Vegan Diets – Health Benefits
A vegan diet can offer many health benefits. Vegans have:
- 3/4–1/2 lower rates of high blood pressure
- 2/3 less risk of type 2 diabetes
- 15 to 20% lower risk of cancer
- Significantly lower cholesterol levels
While there are many benefits, in order to flourish vegans should be aware of the nutrition issues below.
Calories, protein and fat
It is important to include foods high in calories and protein to feel full.
While extreme protein deficiency is nothing to worry about, not eating plant foods that are high in protein could make you crave animal products or make you feel fatigued.
Legumes — beans, lentils, peanuts, peas, tofu, and other soy products — are the best sources of protein for vegans. Include a few servings of the following foods each day, perhaps even with each meal.
People want to think of animal products, especially meat, as “protein,” but most of them are 50% fat. A plant-based diet that is very low in fat may improve a person’s health in the short term, especially if they have high cholesterol, but it may not be ideal for long periods of time. If you are avoiding all added fats and starting to crave animal products, it may be time to increase vegetable fat.
In fact, research has consistently shown that eating nuts, which are high in fat, improves markers of heart disease.
While the research is still preliminary, it appears some people lack the genetics to do well with a high-carb diet. For these people, an eco-Atkins diet, rich in plant proteins like soybeans and legumes, might be a better option.
Finally, if you have cravings for animal products, it may be because you have a strong liking for the taste of glutamate, also known as umami. Plant foods rich in umami are ripe tomatoes, olives, and mushrooms. Browning, caramelizing, grilling and roasting increase umami by releasing glutamate from proteins.
Don’t overdo oxalate
Some plant foods are high in oxalate, and spinach is very high. For most vegans, oxalate won’t be a problem, but if you decide to begin juicing or mixing your greens, make sure you don’t consistently use large amounts of greens that are high in oxalate – Spinach, Swiss chard and beet leaves can therefore sometimes lead to a kidney stone.
In limited cases, some vegans may not eat enough calories or fat to produce adequate amounts of steroid hormones, which are formed from cholesterol.
Two studies showed that vegans had sex hormones on level with meat eaters, but one report found that vegans had decreased levels of estrogen.
Some anecdotal reports provide evidence that low cholesterol could be a problem for some vegans. In such cases, increasing saturated fat, for example by adding coconut oil, could increase a drop in libido or resume menstruation.
Vitamins and Minerals
While a vitamin or mineral deficiency is very doubtful in a few weeks or months as a vegan, there are some nutrients you need to watch out for if you want to rise for the long haul.
Vitamin B12 in vegan diets has been a source of dispute and myths. While this rarely happens quickly, if you don’t get a reliable source of vitamin B12 through fortified foods or supplements, there’s a good chance your health will suffer.
The need for calcium in vegan diets has also been adjoined by misleading claims, with many vegan advocates claiming that animal protein, including milk, is the leading cause of osteoporosis in Western countries.
Research actually shows that vegans, like non-vegans, should try to adhere to the same calcium recommendations as the general population. Vegan diets tend to contain much less calcium than other diets, so we need to make a practice to include good sources on a regular basis.
Most often, vegans who suffer from severe fatigue suffer from vitamin D deficiency. This is not just a vegan problem, as many people develop vitamin D deficiency, in part due to avoidance of it. Sun. But on average, vegans are at a little disadvantage, because we get less vitamin D from our diet. Make sure you have a reliable source of vitamin D.
Iron is found in a wide range of plant foods, and vegans tend to have iron intakes comparable to those of meat eaters.
However, plant iron is not as easily absorbed as iron from meat, and a small percentage of women develop iron deficiency anemia after becoming vegetarians.
If you think you’re at risk: Make sure you include a good source of vitamin C with meals – it binds to iron, creating a complex that is more easily absorbed. Avoid coffee and tea with meals as they lower iron absorption.
Iodine is essential for thyroid health, but it’s a nutrient that most vegans hardly think about. Iodine is found inconsistently in plant foods depending on the soil iodine content. The food supply in many countries has traditionally been consumed of iodine, and iodized salt fortification programs have solved iodine deficiency in many of them. You need to make sure you have a source of iodine from either iodized salt or a multivitamin or supplement that contains potassium iodide. Too much iodine can be harmful, so don’t take more than the RDA of 150 µg (micrograms) per day. If you normally eat seaweed, you probably don’t need an iodine supplement, but since iodine can be quite variable in seaweed, we don’t recommend adding it to your diet for iodine.