Diets 101: Veganism

Fish Are Friends, Not Food

The premise behind a vegan diet is a simple one, no animal products at all.  One step past vegetarianism, vegans avoid animal derived foods such as eggs and milk in addition to meats.  The vegan movement started in the mid 1940’s but began to explode in popularity in recent years as it has gained mainstream attention and celebrity endorsement.  Originally promoted from a moral perspective against animal cruelty, the vegan diet has drawn the attention of nutritionists and researchers.  Vegan diets are entirely plant focused with the majority of protein coming from soy derived foods such as tofu, tempeh, or textured vegetable protein (TVP).

The Research

There’s a ton of research out there exploring everything from potential vitamin deficiencies to weight loss to cardiovascular health.  Starting with some of the good things: veganism has been shown to help people lose weight quicker than traditional diet plans (Turner-McGrievy et. al. 2007) and there is a 15% reduction in cancer rates in vegan populations (Dinu et. al. 2016).

One of the most comprehensive write ups on the vegan diet comes from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  In this article, the author talks about the positive health effects  the vegan diet has on reducing rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.  These benefits to come with a cost though.  Vegans consistently show deficiencies in calcium, zinc, polyunsaturated fats, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B12.  All of these nutrients are essential and may develop into larger problems if the deficiency isn’t addressed.  Low calcium and Vitamin D may develop into osteoporosis.  Polyunsaturated fats are essential in maintaining heart health as well as brain and eye function.  Vitamin B12 deficiency has  been linked with a host of psychiatric conditions such as dementia and loss of motor control.

The Verdict

The health benefits associated with a vegan diet almost seem too good to be true.  That is assuming you address the deficiencies that are common with the diet. Fortifying a vegan diet with supplements including Vitamin B12, Calcium, and Polyunsaturated fats while getting a decent amount of sunlight (for Vitamin D) would negate nearly all of the health concerns.  It is worth reading the AJCM article for a more in depth analysis, here is the link again.

In my experience as a trainer, getting people to consider a vegetarian or vegan diet is challenging.  Despite knowing the health benefits, I have trouble myself saying no to meat and animal products.  Growing up on the American Standard Diet, meat and dairy for dinner is a difficult trend to break from.  But at the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie, a vegan diet may help you live longer and lose weight faster.  In my nutrition research this far, veganism is in a league of its own when it comes to reducing the chances of health concerns later in life which is worth some serious consideration.