The great shift towards vegan diets has been growing for some time now, recognizing it as a diet with prolonged health benefits.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Youthful looks and long life are some of the claims from enthusiastic followers of vegan & plant-based diets. Reduced risk of heart disease (the biggest cause of death globally), cancer, diabetes, and premature death are other health benefits for more people to be attracted to a vegan diet.
Let’s have a deep understanding of 16 great health benefits the vegan diet & lifestyle could offer:
1. A Vegan Diet is Richer in Many Nutrients
Switching to veganism means the elimination of all animal products and reliance on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. These foods are rich in fiber, antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, potassium, magnesium, folate and other vitamins & minerals that help towards overall better health.
Contrary to the misconception, you get many plant-based options for protein (beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, grains), calcium (nuts, seeds, beans), vitamin D (sunlight, mushrooms, fortified plant milk), omega 3 (chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts), iron (green leafy vegetables), and vitamin B12 (with vegan fortified food or supplements).
If properly planned and balanced, a vegan diet can be enjoyed with many health benefits with no fuss!
2. Lower Risk of Heart Disease (Globally, the Biggest Killer)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart attacks and strokes are the world’s biggest killers . This is where a vegan diet can be a real blessing. Eating fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds linked to lower risk of heart disease.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is also a contributing factor to heart disease. In observational studies, where vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores were compared, vegans seem to benefit the most from their diet because it lowers the risk of high blood pressure . This, in turn, reduces their risk of heart disease.
Further, vegan diets lower the risk of heart disease by reducing LDL cholesterol (known as bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels as a result .
Not only vegan diet reduces the intake of animal saturated fats which are known to be unhealthy and contain excessive calories, it promotes the intake of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Foods like olive oil, avocado, beans, and nuts can play an important role in this regard.
3. Weight Loss, Another Vegan Diet Health Benefit
Faster weight loss and weight control are other benefits of vegan diets. Many observational studies have shown, vegans generally tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than meat-eaters .
In one study done over 18 weeks in a corporate setting, the vegan group lost 9.5lb (4.3kg) compared to the non-vegan group who lost only 0.2lb (0.1kg) .
The reason why vegan diets are effective at weight loss is that they naturally reduce calorie intake. So a typical vegan doesn’t need to have a special focus on counting calories, which is quite convenient!
Vegan food is also high in fiber, which makes them feel fuller faster. This reduces overeating during meals and cut down on excessive calories. Soluble fiber especially will help in lowering cholesterol & glucose levels which further helps the course.
Maintaining normal weight (normal BMI) improves health in many other aspects as well!
4. Protects Against Certain Cancers
The World Health Organization declared that about one-third of all cancers are preventable through various ways, including diet. Scientists have confirmed that eating at least seven portions of vegetables and fresh fruits lower the risk of developing cancer .
According to another analysis, eating more legumes and fiber in plant foods reduce the risk of colorectal cancer  and avoiding animal products has been recognized as useful in overall cancer risk reduction .
5. Vegan Diet Lowers Blood Sugar Levels and Improves Kidney Function
Lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity and up to 50-78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes are other privileges vegans enjoy. Studies even show that vegan diets lower blood sugar levels in diabetics better than the diets recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) .
This was confirmed by a study on Type II diabetes sufferers. In the study, participants following a low-fat vegan diet were able to improve glycemia and plasma lipids more than the group following the ADA recommended diet.
Apparently, vegans may also have the capacity to lower their insulin intake due to increased insulin sensitivity.
Further, improved kidney function (especially for diabetics) may be another vegan health benefit. Scientific studies have shown that reducing meat (excess protein intake) and substituting with a complete protein like soy may put less stress on the kidney function .
6. Better Outlook Leads to Better Health
The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being .
Doctors have confirmed for decades now that the state of mind accounts for a great number of deteriorated physical conditions.
Fear, guilt, worry, anger, resentment, and grudges may all affect physical health if they are allowed to stay for too long. Conversely, mental states like love, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity seem to have a positive impact on health.
By opting to leave animal products out of their diet & lifestyle (meat, dairy, cheese, eggs, silk, leather, honey, etc.), vegans practice kindness towards all species of sentient creatures and make a contribution towards environmental protection (animal factory farms cause pollution & depletion of natural resources), hence can enjoy a better conscience. This, in turn, contributes to overall wellness and happiness.
It seems to go well with the saying “you are what you eat” and something we should try and reflect upon.
7. Prolong Your Life
We all want to live happy and active lives for as long as we can and enjoy our golden years while watching our grandchildren grow up. Some people even aspire to travel the world in their old age. Unfortunately, various illnesses starting from their middle ages tend to hinder enjoying those aspirations.
A longevity study was conducted on approximately 73, 000 people. The study showed that mortality rate was lower for the vegetarian group (vegan and vegetarian) than for the non-vegetarian group .
