Of all the popular diets out there, veganism — that is, a diet consisting entirely of plant-based foods — is probably the most controversial. Many people adopt a vegan lifestyle for moral rather than nutritional reasons, and both advocates and opponents defend their beliefs with nearly religious zeal. For those of us who are just looking for the healthiest way to eat, this can make finding honest, unbiased information difficult.
Is veganism the healthiest way to eat? Is it a dangerous fad? Or is it something in between? The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all diet and veganism, like any other diet, has both benefits and drawbacks. Below are five things you should know about this increasingly popular diet.
There’s abundant evidence that a vegetarian diet protects against chronic disease, and vegans appear to benefit more than those who include eggs or dairy products in their diets. As far back as 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that vegans have significantly lower BMI and cholesterol levels than omnivores. They also tend to have lower blood pressure — which reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Vegans have fewer strokes and they’re less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer or colorectal cancer. All in all, being vegan appears to protect against a wide variety of diseases.
A vegan diet tends to be lower in both calories and fat than other diets, and those adopting a vegan diet often find they not only lose weight but can maintain their weight loss long-term.
Gut bacteria play an essential role in overall health, and the composition of our diets can have a profound effect on our gut microbiome. Studies suggest that a vegetarian diet, and especially a vegan diet, can increase the numbers of “good” bacteria while reducing the population of less desirable ones.
A nutritionally-complete vegan diet takes a bit of planning, and in some cases, supplements may be necessary. Vitamin B12, for instance, comes primarily from animal products. It’s virtually impossible to get the required amount through a purely plant-based diet, and vegans are advised to supplement. A vegan diet may also be lacking in omega-3 fatty acids and supplementing may be beneficial.
Being vegan simply means eliminating all animal products from your diet. It doesn’t address some of the driving forces of ill health such as excessive sugar, an overload of simple carbs, etc. Junk food is still junk, whether it’s vegan or not.
Being vegan isn’t for everyone. Like sugar, animal-derived ingredients hide in unlikely places, leaving you with very limited choices compared to other eating patterns. And while it does offer serious health benefits, it’s only one option among many healthy eating styles.