Let me first start by explaining what is a vegan diet? Simply put, it is one that excludes any food that comes from an animal, which includes eggs, dairy, meat, fish, poultry, and even honey.
Although a lot of people still enjoy their steaks and chicken, many others have abandoned red meat and poultry in favor of a plant-based diet. Some people decide to go vegan because they can’t bear the thought of harming living creatures. Others do it for some health benefits.
But have you ever wondered if a vegan or plant-based diet would help you manage your weight and resolve any nagging health problems?
A vegan diet does not necessarily mean it is healthy, since by definition, it does not exclude a lot of processed foods, sugar, or gluten. Besides that, look at the popularity of fake meats, which are incredibly processed and not necessarily healthy by any stretch of your imagination. So, you need to watch out for the quality of your food intake just like any other type of diet.
If followed properly, choosing smart food options, the one reason veganism could be good for you is that it can protect you against cardiovascular diseases, by reducing obesity and lowering bad cholesterol.
This is because plant-based foods contain a lot of antioxidants, phytonutrients and nitrates, while some animal products contain lots of inflammatory fats linked to cardiovascular problems and some forms of cancer.
What about the essential nutrients needed?
Vegan diets do lack certain nutrients, essential ones. You may have to use a lot of creativity to ensure you get enough calcium, iron, Omega3, and vitamin B12.
Calcium: Although vegans can get their calcium supply from fortified soy milk, broccoli, beans, leafy green vegetables, almonds, almond butter, sesame seeds, and soybeans, they will still need a good dose of calcium to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. A calcium/Vitamin D supplement is needed.
Iron: Anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and both vegans and vegetarians are at high risk of this deficiency. While plant-based foods such as lentils, beans, quinoa, oatmeal, nuts, spinach, Rocca, and dry fruits, contain a form of iron, it is called “Non-Heme iron” and it is much less absorbable by the body.
Iron-deficient anemia can lead to serious symptoms including fatigue, and women of child-bearing age should be aware of how a vegan or vegetarian diet can quickly lead to anemia. Iron supplementation is a must.
Omega3: Omega-3 fatty acids are found in both fish and flaxseeds, but your body does not absorb the plant-based form as complete as the omega-3s from seafood. Without a food source of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils and an increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acid from foods like nuts, vegans might be at higher risk of depression.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 in needed to support your nerve system, and for your blood cells. Because vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources, if you are a vegan you might consider taking a supplement.
What about Athletes?
A lot of studies were done and scientists have raised concerns that this diet is too restrictive for athletes who are travelling the world competing in competitions. There is the possibility of them become malnourished, unable to maintain their muscle mass in addition to suffering from deficiencies in Vitamin B12, which leads to fatigue and poor oxygen transport, Calcium and Vitamin D, which reduce the bone-density and lead to bone injury).
Scientists have found as well that while consuming vegetables rich in calcium, such as kale and broccoli, many vegans do not actually meet their calcium requirements. As a result, they have found a 30% increased risk of fracture in vegans when compared to vegetarians and meat-eaters.
Last but not least, what I can say is that before you discard all animal-based foods, learn how to approach this style of eating in a healthy way and talk to your dietitian for any deficiency that can arise and get the right dose of supplements.
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