It is not the only study to discover this either. A recent review of cohort studies found that people who ate the least amount of meat and adhered to that lifestyle enjoyed the greatest longevity.
8. Youthful Looks
Besides helping to prolong your life, you might be interested in knowing how a vegan diet helps in promoting youthful looks, and here’s how,
- The high level of nutrients in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds promote better skin and may make you look younger.
- Antioxidants in plant-based diets, protect body cells from damage by free radicals, thus preventing early aging. It also aids the development of collagen and elastin which are required for a firm young-looking skin.
- Beta-carotene defends against sun damage. The anti-inflammatory properties of plant foods reduce damage from UV light which reduces the risk of skin cancer.
- Vitamin A, which helps in the development and maintenance of skin cells leads to supple skin.
- Vitamin E slows down aging and diminishes the appearance of scars.
- B vitamins and plant-based essential oils improve the complexion by soothing irritated, blotchy & red skin.
- Dermatologists recommend the avoidance of dairy products to reduce acne. This is much easier with vegan diets.
This is not to say that a vegan diet is a fountain of youth. Of course, vegans will age with time eventually, but you may age slower if you’re following a balanced and well-planned vegan diet while taking care of other factors for a healthy life (e.g. exercise, better sleep, don’t smoke, etc.).
9. Healthy Digestion with Plant-Based Diets
When you eat more fiber-rich foods with higher water content like vegetables and fruits, you’re doing a favor to your digestion. Meat doesn’t deliver any fiber that adults need (25 grams a day for women, 38 grams per day for men) which you can get from a vegan diet.
The fiber in a plant-based diet will keep waste moving smoothly through your system, avoiding both constipation and even diarrhea (soluble fiber helps diarrhea by absorbing water and adding bulk to stools).
Since a vegan diet promotes healthy weight, it may also prevent unpleasant problems with digestion, such as acid reflux.
10. Arthritis Pain Relief
In one study, 40 arthritis patients were randomly assigned to either a group that followed a vegan diet or a group that continued to eat the omnivorous diet. Participants on the vegan diet reported higher energy levels and better body functioning than those on the omnivorous diet .
Another study investigated the effects of a raw food vegan diet on rheumatoid arthritis. The study concluded that there were changes in the fecal microbial flora in the group followed vegan diets, which is linked to improvement in rheumatoid arthritis, than the other group .
11. Better Bones
Improved bone health is a great benefit, considering that a lot of aged people suffer from osteoporosis and fractures.
A medical study in Sweden showed that women who consumed more milk had a higher risk of bone fractures . Furthermore, instead of improving bone health, animal protein in dairy products can have a calcium-leaching effect.
Alternatively, consuming calcium from plant-based sources like chia seeds, almonds, etc. & vitamin D from fortified soy milk, hemp milk will cause no harm to bones.
12. Better Hydration with Vegan Diet
The body is composed of around 60% water, and water is lost through normal body functions like urination, sweating, bowel movement, and breathing.
Water helps to maintain normal body functions like digestion, circulation, saliva secretion, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature.
While the rule of thumb is to drink around 8 glasses of water per day, you also can meet that level by eating fruits and vegetables. Whilst water content in beef & chicken is approximately 55% – 65%, many vegetables & fruits have a much higher water content of approximately 80% – 95% which will certainly help keep you hydrated.
13. Conserve Your Energy
Plant-based foods are very easy to digest and require little energy, hence after a vegan meal, you’re left with more energy. In contrast, animal products take a lot of energy to digest, which is why people will have a greater need to replenish the lost energy.
14. Sleep Better and Be More Refreshed
People who are overweight tend to suffer from poor sleep , and poor sleep can lead to increased weight gain. It’s a vicious cycle that may take a toll on any person who is overweight.
Weight is also a contributing factor in sleep apnea and frequent sleep disruptions increase the risk of high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Sleep disruptions also mean that a person may not get into the deep sleep state and wake up tired in the morning without feeling rejuvenated.
Besides reduced weight, many vegan foods like broccoli, bananas, sweet potatoes, peanut butter, avocados, kale, spinach, squash, almonds, and walnuts, all contain vitamin B6, tryptophan, and magnesium, which help you sleep better.
15. A Reason to be Health Conscious!
A recent article we came across from a person who was not a vegan accepts that vegetarians tend to be healthier in general because,
- They are more health-conscious overall
- Tend to eat more vegetables
- May choose to avoid bad health habits
- Engage in more health-oriented activities.
It seems like even non-vegans accept that vegetarians are generally more health-conscious. If vegetarians are health-oriented, there is every reason to believe that vegans would have the same attitude towards health in general.
This is something I can vouch for myself. Since becoming a vegetarian initially and then a vegan subsequently, I know how much I’ve learned about overall vegan health and have made many changes to lead a healthy lifestyle.
One reason for this extra attention is that planned vegan diets require you to know about nutrition and plant-based alternatives for animal products. In the process, vegans tend to learn many other aspects of health and fitness in general.
