Are Vegans More Healthy?
It seems that everyone is talking about veganism but how much do you know about and is it as good for us as it is made out to be?
What is veganism?
Their philosophy is that animals should not be exploited for food or any other purpose.
Therefore, vegans do not eat meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy products, eggs or honey. Veganism also rejects the use of any goods such as clothes, cosmetics, furnishings etc that originate from or are tested on animals. It is not just about choosing to avoid animal products, such as leather and wool.
A 2016 survey by the Vegan Society of people aged 15 and over suggested that 542,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales were vegans, up from an estimated 150,000 in 2006.
What can you eat if you are a vegan?
Brown rice and oats not only keep you satiated for longer than their processed equivalents but are also a great source of iron. Ezekiel bread is a nutritional all-arounder, made from several types of grains, including sprouted whole grains and is chocked full of fiber. Millet, amaranth, barley and farro will keep you full, minimize spikes in blood sugar, as well as add more variety to your nutritional intake.
Butternut squash and sweet potato are rich in calcium, so no need to worry about ditching dairy products. Broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous family and are cancer-fighting superheroes. Green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, and spinach will boost your iron levels and if you eat them with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, vitamin C will accelerate your iron absorption.
Legumes: Beans, lentils and soy
Legumes are the foundation of any well-rounded vegan meal plan. They keep your metabolism running, your muscles strong and your cravings at bay so you don’t feel the need to grab any processed treats when hunger strikes. Soy products like tofu, tempeh (fermented soy) and soy milk are foods that benefit your weight management efforts the most when consumed in their unprocessed and unsweetened forms.
Olive oil and avocado both have high levels of vitamin E, which is excellent for your skin health, as well as high levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Walnuts, chia and flaxseed (ground flaxseed is best) are high in plant-based omega-3 oils, an anti-inflammatory that helps your body release excess water or toxins. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which protects the lining of your gut and the development of food sensitivities.
Nuts, nut butters, and milks
Walnuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and hazelnuts, as well as their nut butter variants, aren’t only delicious but are also handy snacks to take on the go. Their high protein and calcium levels will keep you satiated, and you won’t need much else to satisfy hunger pangs. Calcium-fortified plant milk such as soy, almond and rice milk are particularly nourishing.
Berries, apples and bananas
Berries are free radical fighters, protecting you from inflammation and cancer, as well as helping your skin stay supple and young-looking. Bananas are a key ingredient in a lot of vegan meal plan baking and sweetening. Though high in soluble fiber, it’s best to be mindful how much you eat, as bananas are still high in sugar. Apples contain pectin, which feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Is it a way to lose weight?
A vegan meal plan can also help support any weight loss efforts. A balanced, nutrient-packed vegan diet is rich in fibrous foods, that will satiate you, keep bad cholesterol in check and have your metabolism humming like a well-oiled engine. When going vegan it’s important to incorporate more plant based protein into your diet and sometimes supplement B12.
To maintain optimal health and vitality when on a vegan meal plan, aim to select fresh, seasonal, locally sourced, unprocessed and organic foods if they are available to you.. Here are recommended key ingredients to add to your healthy vegan meal plan grocery list:
Still fancy being a vegan – this is what you need to survive
A list of essential plant-based proteins to include in your vegan meal plan grocery list.
Unprocessed soy products
Non-dairy alternatives — almond, cashew and oat milks or yogurts
Nutritional yeast (also packed with energy-boosting B12)
Foods to avoid on a vegan diet
Processed faux meats like vegan meats, e.g. sausages, burgers or tofurkey
Sweetened dairy alternatives
Vegan baked goods or sweets (Note: Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy)
Sauces like tomato ketchup, salad dressings, vegan mayonnaise, stir-fry flavorings
Agave syrup (Agave is commonly used in vegan baking, but it can lead to spikes in blood sugar)
Coconut products like oil, milk and cream, which although healthy in small amounts can lead to weight gain if you eat too much!
Is veganism just about your health?
