Increasingly, more and more people are choosing to become vegans. Many people become vegans for health reasons, but studies show when compared to other forms of plant-centric diets the vegan diet doesn’t produce any real health benefits. Moreover, veganism is actually a philosophical position, or protest, against factory farming of animals or that the consumption of meat is harmful to the environment. Vegans also shun the use of all other products made from animals, such as leather.
The vegan diet is often referred to as plant-based, but this is not accurate. Veganism is a diet made up completely of plants, whereas plant-based diets, like vegetarian or Mediterranean diets, use plants as a mainstay with the addition of fish and dairy. While copious research does show increased health benefits from vegetarian diets, strict vegan diets frequently pose health risks.
People who consume higher levels of plant foods typically have reduced incidences of major illness, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. This is thought to be related to lower levels of bad cholesterol, or LDLs, and a higher level of good cholesterol, or HDLs. However, this same result is present when people cut out high-fat meats and dairy products, such as grain-feed beef, whole milk and cheeses.
Vitamin deficiency can be a major concern for vegans. For example, vitamin D is necessary for calcium metabolism. A large study in the Britain showed bone fractures were more common in vegans if they did not get at least 525 mg of calcium per day.
Plants contain no vitamin B12, and B12 deficiency can result in serious health issues, such as lack of coordination, loss of balance, nerve dysfunction, disorientation, memory loss and early-onset dementia. This is even more of a concern for people over 50, as these individuals typically have decreased stomach acid necessary to digest B12 from plant sources.
Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, typically obtained from fish, are crucial for brain and eye function as well as cardiovascular health. While vegetarian diets include fish and other seafood, vegan diets do not. There are some plants that have high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid, such as flax seed, canola oil, walnuts, tofu and soy, which the body can convert to omega-3. However, fish is loaded with low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, the good cholesterol that fights the bad – so vegans loose out here big time.
Another problem with vegan diet is it is typically high is some foods that are shown to have negative health benefits, such as soy and rice. Soy contains trypsin inhibitors, known to cause stunted growth. Soy phytoestrogens interrupt immune function and may promote breast and thyroid cancer. Because of ground water contamination, and because rice is such a water-intensive crop, rice is beginning to show dangerously high levels of arsenic.
All things considered, a vegan diet is not the healthiest choice. If you are against the use of all animals products, as a moral or political position, than a vegan diet is your only option. Just be sure to do your research and plan your menus carefully to receive adequate nutrition. However, if you are strictly looking to improve your health than a vegetarian diet is the way to go.