Another reason we can think, why vegans are generally perceived as healthy is due to the fact that, many vegans may want to set an example and convey the message, how going vegan has helped them in terms of health.
This is a great goal to have for all vegans, irrespective of their motive to go vegan.
All these reasons may prompt them to constantly be educated on health and practice what they learn.
16. Finally, By Avoiding Meat and Dairy You Avoid the Issues Listed Below
By going vegan, you avoid diseases that are carried by meat and dairy milk.
You also avoid the substances that are fed to animals. Here are some of the issues that you avoid when you stop eating animal products,
i. The routine use of antibiotics in farm animals, which are later consumed by people, may lead to antibiotic-resistance in humans. This, in turn, may make antibiotic treatments ineffective .
ii. Research has found that red meat contains a compound called carnitine which causes atherosclerosis, the hardening or clogging of arteries. The research findings were published in Nature Medicine. The study found that carnitine converts to trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a compound that damages the heart. Increased carnitine levels are related to increased risks of heart disease.
iii. Charring meat leads to the development of nitrosamines, a toxin that can cause cancer in the stomach.
iv. Supermarket ground beef contains lean finely textured beef (LFTB)/pink slime that is treated with ammonia gas. Ammonia treatment and the way this additive is produced have raised many concerns. Some countries have even banned the product.
v. Beef and dairy products may contain E.coli which can cause diarrhea, damage to the small intestines, abdominal cramps, dehydration, and kidney failure.
vi. Meat contains a lot of iron. A recent study has found that when meat is eaten in excess, may trigger excess iron levels in the brain which may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
vii. Hormones which are fed to animals and are found in red meat may have the potential to increase risks of cancer. Researchers believe the hormones or hormone-like compounds in red meat increase cancer risk by attaching to specific hormone receptors on the tumors. Hormones added to red meat can increase breast cancer risk as well.
viii. The WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified processed meats (ham, bacon, and sausage) as cancer-causing. This has been backed up by scientific research which reported that 50g per day of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
ix. Trichinosis or trichinellosis is a serious illness that humans get from eating under-cooked pork which contains larvae of the trichinella worm. Trichinosis may cause fatal inflammations. Other concerns about pork include:
- Taenia solium tapeworm
- Hepatitis E Virus (HEV)
- Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (blue-ear pig disease)
- Nipah virus
- Menangle virus
x. Approximately 97% of all chicken breasts have found to contain strains of salmonella. This could leave room for typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and food poisoning.
xi. Scientific studies have found that chicken may contain as much as 430 parts per billion of arsenic. According to the Environmental Protection Organization and John Hopkins School of Public Health, “Arsenic is a human carcinogen, and is also associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neuropathy, and neurocognitive deficits in children.”
xii. Fish is known to contain mercury which may cause brain damage. Fish can also contain other chemicals like DDT, PCBs, and dioxins which have been linked to cancers and problems of the nervous system. Mercury can damage the brain and nerves of a fetus or a young child. Other issues associated with mercury poisoning are profuse sweating, abnormally faster heartbeat, increased saliva production, and high blood pressure.
xiii. Cow milk doesn’t seem to be a natural food for “adult” humans. Apparently, 75% of the world’s population lose their ability to digest cow milk after infancy by losing lactase enzymes. If we were meant to drink dairy milk after infancy, we would not lose our ability to digest it, wouldn’t we? The 75% who cannot digest milk are no longer classified lactose intolerant but as normal. Those who retain the lactase enzymes are now classified as “lactase persistent.”
Personally, we wouldn’t want to consume something, that our body is not capable of digesting. Better alternatives for good calcium sources would be green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and oranges. These sources also have other advantages like no calcium leaching animal proteins, no cholesterol, providing phytochemicals, and antioxidants as well.
If anyone asks, can vegans be healthy, these 16 health benefits speak volumes! All these vegan health benefits are besides knowing your lifestyle is alleviating animal suffering and limiting environmental damage.
Thus, a vegan diet & lifestyle which include more vegetables, fruits, greens, nuts, and seeds that can improve your health is a great gift you can give to yourself!
Dr. Alessandra Glaser Bio:
Alessandra Glaser, is a primary care physician at Williamson Medical Group, Tennessee, USA. Dr. Glaser is board certified in family medicine. After majoring in biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and getting her medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, she did her residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She has a special interest in the benefits of plant-based eating and she enjoys learning from Dr. McDougall & Dr. Essylstein who are advocates of a plant-based diet.
- How to Be a Healthy Vegan
- Healthy Vegan Diet Plan with Nutrition
- Why Go Vegan
- How to Go Vegan and Stay Vegan Forever
- Health & Food Industry Related Documentaries
- Is Meat Good & Healthy or Bad?
While every attempt has been made to verify the information provided here, the content in this post is for informational purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice. By providing the information contained herein we’re not diagnosing, or treating any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any regimen it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.
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