It can’t have escaped your attention that the Vegan diet is growing in popularity. Gone are the days where this diet was confined to only the hard core of environmentalists and animal rights activists. It’s becoming mainstream and with it a growing range of foods suitable for vegans (just think about the McDonalds Vegan burger).
But, is going vegan a good idea? Well, the answer to this depends on the view point. From an environmental stand point then it’s a wonderful move, but is it the right move nutritionally? Opinions are split with some claiming a vegan diet is not only great for the planet, but great for your body while others warn over certain nutrients that go missing from our diet.
In this article I and going to look at the pros and cons of going vegan and provide you with the information you need to come to your own decision. I am not going to tell you whether you should go vegan or not, that’s not my place, but I will hopefully give a fair and balanced look at the concept.
What is a Vegan diet?
Before we start, I want to clarify what it means to be vegan and how it differs from being vegetarian. Vegetarians typically exclude meat, poultry and fish from their diet (although some make exceptions for fish and eggs) and may still consume other products derived from animals including milk, honey, and other foods made using these constituents. Vegans, however, take it one step further. They not only remove meat from their diet, but all products derived from animals.
What are the benefits of a vegan diet?
Having defined the vegan diet, it’s now time to highlight the benefits of going vegan of which there are several.
- Environmental benefits: Without going too in depth, farming meat is enormously inefficient compared to farming crops giving fewer calories per hectare. It also takes greater volumes of water to produce meat than it does crops. By removing meat from the diet, you help reduce carbon emissions and help stop farming practices which cause stress to animals in several ways.
- Promotes weight loss: By cutting out animal products you will inevitably reduce consumption of certain man-made foods (think chocolate) and could eat a considerably ‘cleaner’ diet. This can help you lose weight.
- Reduced costs: Anyone who has gone shopping will know how expensive meat can be. By switching to a vegan diet, you’ll fill your trolley with pulses, vegetables, nuts and cheaper meat alternatives which are less money.
- May help lower cholesterol: Jackie Keller, nutritionist, wellness coach and founder of NutriFit, an LA-based food delivery service, references a study in Diabetes Voice in 2007 that showed that people with Type 2 diabetes who adopted a vegan diet reduced their LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol by 21 percent — significantly more than the 9 percent drop seen by another group on the American Diabetes Association diet.
- May help lower blood pressure: Paragi Mehta, a registered dietitian and the creator of www.healthfulfilling.com, says that according to a 2009 position paper of the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian eating is linked with decreased risk of death from ischemic heart disease.
- Your diet will be lower in saturated fat: The lack of meat or dairy in your diet makes it easier to consume less saturated fat. This will improve your health in many ways.
- Increases antioxidant intake: Vegan eating usually increases the intake of wholesome foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes and whole grains, which is a great opportunity to get plentiful antioxidants, dietary fibre and vitamins and minerals.
- May promote greater self-control: There is a huge degree of self-control that is needed to eat a vegan diet and there is a school of thought that it could lead to increased self-control in other areas of life.
What are the cons of going vegan?
Having identified some positive benefits of going vegan, it’s time to consider the potential hurdles.
- You won’t automatically become healthy: Becoming vegan doesn’t necessarily mean your diet will be healthy. It will only work if you make the correct choices.
- Loss of essential vitamins and minerals: There is evidence to show vegan diets do not contain vitamin B12, an essential nutrient. This is of major concern for those who exercise because vitamin B12 is vital for energy release.
- Hard to get enough protein: Most vegans struggle with eating adequate amounts of protein. This is especially concerning for those who are trying to gain weight, as it is more difficult to hit macros.
- Increase consumption of ‘man–made’ substitutes: Many vegans will argue that with the abundance of man-made vitamins, minerals and altered foods on the market, it’s not a problem that the vegan diet doesn’t contain certain vitamins and minerals because they can take a pill, drink a shake or eat a substitute. While they may be safe, I am a HUGE advocate of a diet that is as natural as possible. Having a diet that contains an abundance of altered food and man-made substitutes doesn’t sit well with me, but it may with you.
- Potential interference with existing medical conditions: If you have a condition such as osteoporosis or diabetes, it is critical to consult with your physician and a registered dietitian when starting and implementing a vegan eating plan, as a vegan diet may interfere with your condition.
- Digestive discomfort: Digesting alternative protein sources can also prove challenging to people who are not used to them. They can make you feel bloated, they can make your digestive tract feel off and some could feel bad because of this as their system adjusts.
As you can see, there are a numerous pros and cons to eating a vegan diet (as with any diet) so whether you choose to go vegan or not is up to you. If you do decide to take the plunge and gradually shift to a vegan diet, it may take some time to adjust but stick with it! There are estimates that by going totally vegan, you can save 1-200 animals from being killed each year. However, it’s important to remember that this diet is still in the minority and as such, many restaurants don’t offer a full vegan menu so you may have to plan your meals in advance.