5 Health Benefits Of A Vegan Diet
Nowadays, people don’t just focus on living a healthy lifestyle for themselves. As we begin to realise the impact that our consumption choices have on our bodies, as well as the planet, the more society as a whole tries to implement healthier consumption patterns and ethical shopping practices.
One way of doing this is by adopting a vegan diet. Before we delve further into this, it’s important to note that there are differences between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet. Although there are a lot of overlapping concepts between the two diets, a plant-based diet is adopted for health reasons and focuses on eating wholesome, natural, plant-based foods that come from the earth.
On the other hand, a vegan diet avoids eating all animal products and the reasons for doing so can vary. Also, because a plant-based diet is taken on due to health reasons, plant-based eaters don’t consume any processed foods, which is not necessarily the case for vegans.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is where an individual chooses to eliminate all animal products from their diet, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. Choosing a vegan diet is a very personal choice and the reason for choosing to go vegan is specific to each individual. Some people choose veganism as a lifestyle, whereas others choose a vegan diet for their own personal reasons.
Many vegans may choose to avoid food that comes from animals or that has involved animal labour. For example, honey is produced by bees, so some vegans may choose to avoid any food products that include honey. They may also choose to avoid purchasing products that are derived from animals, such as leather or fur.
A vegan diet can cover a huge range of styles and preferences —ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide what’s best for them and their lifestyle.
Health benefits of going vegan
No matter what a person’s reason ‘why’ is — whether it be because of concerns for animal welfare, worries about the environment, or general health goals — there can be many benefits of going vegan.
Some of the potential health benefits of adopting a vegan diet may include:
1. A healthy vegan diet can be rich in nutrients
This is usually because a vegan diet comprises of whole foods like whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Obviously, a vegan diet will only be richer in nutrients if you make healthy food choices to get the nutrients you need — there are plenty of unhealthy vegan food options too!
When you consume healthy foods like the ones mentioned, your diet is likely to contain more fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. This can then have a positive flow-on effect on your overall health, including short-term benefits such as gaining more energy and feeling better overall, as well as some potential long-term benefits that are discussed below.
Nutrients vegans need to be mindful of
One thing to be mindful of when going vegan is making sure that you get enough of the nutrients that are generally more easily consumed by people who eat animal products as part of their diet.
One of the most common misconceptions about a vegan diet is the idea that a person won’t get enough protein — this is a myth! While it might take more planning to include a healthy amount of protein into your diet, it can be achieved if you are aware of how to get it.
There are also other important nutrients that you should be mindful of getting enough of when adopting a vegan diet, such as Vitamin B12, calcium, omega-3 fats and iron. Given that everyone’s needs are different and can vary significantly, it is recommended that you consult a healthcare professional before trying out a vegan diet, so that they can help you to work out what is best for you, your lifestyle and your health.
2. A vegan diet may be suitable for fat loss
When you choose to eat nutritious vegan-friendly foods and maintain a healthy food intake, this may assist you with your fat loss goals. The foods that a healthy vegan diet relies on are less calorie-dense than animal products, which means your body may be taking in less energy while still filling up on voluminous meals.
Another reason why a vegan diet may help with fat loss is that it can influence you to be more mindful of the foods that you eat. As certain foods are generally not part of a vegan diet, you have to think more carefully about how your next meal is produced, which means you might be less likely to just grab whatever is nearby when you’re feeling hungry.
By following a wholesome vegan diet and avoiding foods which are high in sugar and preservatives, you can create long-term changes to your overall health and quality of life.
3. A healthy vegan diet can support gut health
If you stick to a wholesome vegan diet it is possible to maintain, and potentially improve, your gut health. This is because your gut needs fibre in order to function effectively and for you to have a healthy gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome refers to a balance of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut. Fibre is a carbohydrate that is only found in plant foods — therefore, it is likely that a healthy vegan diet will also be high in fibre.
Why is fibre so important for gut health? Fibre helps your digestive system to function effectively by removing waste from your body. This creates a healthy gut, which can then have a positive impact on your overall health — including helping in the prevention of long-term health issues.
A healthier gut can also have added short-term benefits, such as less bloating and stomach discomfort in general.
4. A vegan diet may help reduce pain from arthritis
As mentioned above, a healthy vegan diet based on whole foods can lead to a healthy gut microbiome — a combination of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. Probiotics can provide a form of this ‘good’ bacteria. Some studies have shown that increasing the number of probiotics in your digestive tract through a vegan diet can help with arthritis pain.
