Is it just another food trend or is it a healthy way to eat?
With over 900 million results on Google for the word vegan, and heaps of new products hitting the supermarket shelves monthly, it’s definitely becoming increasingly more popular.
Here we take a look at the pros and cons from a health and nutrition perspective.
What is Vegan?
According to the Vegan Society (UK), veganism is based on a way of life that excludes any use of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. From a dietary viewpoint this means adopting a plant-based diet, free from any meat, including seafood and insects, dairy, eggs and honey.
So what do vegans eat?
Fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and grains form the basis of meals and snacks which may be used to rustle up a range of favourite foods from bolognese to curry.
Pros of a Vegan Diet
- Plant based diets may lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease in the short term with vegans tending to have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Vegans tend to have a different microbiome to meat-eaters insofar as they may have less pathogens and a greater number of protective bacteria; this may positively impact the gut-brain connection.
- Research has shown that C-Reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation, is significantly reduced in those people who suffer from coronary artery disease, in as little as 8 weeks of consuming a vegan diet. However, longer-term studies are needed.
- Increased intake of digestive enzymes that occur naturally in a plant food diet.
- Many people initially experience higher levels of energy and wellbeing, partly due to the micronutrients and antioxidants found in their increased intake of fruits and veggies and higher fibre intake.
- May support ideal weight levels.
Cons of a Vegan Diet
- Some vegan diets rely on the heavily marketed vegan products on supermarket shelves; these may be laden with the not-so-healthy fats, sugar, table salt and/or a myriad of artificial additives to either make the product look like a meat-alternative or to make it taste palatable. These “extras” may put extra strain on the body’s ability to detoxify them, and may lead to other health issues.
- There is the risk of deficiencies in the following key nutrients:
- B12 – Important roles include DNA and red blood cells synthesis, production of the myelin sheath around nerve cells and the function of neurotransmitters. A study found that lower B12 levels in adolescent vegans correlated to impaired cognitive performance.
- Vitamin D – this essential nutrient is involved in regulating the immune system, bone health, protection against some forms of cancer and inflammation.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Omega 3s – these play a critical role in mood disorders, as well as autoimmune diseases. Whilst the fats in plant foods such as flaxseeds can provide some omega 3, this is at a very low conversion rate.
- Iron – the bioavailability of iron in plant foods is much lower than in animal foods; iron is needed for the synthesis of some neurotransmitters, DNA and the transport of oxygens around the body.
- Zinc, specific amino acids and Vitamin A have also been found to be lower in vegan diets.
- A high intake of carbohydrates from rice, pasta and the like may lead to an increased risk of insulin resistance and perhaps type II diabetes.
- One compound that is naturally very high in veggies, such as sweet potato, kale, berries and nuts (think almonds and cashews) is oxalates; there has been an increase in awareness around these as they have been linked to kidney stones and calcium oxalate deposits elsewhere in the body. A vegan diet may be high in oxalates and it is therefore important to have balance in your diet along with a healthy gut.
Of course, while a vegan diet may be supplemented with the missing nutrients, it is always best to try to optimise your nutritional needs through a balanced diet which is perhaps why historically there is no culture that consumed a truly vegan diet.
If you’d like to find out more or work with a nutritionist, please contact us to make an appointment.
Author: Beverley Dorgan, BHSc Nutritional Medicine, ANTA.
Beverley Dorgan is a Brisbane Clinical nutritionist with a special interest in how the foods we consume can impact on our mental health from anxiety and depression to OCD and behavioural or learning issues.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
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- Vegan Society Uk https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism
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