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The Benefits and Risks of A Vegan Diet

The Fast Growth of Veganism

More than 3.5 million people in the UK and about 6 to 8 million people in the USA are living on a vegetarian diet. Veganism is growing faster than we thought, particularly among younger generation aged 15 to 34.

According to Harvard Medical School, there are some different types of vegetarians:

  • 100% vegetarians (Vegans): people who don’t eat any animal-derived foods.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: people who don’t eat meat, poultry or fish, however they still eat eggs and dairy products.
  • Lacto vegetarians: people who don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs, but they still eat dairy products.
  • Ovo vegetarians: people who don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or dairy products, however they still eat eggs.
  • Pesco vegetarians : people who don’t eat meat or poultry, but they still eat fish.
  • Pollo vegetarians: people who don’t eat meat or fish, however they still eat poultry.

  

The Health Benefits of A Vegan Diet

Improving health is the main reason for the majority of people for following a plant-based diet. Fruits and vegetables are known to be beneficial for human health. Eating fruits and vegetables regularly helps reduce the risk for some diseases such as:

Cancer

According to many studies, eating lots of different fruits and vegetables everyday can reduce the risk of developing cancers. Also, by avoiding red meat, we can significantly reduce the risk for colon cancer.

Heart Disease

Five prospective studies involving more than 76,000 participants suggested that vegetarians were 25% less likely to die from heart disease. Eating nuts, whole grains and legumes helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, reduce bad cholesterol levels and protect your heart.

However, vegans and vegetarians need to minimise the consumption of refined carbohydrates and starches like potatoes, white rice and white-flour products as these foods can increase the risk for heart attack and diabetes.

 

Type 2 Diabetes

Some studies suggested that vegetarians were 50% less likely to catch type 2 diabetes compared to non-vegetarians. The risk for type 2 diabetes is higher among overweight people. Vegans and vegetarians are usually less likely to suffer from obesity, therefore they are at lower risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes. 

The risks of A Vegan Diet

A Vegan or vegetarian diet can be healthier options for most of us. Nevertheless, there are some common concerns that being a vegan or vegetarian may deprive your body of certain nutrients such as:

Calcium

According to EPIC-Oxford study, 75% of vegans get less than recommended daily intake of calcium, therefore the risk of bone fractures are relatively high among vegans. Vegans are highly recommended to eat calcium-rich-vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, chinese cabbage, collards and kale.

Vitamin B12, D and K

There is no or not enough vegan source(s) of vitamin B12, D and K, therefore vegans should consider taking a supplement to get the daily intake of these vitamins. Alternatively, there are some fortified foods such as soya milk, fruit juices and breakfast cereals that contain these vitamins.

 

Protein

There are many vegan sources of protein such as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, seeds, nuts, soy products and whole grains. So if you are a vegan, try to include  them in your diets.

Iron

Although there are some vegan sources of iron, they provide less active iron compared to the one from meat. To boost the iron intake through your diet, make sure that you eat plenty of pulses, watercress, broccoli, nuts and dry fruits such as apricots, prunes and figs. Foods that are rich in vitamin C help your body absorbing iron more effectively. Therefore, it is good to eat both types of foods at the same time.

Zinc

Whole grains, seeds, beans and legumes contain phytic acid which reduces the zinc absorption in your body. To get your daily intake of zinc, make sure that you eat plenty of tofu, chickpeas, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia and pumpkin seeds.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Vegetarian diets that exclude fish and eggs are low in omega-3 fatty acids. To make sure that your body is not deprived of the essential fatty acids, eat plenty of chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts and hemp seeds. Use rapeseed oil as your main cooking oil as it is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

 

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Sources: Becoming Vegetarian, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School; The Vegan Society; NHS UK www.nhs.uk.