When an individual consumes a probiotic-rich diet, this can lead to less inflammation, which in turn may improve some symptoms of arthritis such as pain, joint swelling and stiffness.
5. A vegan diet can boost your skin health
Eating a vegan diet means eliminating all dairy. While this may impact your body in a number of ways, studies have shown that a diet free from dairy has the potential to help improve acne. Why? Some studies have found that the hormones in milk can disrupt the hormones in your body, which can then lead to skin breakouts.
It’s important to note that cutting out dairy on a vegan diet isn’t going to be a miracle cure for acne but it is something to consider, especially if you find your skin flaring up unusually when you have been consuming more dairy products than usual. Of course, other factors such as your lifestyle, hormone fluctuations and your genetics can also impact whether you’re prone to breaking out or not too.
Getting the nutrients you need from a vegan diet
Ensuring that you are able to get the right balance of nutrients is important for our health. When you follow a vegan diet, it’s important that you consider your nutrition carefully and make sure you’re getting the essential nutrients you need from plant-based sources.
There are many plant-based sources of protein to help you make healthy and delicious vegan meals! Just remember that eating a mixture of both complete and incomplete proteins can help ensure you’re not missing out on this vital macronutrient. Complete proteins, such as soy, buckwheat and quinoa, contain the nine essential amino acids that your body needs but can’t produce on its own. Incomplete protein sources for vegans are foods such as lentils, nuts, seeds, rice and chickpeas. If you’re eating a varied diet that includes protein, chances are you’re getting all the amino acids you need.
Our bodies need iron to help transport oxygen in our blood and to give us energy. Lack of iron is a common nutrient deficiency, particularly for women. While iron is often associated with red meat, there are a number of vegan-friendly sources too. Lentils, chickpeas, tofu, cashews, spinach and kale, pumpkin seeds and quinoa are all sources of iron that suit vegan diets. To ensure you are absorbing the iron from your food, try to include a source of vitamin C (such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges or red capsicum) in the same meal. Our vegan-friendly recipe for red curry ticks these boxes and tastes great!
Calcium is needed by your body for building and maintaining strong bones. While many of us are taught that calcium comes from dairy, for people following a vegan diet, there’s a number of calcium sources you can use. Some plant-based milks, cheese and yoghurt can be a source of calcium, such as almond milk. Calcium can also come from green leafy vegetables, tofu, white beans or broccoli (to name a few). Don’t forget that vitamin D can help to increase calcium absorption, so tofu and mushrooms can be great additions to your diet as well.
It might not be the nutrient at the forefront of your mind, but Omega 3s play a huge role in the functioning of your brain and nervous system. Your body doesn’t have the ability to produce them, so a vegan diet should include foods such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, nuts (particularly walnuts) and seeds (such as flaxseeds, hemp seeds and chia) to ensure you’re getting enough omega 3.
This is probably one of the most talked about nutrients for vegan diets! Because vitamin B12 mainly comes from animal-based products, it is a nutrient that can be lacking for those who are following a vegan meal plan. Vitamin B12 is essential for development, such as maintaining healthy cells and DNA, so it is particularly important for mothers and women who may be planning to have children. Choosing B12-fortified cereals, fortified soy and rice milks or nutritional yeast can assist with increasing your intake. Otherwise, a supplement may be required to ensure you are getting it in sufficient amounts.
A vegan diet can benefit your health
The bottom line? Consuming a diverse and wholesome diet that is rich in vegetables, legumes, fruit and whole grains means you will be consuming a wide range of important nutrients, helping your body stay healthy on the inside, as well as being reflected on the outside. It’s important to note that you don’t need to adopt a vegan diet to achieve this!
Eating a vegan diet can be a positive change to your lifestyle and health if you go about it the right way. However, there are definitely unhealthy vegan options available too. As is the case with all diets, anything that is pre-packaged or processed may have the potential to contain lots of hidden nasties, even if it is a vegan product.
That’s why it’s important to buy whole foods where you can, no matter what lifestyle you choose to live. Aiming for around three-quarters whole foods when you do your shopping is a good way to monitor yourself and your food choices.
If you do choose to try out a vegan diet, be sure to see your health practitioner before making any significant changes to your diet. They will be able to assist you in making the right choices for you and your health needs.
A healthy life is key
Whether you choose to fully commit to a vegan diet, practice a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet, or stick to eating animal products, ultimately the best thing you can do for your health is to eat a variety of nutritious, unprocessed foods as much as possible! While there can be some benefits of going vegan, it is important to listen to your body, speak to your healthcare professional and do what feels best for you.
If you’ve recently adopted a vegan diet, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know about your experience in the comments below.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.