So to the questions , “Is it healthy to be vegan?” and “is it healthy to be on a vegan diet?” The answer is yes, provided. Shall we move on?
Of course a vegan diet is healthy, in fact, it is probably the healthiest diet out there, whether on it’s own, or combined with other plans such as a vegan diet and keto, or a vegan diet to lose weight, or tweaked to cater for a vegan diet for athletes. Or one of my personal favourites, Intermittent fasting and a vegan diet.
Though before undertaking a vegan diet there are a few considerations to bear in mind. Firstly, as with any diet if you have pre-existing conditions you might like to contact your GP first. Veganism is not simply about food it is more a life style choice. Of course veganism excludes all meat, fish, and animal products including eggs, cheese and milk.
There are critics of a vegan diet who say it is too restrictive and so I will cover these points during this blog.
Nutrition on a vegan diet: Macronutrients
1 Protein: One of the main questions that all vegans get asked is “where do you get your protein?” Well, there is a simple answer and a not so simple answer here. The Simple answer is that vegan diets can provide adequate protein through plant based sources, like legumes, tofu and tempeh. However, careful planning and diversification of protein sources are necessary to meet essential amino acid requirements.
The not so simple answer I like to give is, “the same place as you.” People generally reply then something like, “oh still from meat then!” I then tell them no, and explain that protein comes from plants. Animals cannot create protein. They can only store, (very inefficiently as it happens,) the protein they absorb from the plants they eat, or in the case of some animals and fish, from their prey, (animal or fish) which obtains it from plants eaten by it, or others further down the food chain, but it still came from plants! That is unless we want to get into the realms of some of the deepest sea creatures that live on volcanic vents, but I can’t really see that one coming up in every day conversation, and I can’t see those being on many people’s dinner plates!
I have made many comments about protein supplements in my other blogs on this website, so do not intend going into it here. However, if you need more details or simply have a question please ask in the comments area below.
2 Carbohydrates: A proper vegan diet is rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruit provides an abundant source of carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, necessary for energy as an added benefit it is attached to healthy fibre.
3 Fats: Plant based “healthy” fats such as those contained in avocados, nuts, and seeds can provide these including some omega-3 fatty acids. However, there are different kinds of omega-3 fats, which I really don’t want to go into detail about here. If we want to obtain adequate amounts of sufficient omega-3s like EPA and DHA we have to consume seaweed and algae in our diet. There is also of course the option of taking it as supplement instead.
These are essential to our correct bodily function. If my readers want more detail on this please drop me a message in the comments section below. I can do a blog on the subject or just answer specific questions. Again, a note here to dispel a common misconception. Popular knowledge has had us believe that we have to consume oily fish to get our omega-3. Again, that is not correct and is as much about marketing as anything. Fish cannot produce omega-3. In the same way that animals cannot produce protein. It is just a matter of storing the Omega-3 from eating seaweed or algae. So it is not necessary to fish, and overfish, our seas to obtain this product.
1 Iron: Plant based iron sources like legumes and leafy greens are available, it is beneficial to combine the intake of these with that of foods rich in vitamin C, as it makes the absorbtion more effective.
2 Calcium: Plants that contain calcium include fruits, leafy greens, beans, nuts and some starchy vegetables. Aditionally many vegan milks, like soy, almond and oat are fortified with calcium.
3 Vitamin B12: There is no doubt that many people on a vegan diet will be short of B12 without supplements. I have talked a lot about B12 in other blogs so do ot want to go into detail here. In brief, most intensively farmed animals are short of B12 too so are given a supplement. Just one of many given to them, (including antibiotics) that they will pass onto consumers. Given the natural shortage of B12 in the vegan diet we often find vegan milk fortified with this too. However, I would still advise vegans to take a B12 supplement.
So, to drawbacks and benefits of a vegan diet.
Nutritional deficiencies. I have outlined these above and there is a really simple solution. Take a vitamin pill a day. There are many to choose from, some expensive and some inexpensive. A brief note of warning here, not all vitamin pills are vegan friendly, though as time goes on more and more are. I have my own personal favourites and I am sure you will find yours. The most important thing is that your chosen one has sufficient of our daily requirements. I take just one pill a day, a multivitamin that has 100% of my daily requirement of B12 and omega-3. The one I choose has a range of other vitamins too. This is not necessary in the case of all vegans. If you really do not like taking any pills, or only the minimum essential then with sufficient research you can go without the other vitamins and nutrients. If you are not against these additions then simply go for the multivitamin, but please read the label and take careful note of what it contains.
