Health Considerations Of A Vegan Diet
As well as being concerned about the environment in general, many people who opt for a vegan diet do so because they no longer want to eat any type of food related to animals. At the root of this may be their concern about the poor treatment of farm animals, from chickens through to cows. Added to this, they may be looking for ways to improve their health and switching to a diet that is totally plant-based offers many benefits.
Before commencing a vegan diet, it is a good idea to do some research and look at both the pros and cons of going totally down the plant-based route for your food.
Here are a few pros and cons for you to consider:
Con: Insufficient calcium and vitamin D – getting rid of dairy foods from your diet also removes a strong source of calcium. This can result in bone fractures and poor bone density. Vitamin D is naturally found in fish oils, cheese, liver and eggs so vegans may have to find alternative sources of this vitamin. In order to compensate for this, vegans need to eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, soy and rice products, fortified cereals and juices with calcium added. If you like tofu, this is also great for providing calcium. Research has provided some surprising statistics; women who have plenty of vitamin K in their diet (eating green leafy vegetables more than once a week) have a 45% less risk of suffering a fractured hip than those that don’t consume them. This is very relevant in women over 50 years of age.
Pro: Iron deficiency is not a problem – since milk has very little iron in it, not drinking it is not a big issue. Neither is cutting out dairy products such as eggs. So the good news is that vegans are not at risk of iron deficiency, although many people naturally assume that it is a downside of this type of diet.
Con: Lack of vitamin B12 – oily fish, meats and dairy foods have lots of vitamin B12 but plants do not. This can have serious knock-on effects such as bringing on early dementia, memory loss, lack of concentration and even poor balance. For this reason, vegans need to get their B12 from fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, soy milk and rice. For the over 50s then having B12 in your diet is crucial if you are vegan. Even if you eat meat, at this age the reduced levels of stomach acid can result in your body being unable to take the B12 from animals foods.
Pro: Lack of omega 3 is not an issue – omega 3 is great for brain function and heart health. Present in fish, vegans will not have a deficiency as long as they get their omega 3 from other sources such as seeds, canola(rapeseed) oil, walnuts, tofu and all soy products.
Other advantages of a vegan diet
- It may help lower your level of bad cholesterol.
- Your blood pressure may be lowered.
- It increases your antioxidant intake.
- By promoting greater self control, you may suffer less impulsive eating behaviours.
Other disadvantages of a vegan diet
- It can be a radical change which is difficult to plan for.
- It may interfere with existing medical conditions such as osteoporosis or diabetes.
- Dining out can be difficult.
You should be pleasantly surprised to know that going vegan can still provide you with a good diet, as long as you include all of the essential elements. Like any diet, if you eat unhealthy foods this will have an impact upon your health, and this can be said whether you are vegan or carnivorous. Eat wisely as a vegan and you should suffer few weight problems and not be so at risk of heart problems or high blood pressure.
As we always recommend, if you are thinking of making any significant changes to your diet, speak to your GP to get their advice first.