Author : David Lee of CPD
Switching to a vegan diet is becoming increasingly popular for ethical and fashion reasons but there are sound health benefits too. According to scientific research, cutting out animal products may lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, cut the risk of diabetes and may help you lose weight.
So what are we all waiting for! Let’s take a look at the health benefits to veganism and find out whether it is worth giving it a try.
1/ A good vegan diet is rich in nutrients
If you remove animal based products such as meat and dairy from your diet, you will be eating foods that are largely ignored by the western diet such as pulses and legumes and nuts, all great sources of fibre and protein. You will also eat more vegetables and fruits which are rich in antioxidants and nutrients. Scientific evidence suggests that this type of varied diet is great for health because it is higher in fibre and nutrients than a conventional western diet.
Of course if you continue to eat the same diet as usual and just cut out animal based products, your health will suffer because it will be lacking in fatty acids and vitamins generally obtainable by meat and dairy such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12. However most people switching to veganism drastically improve their diet and the quality of the food at the same time.
2/ A vegan diet helps you lose weight
Most people who are vegans tend to be slimmer than non vegans. And if you want to lose weight without stress, simply going vegan for a time period is more effective than adopting a weight loss diet and is much easier as well. Studies have shown that adopting a vegan diet may result in greater weight loss than more modest recommendations for weight loss such as calorie control. In addition a vegan diet enables you to eat until you feel full so you don’t have to worry about feeling hungry or giving into hunger pangs and breaking your dietary regime.
3/ A vegan diet is good for heart health.
The standard western diet is a major contributory cause of heart disease. Studies have shown that a vegan diet reduces the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) which leads to high blood pressure and heart disease. Certain foods such as avocados, nuts and wholegrains reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). We all know we should eat our five a day to minimise the risk of heart disease so adopting a vegan diet is extremely good for heart health.
4/ Becoming a vegan may help prevent some type of cancers
Red meat and processed meats such as sausages and bacon are believed to increase the risk of contracting certain types of cancer including bowel cancer and colon cancer. There seems to be a link with consuming processed meat and cooked meat such as bacon and barbequed food and post menopausal breast cancer in women.
In men there seems to be a link between the consumption of dairy products with prostate cancer.
Scientists are still unsure exactly why some of these findings are this way. It could be that vegans tend to eat more legumes, vegetables and fresh fruit which have a protective effect whereas the conventional western diet is based very much on meat. It could be that it is more a case of avoiding healthy foods that is the danger here, rather than the risks of any one food group. Scientists have yet to identify the real reason why the vegan diet appears to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer but the statistics show that if you are vegan your risk of contracting cancer is reduced by 15%.
5/ Becoming vegan may help improve the symptoms of arthritis
There have been studies looking into diet and the incidence of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. One 6 week study carried out on 37 participants aged between 19 and 70 who suffered from osteoarthritis found that it slightly improved morning stiffness and mobility.
Other studies have looked at the effects of a probiotic diet / raw food diet on cases of rheumatoid arthritis and have noted a reduction in pain and joint stiffness.
6/ Becoming vegan can help reverse type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a huge problem in the Western world. Although this type of diabetes is predominantly caused by carbs, rather than meat, going vegan can help improve the condition, and in some cases reverse it entirely.
Because the good vegan diet is composed of natural foodstuffs and pulses and legumes, blood sugar levels are kept low and insulin function high. In fact if you are vegan you are 78% less likely to contract type 2 diabetes.
One study saw 48% diabetic participants drastically reduce their diabetes medication after following a vegan diet for 74 weeks. The vegan diet was actually more effective than the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association which only improved the condition in 26% of cases.
Some diabetes sufferers have claimed to reverse the condition entirely by adopting a vegan diet.
In conclusion…is it because a vegan diet is so good or because the conventional western diet is so bad?
To benefit from becoming vegan, it is not enough to simply give up meat, fish and other animal related products and expect to reap all the health benefits of a plant based lifestyle. You do need to put some thought into it and drastically change the way that you eat. You need to find some plant based alternatives to commonplace food stuffs such as dairy. In addition you will need to top up on your B12 intake. Humans are naturally omnivorous so generally obtain this important vitamin through meat and fish so you may wish to consider using a B12 supplement.
Perhaps, it is not so much that natural good quality meat and fish are necessarily bad for you, the problem lies with the quantity that we eat and the general unhealthiness of the average western diet? When most people become vegan they instantly improve their diet and start thinking about the quality of their food. And after all it becomes easy to ensure you get five a day if your entire diet is based on nothing but plant based resources!
Perhaps the secret of the healthiness on the vegan diet, is not so much what we avoid in eating, but the food stuffs we used to replace them?