Are you doubtful whether a vegan diet has health advantages and is capable of providing essential nutrients? How can a diet that entirely excludes meat and any product of animal origin (neither dairy nor eggs) be beneficial to the human body? Does it provide great potential to prevent the most frequent diseases as claimed by vegan advocates? What is the nutritional status of vegans? If all these questions have occupied your mind and stop you from turning towards veganism, this article is for you!
If you want to know how a vegan diet can be nutritional and beneficial for your Health and Life, read on!
Vegans Consume Fewer Calories
Vegans and vegetarians are, on average, less overweight than the rest of the population. The lowest energy consumption contributes to this. Plant-based nutrition allows fewer calories to be consumed with the same amount of volume. In addition, this diet has less fat, more fibre and less protein.
Diabetes is Less Common among Vegans
Being overweight and eating a hypocaloric diet favour the development of type 2 diabetes. Vegans and vegetarians have a much lower risk of developing this disease, as evidenced by recent research studies. Adventist Health Study 2 is currently being conducted in the United States and Canada (with more than 60,000 participants) and indicates that the risk of diabetes among vegans is half that of meat-eaters.
A recent review concludes that there is a lower risk of diabetes among vegans and vegetarians. Another recent report shows the effectiveness of adherence to a vegan diet in individuals with type 2 diabetes. The beneficial effect of the vegan diet is that it provides more whole grains and more fibre. Both have a positive impact on glucose levels and prevent insulin resistance, the first stage in the development of diabetes.
Vegans have Healthier Hearts
Vegetarians and vegans, due to their diet and lifestyle, have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A systematic review of seven long-term studies involving more than 124,000 participants concluded that mortality due to ischemic heart disease is 29% lower in individuals with a vegan or vegetarian diet than meat consumers. The reason is that the blood fat profile of vegans and vegetarians is healthier. Vegans significantly benefit from their reduced intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
In addition, plant foods provide antioxidant substances such as vitamin C and E, beta carotene and polyphenols that prevent the polyunsaturated fatty acids of the LDL particles from oxidizing and starting the inflammatory process that leads to the blockage of blood vessels.
However, studies also indicate that many people who eat a plant-based diet have elevated homocysteine levels (insufficient vitamin B12 intake). In addition, they also take lower cardioprotective long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in fish, than the recommended dose.
Presumably, if the homocysteine level is lowered thanks to B12 supplements, vegans' already low cardiovascular risk decreases even more. As for omega-3s, vegans can find them in foods like flax oil, walnuts, and chia and hemp seeds.
Vegans have Lower Risk of Cancer
Vegetarians and vegans get slightly less cancer than the general population. This is proven by scientific studies that vegans have a lower risk of cancer than omnivores. A meta-analysis of 7 trials found an 18% lower risk of cancer in vegetarians than meat-eaters. In specific tumours in women, the risk was 34% lower.
Concerning cancer prevention, the deciding factor is the increased consumption of health-promoting vegetables among the vegetarian and vegan population, in addition to lower body weight. In particular, vegetables and fruits provide fibre and effective antioxidant compounds such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and other phytochemicals. Avoiding red and specially processed meat can also help reduce the risk of various types of cancer, especially bowel cancer.
How to Cover the Nutritions that Lack in Vegan Diet
It is necessary to supplement with vitamin B12
Certain nutrients are not naturally present in the diet of vegans, such as vitamin B12, which is present in foods of animal origin.
Numerous studies show that between 40 and 50% of vegans are deficient in this vitamin. Vegetarians who consume derivatives of milk and eggs also have an inadequate supply, although lesser than vegans.
Vegans need to ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B12, fortified foods or dietary supplements. This measure is essential in the entire vegan population, especially pregnant women, infants, and children.
Alternative sources of calcium
About half of the population does not reach the recommended amount of calcium, especially children, adolescents and the elderly.
Studies consistently show that vegans have an increased fracture risk when calcium falls below 525 mg per day. Therefore, they must ensure a sufficient supply of calcium. This is especially important in vulnerable groups: children, adolescents, pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly.
Since vegans do not consume dairy products, they must satisfy their demand with plant-based foods. Good sources of calcium are dark green vegetables like kale, bok choy, arugula, broccoli, different nuts (especially almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios), tofu, and textured soybeans.
There is a lot of calcium in sesame seeds (950 mg per 100 g), but its bioavailability (ability to be absorbed by the body) is very low. Calcium-rich mineral waters (at least 400 mg of calcium per litre) and mineral-enriched plant-based milk are excellent sources.
The more orthodox nutritionists tend to warn vegans severely that they are at risk for iron deficiency since meat is supposedly easily absorbed and the "plant iron" is not. However, studies indicate that vegetarians are not much more susceptible to the iron deficiency than non-vegetarians.
Their iron (ferritin) stores are almost always lower than meat-eaters but are in the low normal range. This is not a risk; on the contrary: it is more beneficial than harmful to health because high iron storage appears to increase the risk of colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and possibly cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin B2 is in whole grains, nuts and legumes
Both vegetarians and omnivores usually have in order the levels of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), essential for the state of the nervous system and for transforming food into energy. Vegans, however, show conflicting results in different studies. A riboflavin deficiency is related to an increased homocysteine level and arteriosclerosis, and cardiovascular diseases. However, this possible deficiency does not cause vegans to outperform omnivores in their risk of cardiovascular disease. If they were to be obtained, they would increase the distances in favour of vegans.
Whole grains are an essential source, as the vitamin is concentrated in the outer layers and the grain's germ. Therefore, vegans who do not eat enough whole grains are most at risk. In addition, nuts, mushrooms, dried fruits and legumes are other plant sources of vitamin B2 and should be found regularly on the plate of vegans.
Iodine and vitamin D
The supply of both nutrients in vegans is often worse than in vegetarians and non-vegetarians. It is recommended that vegans use only iodized salt and that they regularly consume seaweed with moderate iodine content (for example, nori) to solve the obtaining of iodine.
As for vitamin D, daily supplementation with 20 micrograms is recommended if you are not working outdoors, especially during sunny days (the primary source of vitamin D is the sun as it is synthesized in the skin when exposed to the Sun rays).
Now you know the health benefits associated with a vegan diet. In general, vegans are healthier than non-vegetarians, but remember that this article refers to the average of people who follow these diets, not individuals whose nutrition can be excellent or poor regardless of whether or not they have decided to give up on animal-based food. Besides, vegans must pay attention to all the nutrients discussed above and inform themselves - as we all must do - to make the best possible food selection.