By Dina Usanovic
The vegan, or plant-based, diet has been growing in popularity significantly since the early 2010s. This diet restricts its followers from consuming any animal-based products, including eggs and dairy. The vegan diet is significantly more restrictive than the vegetarian diet, which allows animal-based products and only prohibits meat and fish. While many people follow vegan diets because they are animal rights activists, there are significant health benefits that accompany a vegan diet— which might explain the recent growth in vegan diets.
Vegan diets support heart health, as animal products (butter, meat, and cheese) are the primary sources of saturated fats in American diets. Following a diet that restricts the consumption of these foods results in lower cholesterol and; therefore, the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Plant-based products are also much higher in fiber than animal-based products, which are linked with better heart health. Animal-based products are also often higher in calories than vegan products, which reduces the risk of obesity and the heart issues that accompany them. Vegan diets also reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, as they are composed of healthier foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains, and nuts.
An observational study from 2017 suggests that following plant-based diets reduces an individual’s risk of cancer by 15%. Plant-based foods are high in fiber, phytochemicals, and vitamins, which protect against cancers. Also, the absence of red meat from a diet reduces the risk of cancer. Red meat- processed meat, especially has been linked to colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.
A 2015 study has also reported that vegan diets are more effective for weight loss than omnivorous or vegetarian diets. Many animal-based foods are high in calories and fat, while plant-based foods provide lower-calorie alternatives. These alternatives can help people lose and manage their weight while lowering their BMI. However, many junk foods are considered vegan. It is important to eat the right kinds of food if your intention is to lose weight.
It is important to note that vegan diets eradicate many sources of nutrients that are found in animal-based diets. While vegan diets are considered healthier in certain aspects than omnivorous or vegetarian diets, it is important to ensure that you are still consuming enough nutrients when following a vegan diet. These nutrients that are typically lacking in some vegan foods include iron, calcium, iodine, zinc, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids.
With the recent surge in popularity of vegan diets, vegan alternatives have significantly grown in grocery stores. It is now possible to find vegan mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers, cheese, and even some desserts. The growing vegan food market has made it possible to follow a vegan diet without missing some of your favorite foods. With the health benefits of the vegan diet and the accessibility to vegan alternatives, it may be time to consider going vegan.