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Pros and Cons of a Plant Based Diet

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10 Pros and (potential) Cons of a Plant-Based Diet

In the past ten years, the term ‘vegan’ has transformed from one assimilated with annoyance to one of compassion and love. There are a good reasons for this. Veganism has proven to have more positive aspects than negative when it comes to overall human health, the health of the planet, the global economy and poverty, and the welfare of the animals we share our planet with.

I became vegan at an interesting time. Ten years ago, the world of veganism was remarkably different. Memes like, ‘How do you know someone is vegan?… (Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!)’, and ‘But, how do you get your protein?’, were standard jokes and vegans were looked at as pests of the social justice climate trying to prove their superiority and higher moral compass, or at least it felt that way. But this negative feeling about the culture of veganism has drastically changed over the past decade & people are starting to realize we aren’t crazy hippies and have understandable reasons for living this way. There is still a long way to go for the overall public mindset of a plant-based future but, more and more people are at least trying to incorporate aspects of this way of life into their own lives. Because there seems to be so much interest in the pros and cons of a vegan diet, I wanted to explore the positive reasons a vegan diet is optimal and help dispel or solve any perceived issues you or someone you know might have. In this article, I am not talking about veganism as an entire concept, instead, focusing on a vegan diet and how it can benefit you and the world around you.

Pro 1: A Plant Based Diet Can Help You Lose Weight

I first want to point out that eating a plant-based diet is not a “lose weight quick scheme”. There are no magic beans; people typically eat better and receive high nutritional value when they cut out animal products. It is natural to start including more whole foods like fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes to replace the more complex foods of an omnivore diet. If you consider it a lifestyle change instead of a diet, the health benefits are plentiful, but certainly, weight loss is one of the more noticeable things.

The vegan group lost more in their first two months of the study than the omnivores lost in six months and lost approximately 4.3% more overall.

There are many studies published online that support this. For example, this study, published in 2016, compared five randomized groups by diet: omnivores, semi-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, vegetarians and vegans over six months. They tested the results over two months and six months. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of a vegan diet being the most effective for weight loss. At the two-month mark, the omnivore groups lost an average of 2.1% body fat, compared to vegans at 4.9%. When the participants tested at six months, the omnivores lost an average of 3.1% and the vegans 7.4%. That means that the vegan group lost more in their first two months of the study than the omnivores lost in six months and lost approximately 4.3% more overall.

Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900714004237?via%3Dihub

So, why is this? 

Well, there are many reasons for this? First of all, a vegan diet is typically much higher in fibre. Fibre is a carbohydrate found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, which can’t easily absorb into your system. For this reason, fibre passes through your body without a noticeable blood sugar spike and therefore leaves you feeling full, with fewer calories than other carbohydrates. This study showed that the average omnivore consumed about 23g of fibre daily, whereas a vegan averaged 47g of fibre. 

Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2991173/

Vegan diets are typically lower in saturated fat. Saturated fat, widely known as the ‘bad fat’ along with trans fats, has definite connections to obesity and heart disease. In this comprehensive study that compared various plant and omnivore diets, they found that omnivores had consumed an average of 54g per day compared to vegans at 21g. 

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967195/

But, all of this information is average-based. Ultimately, an individual diet usually is not the median. There are more than enough vegan food options to gain weight and the potential to be a less healthy diet than that of an omnivore. It is ultimately up to us to decide what we put into our bodies. But, there is an abundance of evidence that supports eating a plant-based diet can promote health and longevity.

Con: Vegan food can be hard to find

Back when I became a vegan, things were kind of bleak in terms of dining out and holidaying. I remember multiple times that friends were chowing down on a steak, or ribs or some other seemingly grandiose meal while I had a plate full of broccoli or a side salad when we were out for dinner. No joke. I never envied their meals but I did envy their choices. Only the 100% vegan restaurants would offer a selection of menu items, and those restaurants were far and few in between.

