Is a vegan diet healthy?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is a vegan diet healthy?” and will discuss some health advantages of a vegan diet.

Is a vegan diet healthy?

Yes, a vegan diet is healthy. All animal products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs, are prohibited in a vegan or plant-based diet. Veganism has the potential to be very nutritious, minimize the risk of chronic illness, and promote weight reduction if individuals practice it appropriately.

However, because of the restricted diet, vegans can experience deficiencies in their diet. The recently published data from the EPIC-Oxford study added to the growing body of evidence showing that adherence to a vegan diet is a risk factor for bone fractures. The data, based on 17.6 years of follow up, showed vegans having a statistically significant 43% increased risk of total fractures (7).

Due to health, animal welfare, or environmental concerns, more and more individuals are adopting a vegan diet. According to a Gallup study conducted in 2018, roughly 3% of Americans identify as vegan, and sales of plant-based goods are on the rise (8).

Nutritionally dense and low in saturated fat, vegan diets are popular among health-conscious individuals. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, the risk of heart disease reduced, and the risk of cancer and heart disease reduced by nutrition, according to recent studies. In a study of a total population of more than 56,000 subjects consuming a plant-based dietary pattern, there was significantly lower levels of body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose when vegetarians were compared with nonvegetarians, and body mass index, total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol when vegans were compared to nonvegans (1).

The iron, calcium, and vitamin B-12 that are often included in an omnivorous diet might be more difficult to get from a plant-based diet. With a pure plant-based diet, it is difficult to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients. Potentially critical nutrients in a vegan diet include protein, indispensable amino acids, long-chain n-3 fatty acids, other vitamins (riboflavin, vitamin D) and minerals (iodine, zinc and selenium) (2).

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is one in which only plant-based items are consumed. Animal items like meat, milk, and eggs are not consumed by those on this diet. Honey is also off-limits for certain folks. This lifestyle choice differs from one person’s food preference to another’s (2).

People who follow a vegan diet may also avoid things that utilize or include animal components, such as leather and animal furs, such as soaps and cosmetics. Because of its environmental advantages, some people choose to follow this diet (2).

The principle reasons for a vegetarian diet are ethical (e.g. rejection of intensive livestock farming), as well as ecological aspects, sustainability and health aspects (2).

There is a wide variety of plant-based foods included in vegan diets. Vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein may all be found in a broad variety of these foods. People on this diet, however, must ensure that they are getting all of the essential elements that are often included in animal foods. Iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D are among the nutrients.

The foods consumed in a vegan diet are not necessarily nutritionally favorable or health-promoting. The foods consumed may include vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, valuable plant oils or whole-grain products, all of which have been shown to have favorable effects. If however high levels of sugar, fat or table salt are added to vegan dishes, then they are nutritionally unfavorable (2).

Benefits of a vegan diet

Vegan diets may meet all of a person’s nutritional requirements and minimize some of the probable hazards linked with animal fats, according to a study. The vegan diet has been linked to several health advantages, including those listed above.

Epidemiological studies have shown that a high intake of red meat and, particularly, meat products increases the risk of many diseases (e.g. certain cancer sites), whereas high levels of dietary fiber-rich cereal products, vegetables and fruit can decrease the risk of many diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes mellitus (2).

Better heart health

There are several ways that vegan diets might improve heart health. Large-scale research of 2019 in adults, has shown that those who consume more plant-based meals and less meat had a decreased risk of heart disease and mortality (3).

Saturated fats come mostly from animal products, such as meat, dairy products (such as cheese and butter), and nuts and seeds. These fats have been linked to an increase in cholesterol levels by the American Heart Association (AHA). Heart disease and stroke are more likely to occur if a person’s cholesterol levels are too high. Results show that the overall plant-based diet had a 16%, 31% to 32%, and 18% to 25% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all-cause mortality, respectively (3).

Fiber, which the American Heart Association has linked to greater heart health, may also be found in plant foods. Plant-based vegetables and grains are the finest sources of fiber, whereas animal products have little or no fiber (3).

Because of the lower caloric intake, vegans tend to eat less food overall. Obesity is a key risk factor for heart disease, and a reasonable calorie intake may help decrease the BMI and lessen the risk of obesity.

Reduce the chance of developing cancer

People who follow a vegan diet may lower their risk of cancer by 15 percent, according to an analysis in 2017. Plant meals are rich in fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals, physiologically active molecules in plants, which may explain why they have a positive effect on health (1).

The findings of studies on the influence of food on cancer risk have been inconsistent. A study from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) states that red meat, which has been linked to colorectal cancer, as well as prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer, is “probably carcinogenic.” (4).

Processed meat, according to the EPA, is carcinogenic and may contribute to the development of colorectal cancer. Remove red and processed meats from the diet, and these prospective dangers are eliminated.

The possible mechanisms underlying the carcinogenic aspect of red and processed meat are: a) increased N-nitrosation/ oxidative load leading to DNA adducts and lipid peroxidation in the intestinal epithelium, b) proliferative stimulation of the epithelium through haem, or food-derived metabolites, which could act either directly or subsequently to conversion, and c) higher inflammatory response, which might trigger a wide cascade of pro-malignant processes (4).

Loss of body fat

The BMI of vegans is often lower than that of those following other diets. According to a study conducted in 2015, vegan diets are more beneficial for weight reduction and macronutrient provision than omnivore, semi-vegetarian, and pesco-vegetarian diets. A diet rich in plant-based meals may help individuals lose weight since many animal foods are heavy in fat and calories. The more plant-based diets also led to more favorable changes in macronutrients, fiber, and cholesterol, particularly among the vegan diet group. The findings point to a potential use of plant based eating styles in the prevention and treatment of obesity and related chronic diseases (5).

It’s vital to keep in mind that a vegan junk food diet, which consists of a lot of processed and high-fat plant-based meals, may contribute to unhealthy weight gain.

Diabetic complications are less likely to occur

Following a plant-based diet may lower the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a major 2019 review . The study found that consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Suggested mechanisms for their protective association against the development of type 2 diabetes include higher consumption of plant foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and lower consumption of red and processed meats (6).

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is a vegan diet healthy?” and discussed some health advantages of a vegan diet.

Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.

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References

  1. Dinu, Monica, et al. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Crit rev food sci nutr, 2017, 57, 3640-3649.
  2. Richter, Margrit, et al. Vegan diet. Position of the German nutrition society (DGE). Ernahr umsch, 20167, 63, 92-102.
  3. Kim, Hyunju, et al. Plant‐based diets are associated with a lower risk of incident cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all‐cause mortality in a general population of middle‐aged adults. J Am Heart Assoc, 2019, 8, e012865.
  4. Domingo, José L., and Martí Nadal. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red meat and processed meat: A review of scientific news since the IARC decision. Food chem toxicol, 2017, 105, 256-261.
  5. Turner-McGrievy, Gabrielle M., et al. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: a randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutr, 2015, 31, 350-358.
  6. Qian, Frank, et al. Association between plant-based dietary patterns and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA int med, 2019, 179, 1335-1344.
  7. Pawlak, Roman. Vitamin B12 status is a risk factor for bone fractures among vegans. Med Hypoth, 2021, 153, 110625.  
  8. Rocha, J.P., Laster, J., Parag, B. et al. Multiple Health Benefits and Minimal Risks Associated with Vegetarian Diets. Curr Nutr Rep, 2019, 8, 374–381.