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Are Vegan Diets Healthier?

A few years ago, vegan diets were considered a fringe lifestyle, a bit unusual.  To go completely without meat and meat products was considered to be a bit of an unbalanced diet; it was suspected that the followers of the diet perhaps weren’t getting all the vitamins and nutrients a person needs.


Veganism – A New Trend?


Today, things are a lot different – veganism is undergoing something of a renaissance, with celebs such as Gwyneth Paltrow associating the clean eating trend with being a vegan.


Many in the UK, including many young people, are taking up veganism not for traditionally religious or cultural reasons, but because it’s the latest thing on Instagram!


Having said that, there are others who have heard about the diet, and just want to be healthier; and obviously, to protect the welfare of animals. Lessening their impact on the environment is also a major concern of those who go vegan.


Is It Good For Us?


The Telegraph reported that a new poll put the number at vegans in the UK at half a million, an increase of 350% in ten years. The Ipsos MORI survey of 10,000 people showed that nearly half of all vegans are aged from 15 to 34, and 88 percent live in urban areas.


According to expert Catherine Collins of the British Association of Dieticians, “It’s like having the latest fashion, but you’re potentially messing with your long-term health.”


Vegans risk not getting enough protein in their diet, Ms Collins warned, as well as other crucial nutrients and vitamins such as B12 and calcium which do not absorb as efficiently from plants as they do from dairy products.


The association chairman added that some pregnant women on vegan diets could also risk the health of their babies.


What Does NHS Choices Say?


However, there are those people who advocate veganism for its health benefits. Interestingly this includes NHS Choices, who say online that “You should be able to get most of the nutrients you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.”


They say that as long as your vegan diet includes things like:

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholegrain where possible.
  • Have some dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts). Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options.
  • Eat some beans, pulses and other proteins.
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6-8 cups/glasses a day.


Then you shouldn’t have too many problems. However, as a qualifier to this, the NHS Choices does say that “If you don't plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”


So proper planning of a broad based vegan diet is essential.


Health Benefits of Veganism?


So what are the health benefits of a vegan based diet? The Vegan Society website states that:


“Well-planned plant-based diets are rich in protein, iron, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals.


The plant-based sources of these nutrients tend to be low in saturated fat, high in fibre and packed with antioxidants, helping mitigate some of the modern world's biggest health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”


The Vegan Society goes on to say that “A recent study conducted by experts at the prestigious Oxford University's Oxford Martin School - who specialise in cross-cutting research on global challenges - have found that by 2050, widespread adoption of plant-based diets would avert 8.1 million premature human deaths every year.”


Quite a claim. But there seems to be reputable science behind it.




So the big question – is it any healthier?


The answer – it depends who you talk to!


All sides in this debate have a point of view, perhaps the ones that don’t have an axe to grind (NHS) tend toward veganism certainly not harming you, if done correctly.


Supporters of veganism say the diet brings greater energy and vitality, as well as the other stated health benefits.  Maybe we should take the leap and experiment from the Vegan Society’s 30 Day Vegan Challenge


…But could you really go that long without bacon?!