- The perception of vegan diets as a healthy lifestyle choice has notably increased in recent years, with more people showing interest in adopting this lifestyle.
- There are several health benefits associated with vegan diets, such as reduced cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, better body mass index, decreased risk of heart diseases and cancers, and improved control and prevention of diabetes.
- Vegan diets can meet the nutritional needs of people in all stages of life, including children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and athletes, when properly structured and followed.
- Concerns about potential nutritional deficiencies in vegan diets have been largely debunked by nutritionists; essential nutrients traditionally sourced from animal-based foods can be adequately obtained from plant-based foods or fortified foods.
- Just like any dietary regimen, a vegan diet needs to be balanced and varied to provide all necessary nutrients; some key sources of important nutrients for vegans include soy products, quinoa, beans, lentils, fortified cereals, green vegetables, and various nuts and seeds.
The perception towards vegan diets has evolved considerably over time. Once seen as extreme and on the radical edges of vegetarianism, more and more people are revisiting vegan diets. Nutrition experts critically believe that a well-founded vegan diet could potentially be the healthiest way of life for the majority.
“Vegan diet plans, when designed appropriately, are healthy, meet nutritional needs, and could play a substantial role in the prevention and control of numerous diseases,” affirms Vandana Sheth, a certified dietitian and nutrition educator based in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Vegan diets consist entirely of plant-based foods, completely excluding all animal products including by-products like milk, cheese, and eggs that are permitted in specific vegetarian diets.
Modern Celebrity Vegan Advocates
In recent times, several prominent figures have championed veganism. Former President Bill Clinton, previously known for his indulgence in fast food and barbeque lunches, publicly announced his conversion to a vegan diet. Similarly, American Media Mogul Martha Stewart dedicated an entire episode of her television show to the vegan lifestyle.
Health Benefits Associated With Vegan Diets
Research indicates certain health benefits linked with vegetarian or vegan diets, according to Sheth. These include:
* Reduced cholesterol levels
* Lower blood pressure
* A well-maintained body mass index
* Reduced risk of heart diseases and various forms of cancer
* Improved control and prevention of diabetes
Sheth mentions, “Vegans don’t need to worry about cholesterol because it’s only found in animal products,” and adds that vegan diets are typically rich in fiber.
The evidence also suggests that vegan diets are suited for individuals across different stages of the life cycle, including children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and highly active athletes.
Addressing Concerns About Vegan Diets
One prevailing criticism of vegan diets is the potential to miss out on essential nutrients commonly found in animal products. However, nutritionists argue these concerns are no longer relevant, given the careful attention vegans tend to pay to their nutritional intake. Surprisingly, protein isn’t a significant concern for vegans. Even though plant proteins don’t break down into the full spectrum of amino acids required by the human body, consuming a diverse diet of plant-based foods can meet these needs efficiently.
“While most plant foods don’t contain every essential amino acid required by our bodies, a combination of a grain and bean forms a complete protein. Consuming a variety of such foods suffices, and they don’t have to be eaten together,” explains Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles.
Super Foods of Vegan Diet
Both Sheth and Giancoli highlight the importance of certain ‘super foods’ like soy and quinoa in a vegan diet, as these are sources of proteins that contain all essential amino acids. Sheth says “Beans, lentils, tofu, soy products, and plant sources like seeds and nuts are an excellent source of proteins, and the body can combine these various plant proteins to meet its needs when consumed in a varied diet”.
Vegans do need to ensure they receive adequate amounts of specific nutrients, like vitamin B12, crucial for cell metabolism, nerve function, and blood production and calcium, necessary for bone health. While these are typically found in animal-based products, fortified cereals and dairy substitutes like soy and rice milk can provide B12 and calcium. Greens like broccoli, collard greens, or kale are also rich calcium sources.
Similarly, vegans need to monitor their iron intake, vital for creating hemoglobin that transfers oxygen to cells and tissues. While animal-based products are rich iron sources, plant foods like dried beans, leafy greens, and fortified dairy substitutes can provide the needed iron. Eating iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich ones can increase their efficient absorption.
Perhaps the most challenging nutrient for vegans to obtain is Omega-3 fatty acids. Known for their role in cognitive and cardiovascular health, these are abundant in fatty fish – a category excluded from vegan diets.
Lastly, Sheth asserts that just like anyone else, vegans too can indulge in unhealthy eating habits. She recommends that vegans, like everyone else, follow the federal government’s “My Plate” guidelines, the principle difference being the source of protein.
For additional information, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s advice on vegetarian eating.