It’s that time of year again when many of us adopt a healthier approach to eating and drinking (1 weekend down, 3 to go!). Here at Love Struck, we wholeheartedly support choices that impact positively on the planet (and you, obvs), so cutting out animal products – even for a short while or for part of the week – can only be a good thing for our over-stressed planet. But what about the health benefits? Here are 6 reasons that may persuade you to switch over:
1. A vegan diet is richer in key nutrients
By cutting out meat, fish and animal-based products, you will inevitably have to increase your intake of other foods. In the case of a whole-foods vegan diet, replacements take the form of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds – clearly a good thing for overall health as it’ll mean more fibre, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds. In fact, studies have shown that whole food vegan diets appear to be richer in potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E.
Vegan diets even appear to be higher in iron, though the form of iron that plants provide is perhaps not as bioavailable as the form found in animal foods.
Do remember that not all vegan diets are created equal. It’s essential to choose whole plant and fortified foods to make sure that you get sufficient amounts of essential fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D, calcium, iodine, selenium, or zinc. You may want to consider a supplement for vitamins B12 and D (always a good idea for those of us in northern countries that get low sunlight in winter).
2. It could help you lose excess weight
Many observational studies suggest that vegans tend to be thinner and have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than nonvegans (for instance see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466943/). More interestingly, several randomized controlled studies — the gold standard in scientific research — report that vegan diets are more effective for weight loss than other diets. The diets compared were all low-fat and low-GI, but one was pesco-vegetarian, one was semi-vegetarian, and the other was omnivorous. Even when they weren’t following their diets perfectly, the participants in the vegetarian and vegan groups still lost more weight than those on a standard Western diet.
Vegan diets naturally tend to reduce your calorie intake. This makes them effective at promoting weight loss without the need to actively focus on cutting calories.
3. A vegan diet appears to lower blood sugar levels
Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin sensitivity and may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, studies show that vegan diets lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes more than the diets from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the National Cholesterol Education Program (see https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17890496/). In all likelihood, eating more fibre and less processed foods ensures a lower glycaemic load, and over time, insulin sensitivity will increase.
4. Going vegan may protect against certain cancers
Eye-opening fact: according to the World Health Organization, about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by factors within your control, including diet (https://www.who.int/health-topics/cancer#tab=tab_2). It’s pretty empowering to know that improving what we eat could help us live long and healthy lives.
A review of 96 studies found that vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer. Why?
Well first of all, eating beans and pulses regularly may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by up to 18%. Secondly, eating at least 7 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables per day may lower your risk of dying from cancer by up to 15% (ok, that’s a lot, but it’s clearly worth it). Thirdly, vegan diets generally contain more soy products, which may offer some protection against breast cancer (we always suggest choosing organic, non-GMO soy). Next, avoiding smoked or processed meats may also help reduce the risk of prostate, breast, and colon cancers (see one study here https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29137344/).
Whilst we should stress that these studies are observational, not causal, it seems like sensible advice to focus on increasing the amounts of fresh fruit, veggies and legumes you eat each day while limiting your consumption of processed, smoked, and overcooked meats.
5. Veganism is linked to a lower risk of heart disease
Observational studies comparing vegans with vegetarians and the general population report that vegans may benefit from up to a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure (an interesting study here on Adventists who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24871675/).
Vegans may also have up to a 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease. As we read above, several randomized controlled studies report that vegan diets are effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels. This may be particularly beneficial to heart health, since reducing high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels may reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 46%.
Vegans also tend to consume more whole grains and nuts than the general population, both of which are good for your heart.
6. A vegan diet can reduce pain from arthritis
A surprising effect of following a vegan diet is a positive effect in people with different types of arthritis.
One study randomly assigned 40 people with arthritis to either continue eating their omnivorous diet or switch to a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet for 6 weeks. Those on the vegan diet reported higher energy levels and better general functioning than those who didn’t change their diet. The vegan diet’s higher antioxidant, probiotic, and fibre content, a potential change in intestinal flora and a lack of certain trigger foods (lactose, we’re looking at you!) may be responsible for these benefits.
Several other studies suggest a vegan diet can help improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness.
So it’s a big YES to Veganuary! And my bacon sarnie will taste even better in February 🙂