Meal planning and diverse foods. Vegans should ensure they eat a variety of vegetables and fruit within their diet. A good way of judging this is by the colour of our food. Generally speaking different colours of vegetables and fruits tend to indicate you are mixing up your micronutrients as well as the type of food you are eating. Not only that but the various colours add to the appeal of food on the plate.
In the early days of the vegan diet it was often difficult to find recipes and food could become repetive for many who did not particularly like to cook or experiment with food. Now it is very easy to find what is vegan diet food and a whole host of vegan diet food recipes. I will at some point put some of my favourite vegan diet meal plans on this website. If you prefer there are numerous vegan varieties of meat, cheese, milk, cream and icecream.
Social and practical considerations: It is true that a vegan diet restricts us to what, and often where, we can eat. If we plan to go to family or friends to eat, there needs to be a conversation about what our meal will involve. People can find this awkward especially in the early days of going vegan. However, unfortunately, it is just something that needs to be overcome. Though the resultant conversations can be enlightening. It is certainly unlikely that you will not find anything to talk about!
In my early days of being vegan I would often take along a vegan “main” course as an alternative to what has been prepared. Though I would advise anyone to take along plenty. Many non-vegans often like to give it a try and want more when they find out how tasty it can be!
Going out with family and friends to restaurants may also need a bit of pre-planning. Whilst more and more restaurants now provide vegan alternatives, not all do. A look online at their menus is always recommended. Many of those that do not provide this service are open to doing a vegan option, some need notice by a telephone call beforehand and others will accommodate vegans at the time. Unfortunately, even in this day and age some restaurants just do not want to alter their menu. I am pleased to say the number of these “die-hards” are greatly diminishing, and I simply choose to go elsewhere.
Health benefits of a vegan diet:
A lower risk of chronic disease. I do not think I have to go into these at great length, many are well known and those that are not are being studied and are providing some staggeringly positive benefits to being vegan! Studies and now many real life experiences, suggest a healthy vegan lifestyle reduces the risk of many types of heart disease, angina and high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, certain, and many, types of cancer and high blood pressure. Much of this is down to the emphasis on whole, plant based foods, the high fibre content and the absence of the saturated fats contained in animal products, plus the additives in processed meats. Some of the more recent studies include that of the impact on alzheimer’s disease, which I hope to look at at a later stage.
But it is not only the prevention of these diseases, it is also, to at least some extent, the treatment of their symptoms too. I am certainly not saying veganism will cure disease. However, there is evidence, some anecdotal and some by studies, to say it certainly helps with the management of them and their effects. Indeed, if you look at it logically, if a vegan diet helps reduce the chance of heart disease, (for example) why would it not help the recovery and rehabilitation for the same reasons?
Weight management: A properly balanced vegan diet is low in calories and saturated fat. It also makes us feel fuller for longer meaning the temptation for snacks and particularly sweet snacks are greatly reduced. All of this may contribute greatly to weight management.
Increased nutrient intake: A healthy vegan diet means that we consume higher amounts of fibre, antioxidants, vitamin C and E and potassium, all of which are beneficial for health and in the prevention of disease. Again, I go into some of this in greater detail here on this website in other posts.
It is healthy to be a vegan, both in the short and long-term. However, on such a diet one must be aware of the need to meet all nutritional requirements. Mostly this is easily achievable with a little thought and pre-planning and for most of us with simply taking a daily suppliment.
I think I have answered the question I set out to on the top of this post, but I think it would be remiss of me not to finish with one final thought which is not too far away from the title of this blog.
If we follow a healthy vegan lifestyle, it makes the lives of animals so much better too. We are not contributing to a system that causes us to rear animals at the fastest rate possible, mostly in miserable, cramped conditions only to be murdered and consumed by the people they relied on in life. A system that takes a calf from it’s mother at birth, so that humans can drink the calf’s milk. Much of the world (not all) feels it is wrong to eat a dog. However, pigs and cows share many similarities to dogs. Many of use feel it would be awful to keep a dog in a cage for it’s life where it could not turn around, and then kill it whilst still young to be eaten for food by us, yet we do it to pigs that are more intelligent than dogs. Food we do not need to eat.
If you have any questions about a vegan diet for health, or veganism in general, please do not hesitate to contact me. This goes for whether you have been on such a diet for years or are just starting out on the journey. I have a lot of experience at this now and will be more than happy to help and as you have probably noticed I am passionate about the subject. Simply drop me a comment in the box below.