Solution

Things are a lot different now; not only are there a tonne of vegan restaurants but, it would be difficult to find one without a good selection of vegan menu items, especially if you live in an urban/metro area. Check out our list of restaurants article. When it comes to general snacking, you have to learn where to look. Skip the usual candy bar aisle; there are an enormous amount of delicious, healthy snack options that are naughty but, a wholesome kind of naughty. 

If you have a hard time finding the right snacks – you landed on the right page. That is precisely why we started our business – to help people connect with delicious, wholesome, vegan snacks. Check out our most popular snack box. It has a wide variety of sweet and savoury snacks that are all GMO-free and gluten-free.

If you are on holiday or haven’t found the best local vegan grub yet, use the Happy Cow app; it is the best directory of vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants with a reach around the world. 

Learn to create your own delicious, veggie creations. There are so many online resources for amazing recipes. Check out two of my favourite dessert recipes: Banana Cream Pie from the Minimalist Baker and this super simple One Minute Vegan Chocolate Mug Cake from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Pro Tip: when trying something new like cheeze cake made with cashews, try not to expect a replica of a traditional cheesecake because, well, it isn't. If your expectations are of a duplicate, then you might be disappointed. You are trying new exciting food that you will love as much or even more than the food you are familiar with, so embrace the new, and you will find it easier to find recipes you love. 

Pro 2: A Plant Based Diet May Reduce Your Chances of Disease

Increasing research and evidence support the idea that a vegan lifestyle is beneficial to your health and may prevent some diseases and illnesses.

Type 2 diabetes 

Along with cancer, saturated fats from meat can increase your chances of getting type two diabetes. When we eat saturated fat, we increase the percent of visceral fat we have – the fat that protects our organs (belly fat). Visceral fat has a direct correlation to insulin resistance which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Other diseases connected to visceral fat are breast cancer, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s’ disease, and heart disease. On the other hand, according to Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, President, Physicians Committee, eating a plant-based diet is a great way to prevent, manage and reverse type 2 diabetes.

Heart Disease 

We need to have fat in our diet for many different functions. Like creating sustainable energy in our day-to-day lives, absorbing essential vitamins such as Vitamin A, D and E, which help protect our organs. However, we should pay attention to the type of fat we consume. Animal products are often high in saturated fats which, can lead to high cholesterol and weight gain. Saturated (unhealthy) fat can increase the fatty deposits of cholesterol in our arteries and lead to coronary heart disease, the leading global cause of fatality and illness. In contrast, plant-based diets tend to be high in unsaturated fats, from nuts and seeds, plant and nut oils and avocados – these foods give you the benefits of the fats your body needs to be healthy without causing health risks. 

Cancer

Another problem with meat (particularly processed and red) is that it is typically higher in carcinogens which are toxic to the human body. Many studies cite a direct correlation between colon and stomach cancer with processed meats. The American Institute of Cancer Research found that even small amounts of processed meat daily can increase the risk of colon cancer by 18% and recommend not eating any. Other studies link the connection between dairy and breast cancer (although this research is not conclusive) and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

There are also large amounts of evidence that support that a diet full of whole, plant-based foods can decrease your risk of getting cancer due to the high amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants these foods possess. Check out this article on foods that may help lower your risk of cancer. I reiterate that a plant-based diet is not a miracle pill that will cure cancer, as some would like to suggest. And there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that any particular food will prevent a disease either but, there is strong evidence that having a high concentration in nutrient-rich foods has a positive effect on your overall health and longevity.  

Con: There are potential dangers in adopting a vegan diet.

It is true that we do need to be sure we look out for certain nutrients as a deficiency can cause short and long term damage. The most common to pay attention to are B12, Vitamin D, Omega-3s and Iron.

Note: This topic is a long one and needs a dedicated post for all the information. We will just be covering the basics here but, I want to stress the importance of researching and knowing what your body needs and how to get it. Please consult with a doctor or a nutritionist when making any important diet changes.

