Vegan diets, although restrictive, are very popular. Most of us know someone who practices veganism- a diet that excludes all animal products like eggs, cheese, and (in some cases) even honey.
There are many reasons why people may choose to be vegan ranging from personal and environmental health to animal rights. Research does seem to favor plant-based diets as opposed to animal diets (ones with meat and animal products), and there are many reasons why. Here is a list of some known benefits of vegan diets-
1. Weight Management.
For the most part, plant-based diets tend to be lower in calories and higher in nutrients than animal diets. This means that we are getting more nutrients per calorie when eating fruits and vegetables. Fibers found in plants also help regulate digestion and stabilize blood sugar. Stable blood sugar (and insulin) levels often translate to fewer hunger episodes due to a sudden drop in blood sugar.
2. Vascular Health.
Individuals who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease and vascular problems. This is because plants have soluble fiber which helps clear out LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, a contributor to atherosclerosis and heart disease. High antioxidant levels in fruits and vegetables also help reduce oxidative damage to the vascular lining and across the body.
3. Digestive Health.
Insoluble fiber found in plant products help with bowel movements and promote microbial diversity in the gut. This is significant because digestive problems and colorectal cancers are becoming more prominent in the United States. Microbes in the gut play an important role in digestion (of food and pharmaceuticals) and in immune function.
Plant diets are associated with a longer life and lower overall mortality. This may be due to a lower incidence of chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, in individuals that eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Chronic and lifestyle diseases are the leading cause of death in the U.S.- with heart disease and cancer at the top of the list.
5. Environmental health.
Massive amounts of resources go to feed our cattle from the production of meat. This produces lots of carbon dioxide and methane -greenhouse gasses- through grassing and manure. Our deep dependence on animal products, as in the Western Diet, contributes to global warming.
Steering away from animal products also increases the economic demand for healthy foods grown through renewable means. This may, in turn, lower the cost of plant-based foods over time.
Is Being Vegan Automatically Better?
No. While research favors vegan and other plant-based diets, not every non-animal food is healthy. A cookie is still a cookie, vegan or not. It is important to eat more fruits and vegetables but also to steer away from processed foods like sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates.
Health benefits come from not just plant products but also from limiting convenience foods. If you don’t eat meat, cheese, or eggs but still drink soda and go hard on french fries your body will resent it.
Is Veganism the Way to Go?
While vegan diets offer many health benefits, these may not be practical for every individual. Many people lack access to health food stores and fresh ingredients- what’s worse is that healthy foods are becoming more expensive. This can be problematic to those who are under a strict budget and have many mouths to feed. It is now a fact that poor communities have less access to healthy foods and an abundance of convenience food options.
It is recommended, however, to incorporate as many plant-based components to your diet as possible. Try to stay away from convenience/processed foods, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates. Furthermore, a strictly vegan diet can be difficult to maintain for those who grew up eating animal meat and products as they are breaking a cultural bond with food.
- “Vegetarian, Vegan and Meals Without Meat.” Www.heart.org, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/vegetarian-vegan-and-meals-without-meat.
- Lassey, Keith R. “Livestock Methane Emission: From the Individual Grazing Animal through National Inventories to the Global Methane Cycle.” Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, vol. 142, no. 2-4, 2007, pp. 120–132., doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2006.03.028.