What are the Benefits and Risks of a Vegan Diet?
April 7, 2022
Benefits of a Vegan Diet
Vegan diets and other plant-based eating styles have become more popular in recent years. Many people choose to eat this way for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. The nutritional quality of a vegan diet can lead to significant health benefits such as a reduced risk for cancer, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that plant-based diets have other benefits including improved kidney function and blood sugar control reducing the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
There are many varieties of vegan diets but essentially vegans avoid eating any foods derived from animals including meat, eggs, and dairy. Vegan diets are effective at helping people naturally reduce the number of calories they eat, resulting in weight loss. For that reason, Vegans tend to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegans.
What are the health risks of a vegan diet?
As with any diet, it is important to ensure the body is getting the right level of vitamins and minerals. This can be particularly challenging when you are just starting to make the switch to a vegan diet. Those who follow a vegan diet will need to carefully read nutrition labels to stay healthy. It is important to choose foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals to avoid nutritional deficiencies.
Meat, fish, and dairy products contain loads of vital nutrients. When you follow a vegan diet, it can be more difficult to get the same levels of these nutrients from plant-based products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets out guidelines for the amounts of different vitamins and minerals an individual should consume per day. However, individual nutrient needs will vary depending on many factors including a person’s age, body weight, overall health, and whether they are pregnant or breastfeeding.
To avoid nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet there are several things to keep in mind. It is essential to eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day. Dairy products need to be replaced with alternatives such as soya drinks/milk. Also include beans, pulses, and other plant-based proteins as well as starchy carbohydrates as the base of your meals like potatoes, pasta, and rice. Equally important is the need to keep yourself hydrated with 6-8 glasses of water/fluid per day.
What type of vitamin deficiencies are common with a vegan diet?
Some of the most common vitamins and nutrients you may not be getting enough of on a vegan diet include:
This vitamin is created by bacteria and found primarily in animal products such as dairy, meat, insects, and eggs. However, many plant foods are fortified with B12, and supplementing with a B12 vitamin is a viable option.
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, along with calcium, it plays an essential role in maintaining bone health. Vitamin D is easily obtained from sun exposure. For those with less outdoor time, such as individuals living through winter in northern climates, supplementation is also an alternative.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This essential fatty acid is very important for maintaining heart health. While fish and eggs are commonly thought of as rich sources, you can also find omega-3 in chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and hempseeds.
Zinc can be found in many beans, legumes, and whole grains. But it is important to note that phytic acid found in these plants can hinder zinc absorption. However, by soaking or sprouting grains and beans before cooking, the phytic acid is reduced.
Even though iron from plants is not as easily absorbed, eating a varied diet rich in whole plant foods should ensure enough iron. You can find iron in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, lentils, peas, and dried fruits! Adding foods rich in vitamin C will also help iron absorption.
In addition, iodine, calcium, vitamin D3, creatine, carnitine, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and taurine can also be deficient and should be monitored.
How to monitor vitamin deficiencies on a vegan diet
If you're thinking about adopting a vegan lifestyle, consider the changes you would need to make to your current diet, shopping, and meal habits before deciding if it is right for you. Deficiencies can cause many health problems. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan foods to help you meet your daily nutrient needs, and you can always rely on supplements for an extra boost if you need it. Monitoring your levels of essential vitamins and nutrients can help ensure that you are not canceling out the health benefits of eating vegan by losing out on vital nutrition. This can also help you to avoid taking unnecessary supplements in an attempt to fill in nutritional gaps. Fortunately, Request A Test makes it easy to check yourself for deficiencies in a variety of vitamins and minerals. You can choose individual tests or more comprehensive panels depending on your needs. Each person’s dietary needs will vary slightly, but it can be useful to have benchmark numbers for vitamin and mineral intake as a point of reference.
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