How Healthy is a Vegan Diet?
Veganism has grown quite popular recently, due to the increased concern of environmental sustainability, animal care, and the health advantages of a plant-based diet. Those on a vegan diet do not consume meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. Most people have grown up consuming animal products as a large portion of the daily diet, so it may seem difficult to completely eliminate and replace these sources. In reality, there are a large variety of alternatives to animal products to choose from without feeling deprived. Depending on many factors, most animal sources are not unhealthy and provide the body with necessary nutrients. If you are considering switching your diet to a vegan one, there are several components to pay attention to in order to guarantee you do not miss out on essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins.
The “Problem” with Animal Sources
Those who choose to eliminate animal products from their diets for its potential health risks will often argue that consuming these products increases the risk of deadly diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. As most of us already know, many animal protein sources also contain high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol which are linked to these diseases, but is consumption in moderation really a problem? It is safe to say the answer is ‘no’, and that the problem is really the fact that people consume an excessive amount of these higher fat sources on a daily basis.
The other negative view of animal food sources is that the cattle, pigs, and chickens we eat are raised on farms that confine the animals in groups of thousands and even hundreds of thousands. This way of raising animals causes much of the over production of waste to be contaminating to the water we drink. The antibiotic-injected animals are also an issue as this causes many unhealthy conditions in humans when consumed. Research has shown that conditions such as acne, reproductive problems, and breast and prostate cancer may be linked to the consumption of dairy products that come from cows that have been injected with hormones.
The Downside to a Vegan Diet
The reasons to change to a vegan diet may be positive ones, but not being careful about your alternative food source selections may be harmful to your health. As mentioned, animal proteins provide the body with necessary nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Although vegetables provide many vitamins and minerals, making sure to consume enough of the missing nutrients with a plant-based diet is not as easy as it seems. For example, iron from plant-based sources does not get absorbed as well as iron from animals, therefore it may be necessary to include an iron supplement.
Since the elimination of animal products leads to incorporating more servings of other food groups, vegans tend to overdo it with fruit intake. Most definitely, fruit is considered a healthy choice, but research has shown that since the majority of fruit is sugar, too many servings ends up exceeding the recommended daily sugar intake, increasing the risk of diabetes and weight gain. It is beneficial to monitor fruit intake and limit to two or three servings per day.
Excessive Junk Food
Many people who change to a vegan diet believe they are making an overall healthy choice, but forget that there is more to watch for than hormones, animal waste, and saturated fats. It is not uncommon to find tons of packaged foods in the pantries of vegans. Brands will attract people on any type of diet with labels reading “vegan” or “dairy-free” but will often include many other inorganic and unhealthy, processed ingredients in their products for preserving and to make up for flavor. It is always important to choose whole natural foods for the majority of your diet.
Soy is a commonly used ingredient in many vegan products, especially frozen and packaged foods. The problem with soy is that the majority of soybeans in the United States are genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms have been linked to birth defects, allergies, and sterility. Unfermented soy, which is the form in which most people consume soy, contains several unhealthy chemicals, including phytoestrogens—the main cause of the hormonal problems just mentioned. It is important to select products that are made with fermented soy in order to enjoy its nutritional benefits.
Whether vegan or not, the quality of food choices should be important. When following any kind of diet, we often end up including too many servings of packaged and processed foods thinking they are healthy because the labels mention “low fat”, “low sugar” or “vegan”. Unfortunately much of the flavor of foods comes from fats and sugars, so when removing these ingredients, brands will replace them with processed chemicals. Sometimes these chemicals are addictive ones that make us keep coming back for more. The above list of negative side effects of the vegan diet is not exhaustive by any means. This is why many who are concerned about the harmful effects of too much animal products, but want to give their bodies the best nutrition possible, will opt for a “flexitarian” diet, where animal foods are still consumed but in moderation and usually in the healthiest forms.