Vegan, which was originally called Veganism, was a small group of vegetarians that were part of a larger group called the Leicester Vegetarian Society. In 1944, they broke away to form the Vegan Society. The Vegan Society is a group of people who chose not to consume foods that were from animal origin as well as not eating meats. This was different from being a vegetarian who simply did not eat meat. Vegans added foods like dairy, eggs, honey, fish, and anything that came from an animal to the lifestyle rule.
Health Benefits to Being Vegan
Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower cholesterol and even lower blood pressure which reduces their of heart disease. There have been a multitude of studies done to see if a vegan diet will yield healthier results. Some studies try to prove if a vegan diet can reduce the risk factor for chronic diseases, any cancers, and cardio–cerebrovascular disease, or be a better diet for women who are pre/post-menopausal.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, a study was done on vegan diet and blood lipid profiles: a cross-sectional study of pre and postmenopausal women. It has been said that a vegan diet can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality due to the effect of the diet on serum lipid profiles. The LDL-C, which is low density lipoprotein cholesterol and high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) regulate cholesterol levels in your body. The study concluded that the vegan diet lowered the HDL-C level and may be a more appropriate for pre/post-menopausal women.
There was a study done at the University of Florence, in Italy on the vegan and vegetarian diet. It was reported to have multiple health outcomes. It was a systematic review in observational studies with meta-analysis which reported that a vegan diet showed a reduced risk of possible incidence from cancer.
At Loma Linda University in California, a study was done on the health effects of vegan diet. It was said that the diet seem to add protection against obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular mortality. It also stated that males experienced greater health benefits from females.
Health Risks to Being Vegan
Even though a vegan diet tend to contain less saturated fat and cholesterol while having higher fiber in their diet, there is a risk leading to nutritional deficiencies. Vitamin B-12 and vitamin D along with omega-3 fatty acids are eliminated in their diet if not consumed with the appropriate supplement. Even iron and zinc are limited in a vegan diet and raise some health concerns.
A study done at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan states the heath risks of not supplementing the nutrients that are lacking in the vegan diet. The iron level is higher in an omnivore diet than in a vegan diet. Most of our iron supplement come from meat. But in a vegan diet, people tend to consume a large amount of vitamin C enriched food to improve the absorption of iron.
The vitamin B-12 concentration level tend to be lower among vegans. Vitamin B-12 is common in eggs, fish, and some cheese. A vitamin B-12 deficiency can result in abnormal neurological and psychiatric symptoms. Some of these symptoms can include dementia, mood and motor disturbances, and even difficulty in concentration.
Calcium and Vitamin D are extremely low in a vegan diet. Vitamin D is found in sun exposure as well as dairy food. People who are vegan are at risk to vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to bone pain and muscle weakness. Low blood level of vitamin D increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D deficiency have also been linked to cause severe asthma in children and cognitive impairment in older adults.
Recommended for Vegan Diets
A vegan diet can be healthy if you can get the missing nutrients from other supplemented food or vitamin supplement. A way to avoid a B-12 deficiency as a vegan, try to consume B-12 fortified foods. For example, fortified soy and rice beverages, certain kinds of breakfast cereals, B-12 fortified yeast or by taking a daily B-12 vitamin supplement. The same can be said about keeping calcium in your vegan diet. There are calcium fortified plant food like green leafy vegetable, tofu or even tahini. Calcium fortified soy and rice beverages are also great in supplementing Calcium as well as apple and orange juices that are calcium fortified. The calcium citrate malate in apple and orange juice are similar to that found in regular milk.
Fatty acid food can be consumed as part of a vegan diet. Good examples of these fatty acid foods are ground flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, and soy products. There are also fortified fatty acid food, also known as long-chain n-3 fatty acid DHA, found in soy milk and cereal bars. It is strongly recommended among women who are pregnant and lactating need to have these fatty acid supplements in their vegan diet.
Unfortunately, many studies have not been able to give definitive conclusions on all health benefits and risks. Studies are still been done on vegan diets and the risk of diabetes and cancer. Currently, data shows that a vegan diet has lowered the risk for heart disease compared to meat eaters and other vegetarians. But at the moment, it does not appear that a vegan diet has any advantage to preventing chronic diseases over other vegetarian diets. Most research is based on a less than five year plant diet so a long term is inconclusive.
Vegans are essentially thinner people. They also have lower blood pressure and cholesterol but there are concerns of the risk of bone fracture. Their overall health seem to be as good as other vegetarians, but adding the appropriate nutritional supplement is the best way to avoid any vitamin deficiencies. Consuming these vitamin fortified foods regularly will help achieve a successful vegan diet.
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