Is being vegan good for you?

nutrition | July 31, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

diet

Is being vegan good for you?

While there is lots of information in circulation regarding what diet is the healthiest, a lot of people are turning vegan in an attempt to eat ethically and healthy. But is this diet REALLY healthy? What nutrients could be lacking in the diet and how can this be overcome?

The answer to this question is more complex as a simple yes or no as it depends on what the person is eating in the diet. While some vegans are well educated and eat a balanced diet and supplement nutrients that might be lacking, others run the risk of having some important nutrients being depleted. If a vegan still has a high intake of processed foods rich in salt, fat and sugar and doesn’t eat a range of foods to ensure all micro and macronutrients daily intakes are being met then it could lead to fatigue and malnutrition.

What does a vegan eat?

is being vegan healthyVegans only eat plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Vegan diets are similar to a vegetarian diet where they don’t eat any meat products and seafood, but with the addition of omitting dairy products, eggs and often honey. In many cases, individuals choose to become a vegan due to the improper treatment of animals or health reasons.

Advantages of a vegan diet

Because a vegan diet contains no animal products, it is likely to contain a lot less saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat is related to an increased risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. As a result, vegans are consuming fewer calories and have a lower body mass index (BMI), making them more likely to be leaner. They have a reduced risk of developing type two diabetes, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. This is also due to a vegan diet containing more cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds than a non-vegan diet. Recent research has shown that a vegan diet is higher in vitamin C, E and B6, beta-carotene, folic acid, thiamine and fibre due to the high level of plant-based foods. A diet higher in antioxidants is possibly another reason why vegans experience a lower incidence of chronic diseases.

Vegans have a healthier gut microbiota (healthy colonies of good bacteria in the gut) when compared to that of meat eaters, but not significantly different from that of vegetarians. In contrast pathogens such as parasites and bacteria have been found in be in much lower amounts in the gut. In this instance a healthy vegan diet impacts gut microflora, inflammation and health. Another reason why vegans experience lower rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance (high blood sugars) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in artery walls).

Disadvantages

Switching to a vegan diet may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Below are some of the downsides to eating a completely vegan diet.

is a vegan diet healthy - lack of amino acidsLack of amino acids. Grains, fruits and vegetables are all very high in carbohydrates and low in amino acids. Foods high in amino acids include eggs, meat and dairy, so if these foods have been removed alternative plant sources need to be in high amounts. For vegans this includes nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and legumes. A lack of amino acids in the body can result in many different problems including poor wound healing, a depleted immune system, poor mood and decreased muscle mass. A really easy way for vegans to ensure enough daily protein is to include a plant-based protein powder into their diet and aim to eat a protein source with every meal.
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B12 deficiency. Unfortunately, vegans run the risk of developing a deficiency in B12 as this vitamin is only found in high amounts in animal-based products such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy. It is highly recommended that vegans supplement with vitamin B12 to avoid fatigue, poor immunity and neurological disorders.
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Other nutrients that might be lacking include omega-3, iron, iodine and calcium.

Omega-3. rich plant foods include walnuts, ground linseeds, flaxseed oil and chia seeds.
Iron. As plant-based sources of iron are weaker than meat sources, a vegan needs to be aware of eating a lot of these foods to prevent deficiency. Plants that are a source of iron include dried fruits, dark green leafy vegetables and beans.iodine

Iodine is a common deficiency, even for the average person. Sea vegetables and sea weeds are one of nature’s richest sources and can be easily added to soups or salads or supplemented if needed.

Calcium can be derived from broccoli, almonds and kale. Calcium is important for healthy bones, to prevent tooth decay and muscle health.

In the EPIC-Oxford study, vegans had 30% higher fracture rate than meat-eaters, making this nutrient incredibly important in the diet of a vegan. However, vegans who have adequate amounts of calcium in the diet avoid this risk.
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Over consumption of carbohydrates

Another disadvantage of a vegan diet is the tendency to overconsume carbohydrates and sugars. The overconsumption of these macronutrients can result in the overgrowth of certain pathogens such as Candida and yeasts and lead to weight gain. However, this is only the case for vegans who overconsume fruits and refined sugars and grains.

Phytic and oxalic acid

Certain grains, lentils and beans such as soybeans and mung beans contain inhibitors that block digestive enzymes. Certain vegetables and grains contain phytic and oxalic acid that prevent the absorption of key minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. Soaking and sprouting your grains and legumes can greatly reduce the effects of these acids.

In conclusion, being a vegan certainly does have its advantages and disadvantages. Being knowledgeable in the nutritional aspects of food and applying that to a good quality vegan diet seems to significantly decrease the risk of any adverse side-effects.
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References

Le LT, Sabaté J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 2014 May 27;6(6):2131-47

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073139/

Waldmann A, et al. Dietary intakes and blood concentrations of antioxidant vitamins in German vegans. Int J Vitamin Nutr Res. 2005 Jan;75(1):28-36

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15830918

Glick-Bauer M, Yeh Ming-Chin. The health advantage of a vegan diet: exploring the gut microbiota connection. Nutrients. 2014 Nov;6(11):4822-4838

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245565/

Mangals AR. Bone nutrients for vegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:469S

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898231

Kristensen NB, et al. Intake of macro and micronutrients in Danish vegans. Nutr J. 2015;14:115

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4628270/

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