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is far more common to occur naturally in meat and dairy eaters than vegans. The most common way people consume B12 is from red meat, milk and dairy, and eggs. 

Vitamin B12 is essential for your body to function, required for red blood cell formation, the production of DNA, nerve and cognitive function and more. To be deficient in B12 can be dangerous, and a long-term deficit can lead to cognitive problems, depression and other mood-related issues, poor balance and more. It is possible to get B12 naturally on a plant-based diet by consuming fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, nori and shitake mushrooms but, it is recommended for many to supplement. This important nutrient should not be overlooked when transitioning to this lifestyle. For more info about vitamin B12, check out this article from Healhline.com.  

Vitamin D is necessary for many of your essential body functions, including mood, muscle recovery and immune function. The vitamin helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, and a deficiency can lead to osteoporosis and other bone-related problems. Research suggests it can also lead to cardiovascular problems, cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, glucose intolerance, hypertension and death. Along with Vitamin B12, most naturally occurring foods that contain Vitamin D are animal products that include egg yolks, fish and fish oils, beef and fortified dairy products. Natural plant-based foods that contain vitamin D are fortified non-dairy milk, mushrooms and of course, sunshine. But even with these plant-based items, it can still be hard to meet your quota of D12, especially if you live in more northern countries where there is limited sun during the winter. Most nutritionists will suggest taking a vitamin to supplement your vitamin D. You can find more info here about the importance of vitamin D.

Omega 3 fatty acids are vital for the structural development of your brain, infant development and cognitive function. Evidence also suggests the Omega 3’s can reduce the risks of certain cancers, attention deficit disorder, depression, asthma and other inflammatory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Omega 3’s are broken down into two categories: Essential omega-3 fatty acids, called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The latter are non-essential however, your body can produce Essential omega-3 acids with EPA and DHA. The most common foods that people receive the majority of their Omega-3 are from fish but, unlike Vitamin b12 and vitamin D, there are many ways of incorporating the Omegas with foods such as Walnuts, Flaxseed and flaxseed oil, Canola oil, Soybean oil, Chia seeds and even Algae oil. Despite having more options, vegans tend to have far less Omega-3 in their systems than their counterparts so, it is important to ensure you are getting enough and supplement when needed. Check out this article for a more in-depth look at the Omega-3s.

Iron is an essential mineral that helps red blood cells move oxygen throughout your body. It supports many of your vital functions, including energy, cognitive behaviour, the immune system and regulation of your internal temperature. An iron deficiency can cause fatigue and lethargy, heart palpitations and other serious problems. Commonly, people receive iron from meat, particularly beef, chicken and some seafood like oysters and sardines. But there are a lot of sources of non-meat iron too. Beans, tofu, lentils, spinach and blackstrap molasses are excellent sources of iron that are easy to incorporate into your diet. Check out this article on sources of plant-based iron.

Solution

With any major diet change, there are risks involved and imperative to ensure these risks are manageable. There is a plethora of reliable information online that can guide you in the right direction when it comes to switching to a plant-based diet. Check out 9 Healthy Tips to Help You Start Eating a Vegan Diet and A Vegan Diet – A Complete Guide for Beginners for more information on how to adopt more plant-fuelled goodness into your life. 

No matter how someone chooses to eat, being well informed about nutrition is crucial to your health. This article is a general guideline with tips on how to help you transition to a plant-based diet. Even though I have researched and cited reliable sources, I am not a doctor nor a nutritionist. Please always consult with a professional when making any important lifestyle changes.

Pro Tip: From my personal experience, I believe transitioning a bit of a time is a healthier and the most successful approach in eliminating animal products than completely changing from one day to the next. This strategy will give you time to find what works for you, allow your body to adjust to changes and create less stress mentally and physically. Changing the way you eat can be a profound transformation and should be planned out and thoughtful. 

To be continued next week… 

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