Getting all the required nutrition’s is essential and effort is required to balance your food. If you think, you have some kind of vegan deficiencies; our vegan health articles will simply solve your problem and encourage you to continue consuming right vegan foods. It will also guide you to consume the appropriate quantity of food to avoid overweight issues.
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Effects of Veganism on Health
Vegan diets are becoming more popular among teenagers and young people. Their diet preferences center around caring for the environment, ethics of animal care, a cruelty-free world and health advantages of plant-based diets. Moreover, it includes the avoidance of allergies from dairy products and lactose intolerances. Does avoiding dairy and eggs give additional benefits or create potential concerns?
What is the health status of those who live on vegan diets? Are they better off by choosing to be vegan in place of being lacto-ovo-vegetarians? Here, we are giving a brief overview of the health effects of a vegan diet, its benefits and shortfalls and suggestions to overcome.
What does it mean to be a Vegan?
Vegan people depend upon plant-based food products like fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy, nuts, seeds, etc. A strict vegan consumes a vegetarian diet by avoiding all sorts of animal products. This includes obvious ones like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, etc. but also the difficult ones like Gelatin, butter, and honey also.
Some vegans go a step further and do not even buy or consume clothing or personal care products that include ingredients derived from animals directly or indirectly and cause cruelty towards these species. This inclination is woven into their lifestyles.
What is there on my plate?
The vegan diet consists of vegetables, lentils, peas, nut butter, grains, Tofu (a soy product), legumes or beans, etc. A well-planned vegan diet meets the basic requirements of nutrients and proteins. They also need to consider protein sources in such a way that they complement to give all the required amino acids as well. A vegan diet in itself does not mean that it is healthy but it is considered healthy because it excludes dangerous ingredients and processed foods like sugar and gluten. There are many types of fake meats available in the market for vegans that are processed too much and are not good for health.
Typical diet options of a vegan may include chia, oatmeal, plant-based milk, nut butter, avocado, sweet potato, chickpea salad, red lentil dal, tofu, quinoa, peppers, carrots, chips, oat-balls, etc. A vegan diet may be more expensive than a usual diet but it happens when you choose options like non-dairy cheese or lookalikes of meat products. It may also happen that sometimes you eat in specialty vegan restaurants. All this is going to burn a hole in your pocket, but if you cook prudently at home, it is going to be as costly as a non-vegan diet. So, essentially, it is a myth that vegan is ultra-expensive.
A vegan diet is also called an extreme diet because it excludes many foods and hence can be a cause behind nutritional deficiencies.
Health benefits and Ethics
A decrease in the consumption of animal proteins by adopting a vegan diet can reduce the carbon footprint and hence increase the sustainability of the environment. It leads to overall savings in water and food, reduction in greenhouse gases. It is also considered a way of living that promotes a cruelty-free environment for the animals, insects and some other species.
- General health improvement
Vegan persons have lower body weight, comparatively lower Blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. They tend to eat more fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and potassium, magnesium, etc. The health benefits for such diets include lowering of excess weight, lower cardiovascular risks, decrease in BMI, decrease in cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, improved blood lipid profiles.
- Glucose control
A vegan diet improves sensitivity to insulin thereby reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Many studies have indicated greater health gains in vegan persons as compared to non-vegans. There is considerable improvement in blood glucose levels and sometimes even reducing diabetic medications. Higher fiber intake is also linked with satiety and weight control having a good impact on glycemic response.
- Rich nutrients
When you switch to a vegan diet, a large portion of diet in terms of meat and animal products gets replaced with whole grains, fruits, vegetables and so on. All these additional food sources bring a plethora of specific beneficial nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, vitamins. But this does not happen with all sorts of vegan diets. All those vegan diets which are not properly planned may lack the influx of such nutrients and may cause more harm instead of giving potential health benefits. But a well thought out vegan diet is rich in all these nutrients and provides benefits that were nowhere seen in pre-vegan days of your life.
- Lose excess weight
It is a proven fact in many kinds of research that a vegan diet leads to lower BMI (Body mass index) and thin bodies. This means an overall reduction of body weight from an excessive level to a normal level. Vegan diets are helpful in reducing weight more than from calorie-restricted diets. Actually, a vegan diet is usually low on calory intake when compared to a non-vegan diet. This way, the weight loss is achieved without any active effort on your part to reduce your body weight.
- Improved kidney function
People who replace meat protein with plant protein may reduce the risk of kidney malfunction or may improve a poor response from the kidneys. This is seen more dramatically in diabetic patients. As explained earlier, vegan diets are helpful in controlling glucose levels and hence diabetes.
- Protection from a few types of cancers.
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), we can control one-third of all the cancers by controlling our controllable factors including diet. In general, a vegan diet reduces the risk of cancer by 15%. A soy-based diet provides enough protection against breast cancer. Avoiding some specific types of animal products can help in reducing the risk of developing prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.
