Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

More people are adopting a vegan, or plant-based, diet every day.

According to a 2019 report in The Economist, 25% of Americans aged 25 to 34 identify as vegans or vegetarians. In addition, according to research by the food-focused website Chef’s Pencil, interest in veganism reached an all-time high in 2020.

For some, abstaining from dairy, meat, and other animal products may appear to be a significant sacrifice. Others, however, see the personal and societal benefits of a vegan diet as a no-brainer; for example, many people are concerned about animal welfare. In addition, many people are motivated to switch because of the potential health benefits.

But is a vegan diet that healthy?

Health benefits, when done right

A cardiologist at Rush University Medical Center, Jeffrey Soble, MD, started eating a plant-based diet about two years ago.

Improving his health – he has a family history of heart disease — was a major factor in his decision, as it was for many others. According to studies, a vegan diet can help with the following:

• Reduce your risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels

• Manage diabetes by lowering A1C levels

• Promote weight loss

• Lower your chances of getting certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer

However, as Soble would remind any of his patients considering it themselves, going vegan does not automatically guarantee excellent health.

“You can be overweight and vegan,” Soble explains. “You can be malnourished and vegan.” “You must know which foods to avoid and which foods to seek out, regardless of your diet choice.”

The key: Planning

“Refined grains, junk food, and sweets are troublemakers for everyone, not just vegans,” Soble warns.  “Both vegans and nonvegans can develop a habit of making these foods the foundation of their diet.”

Important nutrients are required for any type of healthy diet. While many of these may have been readily available while you ate dairy and meat, you’ll need to discover new ways to include them in your diet as a vegan.

Protein: Animals aren’t the only source of this essential nutrient. Protein is also abundant in soy products (such as edamame and tofu). Other good sources include seitan (made from gluten), lentils, chickpeas, and nutritional yeast.

Vitamin B12: A lack of vitamin B12 can make you feel weak and tired.   However, because vitamin B12 is not present in plants, it can be difficult for vegans to get enough. To get your fill, eat fortified cereals, rice, and soy drinks, or take a supplement. Most adults should take about 2.4 milligrams per day, but check with your doctor to see what’s suitable for you.

Essential fatty acids: A deficiency in essential fatty acids have been linked to brain health issues like cognitive impairment and depression. Consume many whole grains and leafy green veggies to acquire your vital fatty acids (e.g., spinach, collards, and kale). Also, try a small handful of unsalted nuts like walnuts, almonds, or pistachios as a snack.

Iron: The richest sources of iron are egg yolks and red meat. They are, however, heavy in cholesterol. Black-eyed peas, dried fruits, and tofu are all good sources of iron from plants.

Vitamin D: Sunlight exposure of ten to fifteen minutes each day, as well as fortified orange juice and soy, can provide a vitamin D boost.

Veganism does not have to be all-or-nothing. By creating your roadmap and being realistic about what you want to accomplish, you will be more satisfied with the change.

A few tips

Do you want to make a change? Soble suggests a few things to help you get started:

• Talk to your partner first.  Explain why you’ve decided to make the change. Your partner may choose to join you on your adventure, or you may have to go alone. For example, if you decide to eat differently, talk about how you’ll go about shopping, preparing meals, and dining out.

• Take down notes. Make a list of your favorite vegan dishes and where you can find them. This might include prepared foods from your local grocer, your favorite brand of soy yogurt, or delicious entrées from nearby eateries. This handy list will assist with last-minute meal preparation as well as shopping and eating stress.

• Understand your expectations. Will you ensure that every item you eat has no animal products by reading ingredient labels?  Or will you take a different approach and have a little ice cream at birthday parties?   Veganism does not have to be all-or-nothing. Examine your goals and objectives carefully and do what works best for you. “You will be more satisfied with making the change if you create your roadmap and be realistic about what you want to achieve,” Soble says.

• Remove hurdles.  You can’t go vegan because there aren’t any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in your area? Vegan shopping no longer necessitates a trip to a gourmet or organic grocery store, Soble says. “More chain stores are opening in impoverished communities in Chicago, selling not only fresh produce but also soy products,” he says. Farmer’s markets are also more plentiful. Veganism does not necessitate the use of organic or even fresh produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also be included in a vegan diet.

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