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Veganism on the rise: What are the Health Benefits and Downsides of going vegan?
More and more people people are going vegan! But what are the benefits and downsides of a vegan lifestyle? In the past, the word ‘vegan’ used to have something of a negative connotation to it. What was once dismissed as a fad, or an extreme choice of apparently giving up tasty food, is now a mainstream trend.
Now however, veganism is no longer a ridiculed concept; it’s associated with numerous health benefits, tapping into the eco-conscious state of the world, and a progressive movement towards a greener way of life. Should you take the plunge into veganism?
Around half a million British people are now vegan, according to the Vegan Society. In the US, there’s been a 300% increase in the number of American vegans in the past 15 years.
There are many reasons why people may adopt a vegan diet, such as animal welfare, sustainability or to lose weight. Another reason that’s often touted is that vegan diets are good for your heart, and can not only prevent heart disease, but even reverse it. But, as many studies found, this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, they found that there is currently little evidence to suggest a vegan diet protects the heart, or can reverse heart disease.
So why adopt a vegan diet?
Sustainability & Ethics
Preventing the exploitation of animals is not the only reason for becoming vegan, but for many it remains the key factor in their decision to go vegan and stay vegan. Having emotional attachments with animals may form part of that reason, while many believe that all sentient creatures have a right to life and freedom.
Decreasing animal protein intake by following a plant-based diet (vegan, as well as other vegetarian diet forms) is suggested to have a lower carbon footprint on the environment and to be more sustainable. Animal production requires water and crops for the animals and transportation of the animals and products, and it creates methane—a destructive greenhouse gas—from cattle. The need for grain to feed animals for slaughter contributes to deforestation as well. While a plant-based diet also requires natural resources, its overall environmental impact is thought to be significantly less and more sustainable long-term. Additionally, some may be attracted to veganism because it promotes a more cruelty-free way of living than a traditional omnivore diet.
Overall Health Improvements
The health benefits associated with plant-based diets are pretty significant. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported in 2009 that vegan diet followers tend to have lower body weights, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. It also found that vegan individuals consumed more fiber, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium and less saturated fat. Results from studies all around the world, where plant-based diet have been used as interventions for weight loss and cardiovascular risks support this. In fact, the health effects seen in obese children suggested significantly greater decreases in BMI, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol compared to children who followed the American Heart Association eating guidelines. A 2013 published study of GEICO employees found that those following plant-based diets lost an additional 6 pounds compared to the control group, and had significant improvements in blood lipids.
Downsides and Potential Health Concerns
- Nutrients at Risk! While the 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article referenced some very positive intakes of certain nutrients, it also highlighted nutrients that vegans are at particular risk being deficient in. These nutrients include iron, B12, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Iron: Vegans may be prone to developing iron deficiency because they are eliminating sources of heme iron (from animals), which is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron (from plants). So not only are iron amounts lower in plant foods, but that iron isn’t absorbed as well. One thing to do to improve non-heme iron absorption is to consume iron-rich plant foods with a food rich in vitamin C.
- B12: Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal products such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products—all foods excluded on a vegan diet. Inadequate intake of vitamin B12 can cause symptoms such as megaloblastic anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite, and potentially severe neurological symptoms. Luckily, vitamin B12 is fortified in many vegan foods such as certain plant-based milks, breakfast cereals, and soy products, and there are also vegan vitamin B12 supplements that can be taken to make up for the gap of B12 sources in the diet. The key is incorporating those fortified foods on a regular basis, or using a vitamin supplement if needed.
- Calcium and vitamin D: Often found together in foods, these two nutrients also work together to maintain bone health. Inadequate intake of one has an affect on the other’s ability to perform tasks It’s key that vegans seek out plant-based foods fortified or supplemented with both of these.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fatty acids play key roles in heart health, brain and eye health, and reducing chronic inflammation. The best sources are fish, eggs, and sea vegetables, but they can also be found in some nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Adequate intake of those plants foods are key, and DHA supplements may be needed.
What the MY NU WAYS! Programs team feels about veganism!
Angelika, CEO and co-founder of MY NU WAYS! Programs switched to vegan diet 4 months ago. She calls it for now “a test journey” as she is unsure whether it will be a long-term solution for her. It is too early to say.
Angelika is saying:
“Orientation and research time was needed, a lot of time spent on cooking at the beginning as everything is new and you don’t have a routine. As it was a change for the body I felt weaker at the beginning. Now everything is going well, I have enough energy for my body building trainings. I am constantly observing how I feel and take it day by day. I really enjoy it – its all new and exciting.
It happens that once in a while I eat something vegetarian – because I feel like or because I don’t want to be a trouble for friends who are not used to vegan cooking. I changed my diet to vegan as I was curious.
For my whole life I was a meat eater – I loved my steak but at the same time I love animals and it was always a sort of a confusion in my mind. It is so liberating now to watch the cows in the field and knowing that I don’t eat them anymore. That is of course my personal choice and everyone needs to make one for themselves.
Later in the fall we are planning a Healthy & Tasty challenge that will be all about how to live happy, healthy and tasty. Click here to learn more about our challenges Programs! “
So, is going vegan good for you?
First, scientists have raised concerns that the diet is too restrictive for athletes who are travelling the world competing in sporting competitions. Athletes could become malnourished, be unable to maintain muscle mass and suffer deficiencies in B12 (which would lead to fatigue and poor oxygen transport), calcium and vitamin D.
Second, it’s tempting to want to believe that the meat we eat is ethical, that our ‘food animals’ have lived full, happy lives and that they have experienced no pain or fear at the slaughterhouse. Yet the sad truth is that all living creatures (even those labelled ‘free range’ or ‘organic’) fear death, just as we do. No matter how they are treated when alive, they all experience the same fear when it comes to slaughter.
The good news is there IS something we can do about it. Every time we shop or order food in a restaurant – every time we eat – we can choose to help these animals. Every time we make the switch from an animal product to a vegan one we are standing up for farmed animals everywhere. Going vegan is easier than ever before with veganism becoming increasingly mainstream as more and more people from all walks of life discover the benefits of living this way.
But is veganism the right choice for you? Our “Tasty & Healthy” program will be available soon, and you can sign up here to be notified when it becomes available. Learn how to make health & tasty meal choices and how to build a new eating routine so you enjoy meals and fuel your energy. Click here to learn more!
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