Many people have become vegan because they are not just concerned about their health but also the health of the planet. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN estimates that farmed livestock is responsible for around 15 per cent of man-made greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
A 2015 Gallup survey of Americans found that 32 per cent believe animals should enjoy the same rights as people, up from 25 per cent in 2008.
Oxford university did research that suggested both the climate and health would benefit from slashing the proportion of “animal-sourced foods” in our diet. The Eatwell Guide, which constitutes the UK’s official dietary guidelines, advises consumers to cut their intake of red and processed meat but does not specify amounts.
Are vegans more healthy?
In fact, veganism is no more or less healthy than any other kind of diet. Dr Denise Robertson, reader in nutritional physiology at the University of Surrey and a vegan for four years explains: “You can get really good vegan diets and really diabolical ones. Some unhealthy foods, like chips and crisps, are vegan.”
A good vegan diet is broad, she says, with the same proportions of food groups as other diets: about 15 per cent protein; 50-55 per cent carbohydrates, and the rest fat. “People worry about protein deficiency but almost everyone is overconsuming protein. The only difference is that, unlike animal protein, plant protein might not be complete — you might not get all the amino acids you need,” Dr Robertson says. “So, while you might not get everything by eating just beans, beans plus rice is fine. It’s like a jigsaw.”
Raw-food diets, made up of only fruits and vegetables, do not deliver all the necessary nutrients for a healthy diet.
Nutrition experts advise vegans to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables; to base meals on wholegrain or high-fibre starchy carbohydrates, such as wholegrain breakfast cereals, oats, wholegrain breads, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa and potatoes with skin.
Vegans, like vegetarians need to be careful of becoming deficient in vitamin B12, which is essential for the nervous system. To avoid this, vegans need to eat enough plant protein that can be found in pulses, tofu, nuts and seeds, dairy alternatives and unsaturated fats and oils, such as rapeseed oil and olive oil and Marmite is a good source. Many dairy alternatives, such as almond milk, are fortified with both calcium and vitamin D. Some vegans on poor diets can become deficient in iron, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids. A well-planned diet can fill in the missing pieces.
What about long term health?
There is certainly evidence that suggests that more plant-based dietary patterns may have a health benefit when compared with more traditional diets.
Systematic reviews suggest those on vegetarian and vegan diets are less likely to be obese, and more likely to have healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other studies caution that not all plant-based diets are equal. One recent US study of around 200,000 vegetarians and vegans, published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, found that those subsisting on “unhealthful” vegan diets — comprising refined grains, potatoes and sweets — had a raised risk of heart disease compared with those on regular diets.
Those on healthier vegan diets, following the kind of intake recommended by nutritionists, enjoyed a comparatively lower risk.
The studies showing a link between meat-free lifestyles and better health are also hampered by other factors: vegetarians and vegans can often be more health-conscious, for example smoking less and exercising more than those on other diets.
Calculating the relative contributions of these influences can be statistically difficult. Oxford university is now looking specifically at cancer risk among vegetarians, as well as the risk of stroke, fractures, heart disease and gastro-intestinal disorders.
What might it do for the planet?
Oxford academic Dr Marco Springmann tried to model what a vegan planet might look like by taking into account climate change, food shortages and population growth intensify. He projected that were the world to adopt a vegan diet by 2050, the global economy would benefit to the tune of $1.1tn savings in healthcare costs and environmental savings of $0.5tn and a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.
Need more convincing?
The key point is always to know why you’re doing it and how to do it properly, rather than just jumping on a trend but done correctly it can be very good for health.
With a potential post-Brexit trade deal with the US threatening to flood Britain with farming practices that are at the moment prohibited in the UK, eg chlorinated chicken, beef with growth hormones and bacon with banned additives – the appeal of a plant-based diet could gain even more popularity
Veganism is no longer niche or difficult and, as industrial agriculture bends to adapt to consumer demand and its own crisis of sustainability, it is only going to get more accessible – and more popular. If you fancy it, like everything, you just need to do it properly
What is certain, however, that there has been a major shift in the way British people think about the food they eat and how it is produced recently – driven by younger people who have access to a lot of research that worry more about the uncertainties of the world they are growing up in.