A vegan or also known as a plant-based diet is a diet that excludes any animal product. When a vegan diet is followed correctly, it can be very nutritious, reduce the risk of disease and help with weight loss.
An increasing number of people are adopting vegan diets either due to their dietary needs and/or animal and environmental concerns.
Many people shy away from a vegan diet due to their concern about a lack of protein intake. However, a high protein vegan diet is very possible, as beans and nuts are packed with protein.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the vegan diet and explore its potential health benefits, as well as important things you should consider before trying this diet out for yourself.
Here at Symmetrix, our team of registered kinesiologists care about your entire body. So while we offer exercise therapy, personal training and ergonomics assessments, we like to give useful and science-based advice on other topics, such as nutrition.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is where a person avoids all animal products, including, meat, dairy and eggs. Some people also avoid eating honey because they consider it an animal product as well. While for some being vegan is a dietary choice, others see it as a lifestyle choice.
Those that subscribe to a vegan lifestyle often avoid animal products in other areas of their life. This may be avoiding certain clothes, accessories, soaps, and other items that contain parts of animals such as fur or leather.
A vegan diet primarily contains lots of fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, which includes a wide range of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein.
Vegan vs. vegetarian
The main difference between a vegan and vegetarian diet is that while vegetarians do not consume meat, they do consume dairy products and eggs. This means that a vegan diet is more restrictive and people must be sure they are getting enough of the right nutrients.
The health benefits of a vegan diet
Vegan diets can help eliminate the possible health risks that come from eating animal products, especially those associated with animal fat. Here are some of the health benefits that come with eating a vegan diet:
Improved heart health
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found links between vegan diets and improved heart health. They concluded that a diet higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a general population.
Meat, cheese and butter are the main sources of saturated fats, and these fats can raise cholesterol levels. Higher cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Plant foods however are high in fibre which is linked to better heart health.
Lower risk of cancer
There have been studies linking a lower risk of cancer and a plant-based diet. As plant foods are high in fibre and vitamins, they help protect your body against cancer.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has reported that red meat is likely carcinogenic and that processed meat is carcinogenic and may cause cancer.
A vegan diet is great to adopt if you are looking to lose weight. This is mainly because many animal foods are high in fat and calories.
However, it is important to bring up the topic of “vegan junk food”, which is a very real thing! Many food companies are making more and more vegan meat and cheese alternatives which are highly processed and can be high in fat. Be mindful that a vegan diet can turn unhealthy, and that you should try and eat whole foods.
Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
Studies have shown that eating a plant-based diet can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, a disease that occurs when your blood sugar is too high. This type typically comes from a poor diet and develops over time.
Research conducted in the United States in 2017 found that there is a whole-food vegan diet with little or no intake of refined food or animal products, which highly beneficial for preventing and treating type 2 diabetes.
Nutrients to consider on a vegan diet
A vegan diet has the potential to remove some key sources of nutrients from your diet, which is why people must plan their diet to avoid any deficiencies. You can check your levels regularly or by a suggestion from your doctor, to monitor for any deficiencies and you can supplement them as necessary. Here are some nutrients that may be lowered with a vegan diet:
Vitamin B-12 is mainly present in animal products. It protects the nerves and red blood cells. Plant-based sources of this vitamin include fortified cereals and plant milks, nutritional yeast, and yeast spreads. But you can also take a B-12 vitamin to supplement your diet.
Iron is important for blood health. Beans and dark leafy greens are good sources of iron.
Calcium is crucial for bone health. Eating tofu, tahini, and leafy greens will help keep calcium levels up.
Vitamin D protects against cancer and some chronic health conditions, and it helps strengthen the bones and teeth. Regularly eating vitamin D-fortified foods and spending time in the sun can boost vitamin D levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Important for heart, eye, and brain function, there are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA. Walnuts and flaxseeds are good sources of ALA, but seaweeds and algae are the only plant sources of EPA and DHA.
Zinc is important for the immune system and the repair of DNA damage. Beans, nutritional yeast, nuts, and oats are high in zinc.
Iodine is important for thyroid function. Plant-based sources include seaweeds and fortified foods.
If a vegan diet seems too much of a change for you right now, you don’t have to make the transition all at once. We recommend incorporating “vegan days” into your current diet, which will help cut down on your meat consumption.