Does Vegan Eating Boast Health Benefits?
This year, upcoming and age-old food trends are spanning the globe, reinvigorating food sources, and redefining what is considered mainstream. Diners worldwide crave the idea of traveling the world via the food they eat, whether it’s traditional, local cuisine, or fast food on the fly. While sustainability remains at the forefront of many minds, an increasing number of people are nourishing their mind-gut connections by becoming more in tune with how their food impacts their health, and ultimately turning to plant-based diets and vegan eating to do so.
Veganism is among the age-old food trends that continue to dominate diets and cultures worldwide. Advancements in food technology allow for even more plant-based options that are increasing in popularity and encouraging more people to partake in the somewhat controversial lifestyle and diet. The question is: does vegan eating actually boast health benefits, or are there nutritional holes in the plant-based lifestyle?
- Social media, growing health concerns, and concerns for animal and environmental welfare all play key roles in the increasing trend of veganism.
- Veganism can improve skin health, gut health, and reduce the risk of suffering from long-term diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease.
- If a vegan diet isn’t well-planned out, there is a risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and a risk of failing to obtain a complete protein profile.
Why is veganism on the rise?
Veganism is defined as a philosophy that ultimately looks to avoid the unnecessary sufferings of all living, conscious beings, practiced in the form of a diet and lifestyle in which individuals make the decision to avoid consuming and using animal products. In addition to a diet and lifestyle, veganism is also considered a growing social movement.
Google searches for the term “vegan” have escalated dramatically in recent years, with the spike initiating in 2004 and reaching its peak in January 2020. Regardless of whether you’re looking at veganism as a diet, a lifestyle, a keyword in Google searches, or as an inflating market trend, popularity is expanding in every area. But why?
To start, recent data estimates that there are nearly 80 million vegans worldwide, which comprise about 5% of the global population. Veganism is most popular in the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Australia, with the United States ranking ninth in countries highest in the lifestyle.
This growing plant-based lifestyle is being nurtured by local and corporate supermarkets alike, as they continue to follow changing trends in order to keep up with rapidly varying consumer food choices. Additionally, fast food restaurants support the movement by offering numerous plant-based options at convenient drive-throughs.
Overall, the vegan food market grew from $14.44 billion in 2020 to over $15.77 billion in 2021 with a rapidly increasing forecast. This growth can be largely attributed to a variety of factors including growing health concerns, animal welfare, environmental concerns, and social media.
For example, celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Simon Cowell, and Alicia Silverstone are all well-known vegans, helping to solidify the case for adopting the plant-based diet. Additionally, there are now over 123 million posts on Instagram alone under the hashtag #vegan.
Benefits of eating vegan
Every individual has their own unique reason for choosing to go vegan. Whether it is about a decision to prioritize one’s own health, reduce the risk for long-term disease, minimize one’s environmental footprint, or simply because of a love for our furry friends, there is no wrong reason for trying out veganism. There are a plethora of potential health benefits to being a vegan, and they range from quick changes noticeable in a few weeks to astonishing long-term benefits.
First things first: decades-old research has drawn a connection between skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne with dairy products. It’s pretty clear that those who are familiar with these skin conditions can experience great improvements in their skin when excluding dairy from their diet.
However, anyone, regardless of whether or not they experience these skin complaints, can see tremendous advancements in their skin when showcasing fruits and veggies at the forefront of their diet. Whole foods that form the basis of a well-planned vegan diet are filled with antioxidants and micronutrients that nourish skin health.
Ditching dairy can also be beneficial to digestive health. Research shows that anywhere from 30 to 50 million Americans suffer from lactose intolerance. To alleviate bloating, cramping, diarrhea, or any other digestive troubles, removing dairy from the diet may not be a bad idea.
In addition to minimizing the intake of dairy products, maximizing the intake of fruits and veggies (and by default, vitamins, and minerals) supports our microbiomes from the inside out.
Veganism also alleviates some of the most common long-term diseases. Research has shown that eating a plant-based diet can control blood sugar up to three times more effectively than a standard, recommended diet for those with diabetes. Even more, our hearts love fruits and veggies (and vice versa.)
To give our hearts the opportunity to keep on beating, consuming at least five servings of fruits and veggies each day reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Consuming ten servings of fruits and veggies a day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 28 percent and reduce the risk of premature death by 31 percent.
Nutritional holes of vegan eating
The biggest pitfall of vegan eating is the risk of missing out on critical nutrients. The risks are less severe when the vegan diet is well-planned, but considering supplements for certain nutrients is certainly a good option.
A major health concern among vegans (and some vegetarians) is a lack of vitamin B12, as this deficiency can cause permanent damage. Realistically, it is nearly impossible to get this essential vitamin from a non-animal source. Most vitamin B12 comes from meat, eggs, and dairy sources. For vegans, it exists in seaweed and other veggies, but these sources are not reliable and contain forms of vitamins that our bodies can’t use.
Symptoms of low levels of B12 look like anemia, fatigue and weakness, pale skin, inability to absorb nutrients, nerve problems, and a sore mouth.
Another risk of adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle is the risk of getting incomplete proteins. In general, it is a common misconception that a plant-based diet lacks protein. With a well-planned diet, you can get all of the protein you need to ensure you’re absorbing a good balance of amino acids.
There is a small group of amino acids that we are unable to produce ourselves and require from our diets. Animal products typically contain each of these essential amino acids, but plant-based sources usually vary more, elevating the risk of missing out on the complete profile.
While there are a few other vitamin deficiency risks of veganism (think niacin, vitamin B2, calcium, zinc, and iodine), thoughtful and careful consideration and planning minimize the risks significantly. Considering vitamin supplements and educating yourself on the risks of the diet and lifestyle can ensure that you safely get the nutrients that your body needs.
If you choose to dabble in the plant-based world, make sure you’re loading up on your fruits and veggies. Don’t forget that vegan foods can be misleadingly unuhealthy (hellooooo Oreos).
Written by Morgan Taylor
- Photo by Jacopo Maia on Unsplash