about the portrayal of dead animals, including a wild boar, a swan, deer, etc.

Over the last few years new trends related to this kind of diet have appeared, although they are somewhat criticized from the most purist sectors of veganism for moving away from its philosophy. What is certain is that they are here to stay and, in this article, we wish to put things into perspective and offer some clarity. Moreover, are they really healthy?


The term veganism was coined by the British animal rights defender, Donald Watson, in 1944. It is based on the consumption of an exclusively plant-based diet. These foods may be rich in fiber, vitamin C, some group B vitamins and minerals, but there exists a risk of deficiency of some nutrients. The best-known is vitamin B12, which is only present in foods of animal origin, and that makes it necessary for vegans to take B12 supplements. Other key nutrients include calcium, vitamin D, zinc, Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids (DHA and EPA found in fish), or choline, as well as iron. There also exists the risk of a lack of protein. It should be noted that veganism per se is not necessarily healthy: you can be a vegan and live on pasta and pastries, something, obviously, not to be recommended. A vegan diet, like any other option, has to be well designed and, in this case, supplemented.

Ovo-lacto vegetarian

Probably the most popular option, together with a vegan diet. It includes eggs and dairy products as a complement to the vegan diet, which facilitates those nutrients absent or in scant quantities in plant foods, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc or choline, as well as the added bonus of protein of high biological value. Deficiencies such as iron may still be present, especially if the diet is not rich in this mineral and many cereals are consumed, since some substances (phytates) present in these interfere with its absorption.

Those concerned about ethical issues will obviously seek class zero (organic) eggs and milk with their animal welfare certificate.


Also known as semi-vegetarian, this is a plant-based diet, but one which sporadically includes foods of animal origin, such as meat or fish (pescetarian diet). As well as health, one of the main arguments underlying this diet is sustainability. Reducing the consumption of meat, especially red meat, would reduce the ecological footprint of our dishes. Another advantage is that it mitigates the risk of nutritional deficiencies, except perhaps that of total protein, or fish-sourced Omega-3 fatty acids where fish is not often consumed. In fact, the pescetarian option can be very healthy as, nutritionally, the vegetables and fish, mollusks and seafood complement each other very well. Attention would only need to be paid to avoiding the larger species rich in mercury (tuna, swordfish, dogfish, porbeagle shark, etc.) to reduce the presence of this heavy metal in the diet. Sardines, anchovies, mackerel or mullet, two or three times per week as a minimum, are a good option.

Other options

We include here other variants related to veganism, but ones which are evidently rather risky from the health perspective. The frutarian or frugivore diet is based on the almost exclusive consumption of fruit, something so restrictive that it is clearly a health risk. The list of nutritional deficiencies would be so long that it is not worth going into any detail here.

Something similar applies to the granivore diet: i.e. living on a diet of seeds and cereals. The health consequences can be severe, given the deficit of some amino acids, various vitamins and the scant absorption of iron with this diet, as evidenced by the prevalence of anemia in developing countries where people survive almost exclusively on flour obtained from wheat or other grains.

Finally, we have the raw food diet, an option which, albeit not exclusively, is indeed frequently associated with veganism. While it might appear that not cooking foods would better preserve their nutrients, what is certain is that, in this respect, this is offset by the enhanced absorption of vitamins and minerals when we cook, which makes them more accessible. This is what the scientific nutritionist Corinna Koebnick confirmed using a sample of over 500 raw food vegans in Germany. She observed that body weight plummeted to severe underweight levels when the amount of raw food in their diet was over 80 percent. In addition, half of the women on a totally raw food diet had amenorrhea, a clear indication that the body does not obtain sufficient energy and nutrients for its vital functions on such a diet. Moreover, it is curious that no differences were found between vegans, vegetarians or omnivores: the important factor was cooking the food

A greener world

This is not just what we say. It is the view of a host of studies by public and private bodies all over the world.

Combining health with sustainability and ethics

This brief overview has enabled us to verify that, while diets based on veganism can have positive points, such as increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is so necessary, on the other hand they may pose a risk to health if poorly managed. This is even more critical in certain life stages, such as pregnancy and lactation, childhood and adolescence, or the third age, and in the case of certain pathologies. As ever, placing yourself in the hands of a health care professional is a good idea.

The veggie trend is on the rise

A decade ago the word vegan barely appeared in Google searches. But that has changed radically. The data from Google Trends for 2018 already showed an upward trend: the search for Vegan in Spain, depending on the month, always exceeded 70 over 100, and sometimes reached 100. For this platform, a value of 100 indicates the maximum popularity of a term. This same trend is evident for terms such as veganism, vegetarian, vegetarianism or veggie — the umbrella term for all the foregoing.