Non-vegan diets include processed foods and smoked products cooked at a high temperature which are responsible for a few types of cancers. Milk consumption is found to be associated with the development of prostate cancer. However, most of these studies are yet to be empirically proven and need to be established further. These studies have not been able to find out how exactly a vegan diet reduces the chances of cancer. But till then we should focus on vegan diets to protect ourselves from different types of cancers.
- Lowered risk of heart diseases
In well-planned diets, the intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fibers get increased substantially. This, in turn, is shown to reduce the risk of heart-related diseases. The effect of a vegan diet may be as high as a 75% reduced risk of heart disease. Vegan diets are effective in reducing blood sugar, overall cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels. All this is helpful in reducing the onset of any heart-related diseases. Whole grains and nuts are also linked to improving the heart’s health conditions. It means that vegan diets influence the risk factors which contribute towards the prevention of heart diseases.
- Reduction in pain from Arthritis
The symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis have reduced on the basis of probiotic-rich and raw food vegan diet. Also, in osteoarthritis, the symptoms like pain, joint swelling and morning stiffness were quite under control due to a well-balanced vegan diet.
Health concerns or downsides of veganism
- Nutrition risks
Vegan diets run a risk of being deficient in certain types of nutrients. They include iron, B12, calcium, vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc, etc.
- Iron–Heme-iron obtained from animal sources is easily digested as compared to non-heme iron from plants. On the one hand, the iron content is low in plant foods, on the other hand, it is not absorbed well. To improve the rate of absorption, such non-heme iron foods should be eaten along with foods rich in vitamin C.
- B12 – Deficiency of Vitamin B12 causes anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite. The vitamin is naturally found in animal products like eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and dairy products. All these food products are already excluded from a vegan diet. But a little vitamin B12 is found in some vegan foods like plant-based milk, breakfast cereals, soy products. The deficiency if any can be covered up with supplements also.
- Calcium and Vitamin D – Both of them are usually found together in foods. These are also found in specific food products or can be obtained from supplements. These nutrients also maintain the bone health of the body. According to some studies, vegans get a much lower intake of vitamin D as compared to omnivores. Vitamin D depends on the exposure to the sun as well as vitamin D fortified foods. Even dark-skinned, elderly, and people who cover their bodies with clothing for religious or cultural reasons are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Such vegans need to make up by taking supplements or planning their dietary habits.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – They have an important role to play in the health of eyes, brain, heart and reduces inflammation. Fish and eggs are the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids. But they are also found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Vegans are at a high risk of depression due to the imbalance of fatty acids
- Zinc – vegans are at risk of zinc deficiency. Research on this element is not sufficient to link it with major health hazards, but it is better to be safe than sorry. It is also observed in some studies that zinc absorption gets reduced in plant-based diets due to the presence of phytic acid.
- Difficulty to find vegan cuisine in restaurants
Despite a considerable jump in the number and percentage of vegans, it is still difficult to find vegan-friendly food at many restaurants. The food industry caters to the majority of the population and hence the availability of vegan products at smaller cities is restricted. Major cities are likely to have vegan restaurants, vegan grocery stores and ready to eat vegan products, but smaller cities still lack these facilities on many counts.
- Unhealthy processed foods
Due to lack of variety or availability of vegan products, people tend to eat processed vegan foods like Oreo cookies, Pilsbury crescent rolls, Ritz crackers, unfrosted pop tarts, etc. in stressful conditions, people eat comfort foods like vegan mac and cheese or soy ice cream, etc. All these processed foods sometimes lead to an increase in weight also.
- A leaky gut
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability can be caused by antinutrients like lectins and phytates found in legumes or beans. However, animal-based diets do not contain such elements.
- Hormone disruptions
In the absence of animal proteins, vegans are left with soy proteins as a single largest source. Unprocessed soy products are fine but the processed ones like tofu, soy milk and meat substitutes based on soy are highly processed and are equally harmful as normally processed food products. Phytoestrogens found in soy products are found to interfere with hormones.
- Too many carbohydrates
Since legumes or beans are usually consumed as a source of proteins, vegans have a risk of eating excess carbohydrates. It can cause a dramatic change in blood sugar levels of some individuals. Excess carbohydrates can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver and blood sugar swings. In such cases, eating a diet with moderate to a higher quantity of proteins can improve satiety and weight control along with the balance of carbohydrate consumption.
- Disorderly eating
There is a certain type of eating disorder in which people get the fixation on some eating patterns. It is known as Orthorexia and it can lead to over restriction, obsession, and similar eating disorders.
In general, vegans are thinner, have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and have a lower risk of many lifestyle diseases. But, due to the uneven availability of nutrition elements in their diet patterns, some vegans may have some health issues. Vegans should be able to solve their nutritional problems by making appropriate food choices. People can follow veganism but they unknowingly fall prey to unhealthy and processed food products. Therefore, it requires more attention in the kitchen to cook and plan your meals.