Is Veganism Really the Healthy Choice?
1 March 2021
Vegans account for 1.16% of the population in Great Britain today and while this may not seem like a lot, the number of people who have adopted a vegan lifestyle has quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, according to The Vegan Society.
Reasons for choosing to become a vegan may be down to ethical concerns over the exploitation and cruelty to animals, environmental issues or personal taste, but is it really a healthy choice?
Like any trend, the food industry has been very quick on the uptake; identifying an opportunity to increase sales and profit margin, and who can blame them? This cultural shift has led to a huge increase in vegan options in supermarkets, fast-food chains and vegan restaurants were popping up everywhere before lockdown. In many ways this is good news for vegans (and animals for that matter) as it has created greater choice and sense of freedom - no doubt something that has been very well received. However, as alternatives such as vegan pizzas, sausages, pies, meat substitutes, vegan cheeses, no-chicken nuggets and pretty much anything else the food processors can think up, continue to appear on the menu, what does that mean health-wise?
The thing is, just like meat eaters, the types of diets vegans follow can be hugely diverse and nowadays it’s all too easy to consume meals which are largely comprised of highly processed food. Food which also happens to be lacking in many of the nutrients required to support the optimal functioning of your body.
Regardless of whether you’re a meat eater or a vegan, if you choose to eat processed food on a regular basis the chances are you will likely fall short on some, if not many, of the nutrients needed for mental and physical vitality.
In contrast, if you are the type of vegan who enjoys a so-called ‘Whole Food-Plant Based’ diet, there is an awful lot of evidence to suggest this way of eating is very supportive of good health and can actually help to prevent many of the chronic diseases becoming more and more prevalent in the western world today; diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity and even mental decline.
“Blue Zones” is a term used to describe geographic regions in the world which have been identified as having populations with low rates of chronic diseases and the highest number of centenarians. In addition to other lifestyle factors, one thing these communities have in common is a so-called ‘plant slant’ meaning they rarely eat meat and instead plant foods such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables and nuts form the cornerstone of their diet.
This does suggest that consuming an abundance of whole plant foods as part of a vegan diet is a huge step closer to achieving your health goals. This should come as no surprise as plant foods are known to be rich sources of vitamins and minerals.
Certain considerations do however need to be made when following a vegan diet and where it may fall short. Nutrients which are notoriously more difficult to obtain through a vegan diet include vitamin B12, Iron, vitamin D and the Omega 3 essential fatty acid. Omega 3 is ‘essential’ because it cannot be produced by the body, therefore regular and continuous intake is needed to support levels. The most widely available source is oily fish, which is obviously not suitable for vegans, who can instead opt for flaxseeds or a supplement made from microalgae.
The bottom line is, with careful consideration, a vegan diet can be a healthy one. That said, remember we are all unique and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. It’s important to consider your personal circumstances and lifestyle and decide whether you would benefit from extra supplementation.
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