Do you know the difference between a vegan and vegetarian diet? Vegan is a term used for strict vegetarians who avoid consuming all animal and animal-derived products.
Through the years, the food industry has evolved to give vegans more options. This increased the availability of pre-washed, prepacked fruits and vegetables that may come with dips and dressings.
The more processed vegan choices include textured vegetable proteins as different forms of mock meat, as well as a wide array of vegan desserts and microwavable vegan food.
With all that in mind, do you ever wonder what the benefits and drawbacks of becoming vegan are on your health?
1. Vegan food intake allows better weight control
First of all, you don’t have to become vegan just because you want to lose weight. But if you are already vegan, it is in fact easier to control your weight.
This is because you consume mostly vegetables, fruits, and beans which are not just high in micronutrients. They are also more filling but are considerably lower in calories.
A cup of raw lettuce is never more than 10 calories. A cup of carrots has only 50 calories - that’s ¼ the calories in a cup of rice - and you would feel full before you even consume all of it.
Vegan foods also contain lots of dietary fiber that gives a feeling of bulk as it absorbs water. This is why you feel full.
It also slows gastric emptying or the passing of food from your stomach to the intestines for digestion. The longer it takes, the longer before you feel hungry again.
2. Zero cholesterol diet lowers risk for heart disease
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that can be produced by our liver and it is needed by our body for it to function normally. Its uses include its role in the creation of vitamin D that allows calcium absorption, bile acids that aids in fat digestion, as well as in steroid hormones that govern our body.
Our liver can make up to about 3000 mg of cholesterol daily to supply all that our body needs. However, when we eat foods containing cholesterol, the liver produces less to keep cholesterol levels balanced.
Cholesterol isn’t so bad in itself but in very high amounts, they become culprits in the narrowing and blocking of blood vessels that cause heart attacks and stroke.
The good news for vegans is that dietary cholesterol only comes from animal products. Therefore, eliminating these from their diets give them a virtually zero cholesterol food intake.
3. A vegan diet reduces exposure to antibiotics
In modern livestock farming, antibiotics are regularly used to prevent the spread of disease as these animals live cramped together.
This may cause antibiotic resistant bacteria to breed in the animals and health authorities are now concerned at the increasing risk that these may endanger human health.
The concern is, if we ingest these antibiotic resistant bacteria via improperly cooked meat and we get sick, we might not respond to antibiotic treatment.
In addition to us also ingesting antibiotics that were introduced to livestock, we might also be eating chemicals and hormones that were meant to get these animals heavier and meat cheaper.
These growth hormones in animal products has been blamed for health concerns such as early onset of puberty, reproductive problems, as well as the proliferation of cancer cells. Hence the reason for people to shift to organic animal products or ditch them altogether.
4. High antioxidant intakes reduce the risk for cancer
We’ve always known that plant foods are very rich in vitamins and minerals. However, food scientists are now discovering many active phytochemicals found in the same foods.
Phytochemicals are biologically active compounds found in plants that are proven to be beneficial to human health. Examples of these are isoflavones that may help in the management of the symptoms of menopause.
Some have natural antimicrobial effects, while others might have roles in cancer treatment and prevention as they can interfere with DNA replication or protect cells from carcinogens.
The best part is that most phytochemicals are also antioxidants which means that they protect from oxidative damage that causes premature aging of cells. They scavenge oxidative species and prevent potential attacks on our cell’s DNA to avoid its mutation into cancer cells.
1. Possible nutrient deficiencies may occur as some are only highly bioavailable in animal-derived food
Vegetarians are highly likely to develop a vitamin B12 deficiency as it’s only found in animal products. Symptoms of this include exhaustion, rapid heartbeat, brain lapses, and decreased resistance to illnesses.
Recent studies have shown that vegans have lower bone densities and this increases their risk for having bone fractures. This is because although some plant foods may have high calcium content, there are other compounds in the same source that interferes with mineral absorption.
Other nutrients that can be deficient in a vegan diet include iron, zinc, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Meat is the most convenient protein source available.
Proteins break down into amino acids. Inside our bodies, all essential amino acids should be present in order for any of them to be used therefore all of these should be present in our diet.
Animal food products are complete and highly bioavailable proteins which means they contain all essential amino acids.
Plant foods on the other hand are incomplete proteins with low bioavailability which is why vegans need to be keen on eating foods that complement each other in terms of protein content. Failure to supply all amino acids can cause protein malnutrition as the body cannot utilize proteins when the body is deficient in some amino acids.
An example of protein complementation is eating rice with boiled mung beans as they contain amino acids that the other lacks.
3. A vegan diet may interfere with existing medical conditions
People with pre-existing medical conditions should consult with a physician and a registered dietitian if they are planning to shift to a vegan diet.
Food intake can make or break someone’s health especially if they are already diagnosed with a disease. In terms of dietary management, there are diseases such as osteoporosis and diabetes which would be difficult to control if the person can only eat vegan food.
4. People might set unrealistic expectations about going vegan
A person who decides to be vegan might believe that they are making themselves healthier by doing so. But there isn’t enough evidence that simply becoming vegan can make a person healthy.
In going for overall health, diet is just one of the factors but we should look for balance in other aspects that contribute to it such as physical activity, rest and stress control.
People have different reasons why they might want to shift to a vegan diet. When it comes to health, the intake of vegan food has a lot of benefits but eating only vegan food has its drawbacks.
If you are planning to become vegan, it is best to consult your physician first. Make sure that you transition into it gradually so that you can observe how your body reacts to the changes in your diet. Also, you should take note of the symptoms of possible deficiencies so you can be on the lookout for them.