Are Vegan Diets Healthier?

An estimated 500,000 took part in Veganuary in the UK this year, mirroring the year-on-year rise of veganism. Although the main motivation to move towards plant-based diets is typically for ethical or environmental reasons, there are many reports and anecdotes on the health benefits of such a diet. News outlets often feature reports on how plant-based diets are linked to greater longevity, and reduced risk of conditions such as heart disease.

What constitutes a vegan diet can vary, and could be made of Oreos and oven chips, or exclusively fresh produce from an upmarket supermarket. As such, it is hard to say that a vegan diet is healthy simply for being vegan. But how does a well-balanced vegan diet match up against one that contains animal products?

A HEALTHY VEGAN DIET…

If featuring plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, a vegan diet will likely contain a wide variety of micronutrients. These diets are high in fibre, which may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer; and low in saturated fats. In many cases, vegan diets can be nutrient dense without being high in calories.

NUTRIENTS TO CONSIDER

In 2017, a study by the National Osteoporosis Society found that many teenagers and young adults were at increased risk of osteoporosis in their lives due to reducing dairy in their diet. Calcium can be found in in plant-based foods such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and fortified dairy alternatives, but can be overlooked. Non-haem iron, found in plant foods, may be less bioavailable than haem iron, the type found in animal foods, such as red meat. Care is needed to include plant-based sources, which includes lentils and beans; hemp and pumpkin seeds and fortified cereals. Ability to absorb iron seems to vary between people quite widely, so some may have better iron levels on a vegan diet than others.

Another key nutrient to think about is omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are the main source of omega 3s; although walnuts, hemp, and rapeseed oil also contain some of this fatty acid. To get sufficient omega 3s, consuming a source like flaxseed is recommended. If this is too difficult, a supplement may be required, such as an algae capsule.

Vitamin B12 is also virtually absent from a vegan diet, with the exception of fortified foods. As low levels of B12 over a period of time can lead to serious health problems, it is important to either take a supplement, or to be consuming sufficient amounts of fortified foods consistently.

There appear to be many benefits to eating a plant-forward diet, that meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike can benefit from. And a well-planned vegan diet can absolutely be a healthy choice. However, care should be taken to include sources of certain micronutrients. Always speak to a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitan if you are doubtful in regards to how to transition to vegan diet and remember you do not have to label yourself ‘vegan’… You can simply benefit from prioritising more plant foods in your diet.

Remember, you cannot for wrong by simply adding more plant foods to your diet. You do not have to label yourself vegan or vegetarian but can make a conscious effort to include more plant proteins such as beans and legumes etc. as these are highly nutritious foods. Not only can you help support your health but switching out meat products for plants can help lower your carbon footprint too.

 

 

References

  1. https://gut.bmj.com/content/48/5/587
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5335887/
  3. https://www.bda.uk.com/uploads/assets/f2abf0e1-fa59-49db-a0afb1cb1bf9a878/Iron-food-fact-sheet.pdf

 

Contribution from Eleanor Coales ANutr

Featured post: The endless benefits to a plant-based diet

I do not normally feature other blog posts on my site but I was approached by NOBA who are passionate about educating society in regards to heart health, and wanted to collaborate to help educate the public. Plant-based diets are extremely relevant to this topic, so I wanted to help spread valuable information…

The-endless-benefits-to-a-plant-based-diet-1

The Benefits

A plant-based diet will improve one’s general and overall health. Although, there are more specifics to consider:

  • Heart health

Harvard researchers tracked the health habits of roughly 110,000 people for the period of 14 years. It was found that people with higher intakes of fruits and vegetables have less chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

  • Aids in preventing diabetes

Roughly 387 million people are living with diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, that number is expected to soar to nearly 600 million by 2035. Although reaching this number is preventable through a plant-based diet.

  • Weight-loss

A lot of research has been carried out regarding a plant-based diet and weight loss. The findings suggest that those who follow a plant-based diet tend to consume fewer calories, and thus weigh less than those who do not.

  • Fibre intake

Following a plant-based diet means consuming high quantities of fruits and vegetables, this means fibre is a key component of the diet. Fibre is an outstanding source for lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Fibre interacts with the ‘bad cholesterol’ in your digestive system and aids in removing it rather quickly from your body.

  • Hypertension control

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure. This is due to the high quantity of potassium which is present within a plant-based diet.

The American Heart Association also gathered research regarding potassium. Potassium helps to reduce the negative effects of sodium, which in turn reduces blood pressure levels.

High blood pressure can create stress and anxiety within an individual, potassium can prevent this.

Meat and most animal-based products contain little to no potassium and actually do the opposite of a plant-based diet, and raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

  • Decreases cancer threats

Several foods such as meat and animal based products contain cancerous substances. Thus a plant-based diet, which is rich in nutrients from fruits and vegetables is advisable for those who have cancer; or have had cancer, in order to prevent it; slow it down; or never allow it to come back again.

Check out NOBA for more information on food for your heart health.

 

References:

http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-guide/type-2-diabetes

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/how-eating-more-plant-based-foods-benefits-the-environment/

http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/8-ways-plant-based-diet-protects-your-heart/

Plant-based diets

plant based foods

Countless research has been carried out regarding the benefits of a plant-based diet. Not only is it good for the environment, but it is excellent for our overall wellbeing. Now, I am no vegan, but I am passionate about adding as many plants and as much colour to ones diet; so I thought I would share with you my knowledge of health benefits that go along with this way of living, and why it is so important to follow such a nutritious diet. This is not me encouraging a strict plant based diet but simply advising individuals to add more plants to their meals!

I know that a lot of individuals find the word ‘vegan’ rather extreme, so I always like to use the word ‘plant-based’. The issue a lot of people seem to have with a diet like this, is the amount or ‘lack of’ protein they perceive to be associated with this lifestyle choice. The obvious protein sources are usually animal based proteins like meat and dairy products. However, for individuals who have chosen a plant based lifestyle, there types of proteins are off the cards. So for a healthier alternative- I have listed some of my favourite sources of plant-based foods that can be combined to give equal amounts of protein….

Proteins are vital for both the structure and metabolic operations of the human body.

Functions of proteins:

  • Enzymatic
  • Transportation of cells
  • Hormonal function and regulation of metabolism
  • Immune function
  • Buffering function

So what are some delicious plant based proteins?

Quinoa- 1 cup contains more than 8 grams of protein and includes all nine of the essential amino acids that our body needs for growth and repair. Quinoa is great of either lunch or dinner, and is flavoursome mixed with different herbs or spices and vegetables.

Beans- Black, white, soy, kidney beans etc. all contain high amounts of protein. 2 cups of kidney beans will provide us with around 26 grams of protein. I regularly have kidney beans with my dinner- mixing them with lentils and plenty of veg.

Nuts and nut butter (such as peanut butter)- Nuts, I would go as far as saying, are an essential part of a plant-based diet. They are excellent sources of protein, and contain healthy fats. Make sure you choose raw nuts (not salted) and choose nut butters that have no added sugar or hydrogenated oils. I LOVE peanut paired with apple, or just snacking on a handful of raw almonds.

Soya milk- can contain up to 8 grams of protein per cup and is ideal to use with cereals, add to smoothies or simply drink on its own.

Green peas- legumes are great sources of plant based proteins. Green peas provide 8 grams of protein per 1 cup.

A lot of people think if you cut out meat- then what do you eat? But how wrong they are! There are so many other delicious foods that include proteins that provide far more nutritional value than a piece of steak. One of my favourite dinners to whip up in the evening is a mixture of wholegrains, lentils, kidney beans and a load of mixed veg! You’ve got various proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals and a very low acidity level! By mixing up different plant proteins, you are providing yourself with an excellent variety of amino acids that also contain many other health benefits such as fibre, and various antioxidants.

plant based foods

This type of diet, naturally tends to be packed with plenty of fruit and veg… which is great! Fruits and vegetables contain countless antioxidants which are so important for our health. They aid in flushing out bad toxins from the body and attacking ‘free radicals‘ that can contribute to risk of diseases, including certain cancers. Antioxidants are also essential for ‘younger looking’ skin. Free radicals can attack cells and decrease the elasticity of your skin, causing your skin to age more quickly. Antioxidants will prevent this from happening.

Lastly, it is a lot easier (and healthier) to enjoy sweet treats, when you are following a plant based diet. I say easier, because they typically won’t contain as much saturated fat. For healthy sweet treat recipes- check out my recipes page. All recipes that I develop will have nutritional benefit, and taste delicious 🙂

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