Expert advice Nutrition
Is A Vegan Diet Better For The Body?

Shiny Surendran

MSc, Grad Dip Sports Nutrition (Intl Olympic Committee), Accredited Sports Dietitian - Sports Dietitians Australia, Level 2 Kinanthropometrist - ISAK, New Zealand

5 min read

From reducing bad cholesterol, the risk of heart disease and blood pressure to losing weight, there are plenty of reasons to turn to plant-based foods and give up meat, eggs and all dairy products.
Eating healthy is important not only during a pandemic but also to boost and protect our overall health. Though we are not yet equipped with the knowledge of which foods are the best to combat Covid-19, what we know is that plant-based foods play a significant role in making our immune system stronger. Eating foods that boost immunity and help maintain good health should be a top priority, especially during this time.

A vegan diet contains less saturated fat and is rich in nutrients. According to research, a vegan diet is known to improve heart health, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and also protect against cancer. Veganism became popular when sports personalities began to follow this eating pattern. Many leading athletes, including world champions, have turned vegan.

Consequently, more and more people are becoming vegan either due to health reasons, animal welfare or a burning desire to protect the environment. Veganism renounces any animal products, and many people turn vegan due to moral and ethical reasons. Moreover, relying only on animal sources for protein is passé, and in fact, many top athletes feel their fitness and focus is enhanced after switching over to veganism.

Vegans and vegetarians don’t consume animal foods and dairy products. But Lacto vegetarians consume dairy products while Lacto Ovo vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs too. On the other hand, vegans avoid all products derived from animals, including honey. Vegans also steer clear from leather, silk, wool etc. While vegetarianism is a diet, veganism is a way of life. However, both vegans and vegetarians eat fruit, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and soy products like tofu, miso, tempeh.

Unfortunately, a diet that is entirely plant-based and not balanced may cause certain nutrient deficiencies and micronutrient deficiencies. Signs of nutrient deficiencies include sleepiness, hair loss, anemia, fatigue and so on. Vegans usually need B12 supplements due to the absence of dairy in the diet. The deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause anemia and nerve damage.
There is also a possible risk of a vegan diet, not containing enough protein. This is especially possible if qualified nutritionists do not prepare a personalized vegan diet. It’s important not to follow vegan diets blindly and most advisable to meet a doctor and a qualified nutritionist before you decide to go vegan! To remain healthy; you need to have adequate nutrients in your diet.

Healthy Vegan Foods & Food Groups 

  • Legumes are rich in protein and iron. Lentils, peas and beans are great options to include in UR diet.
  • Nut butter, seeds & nuts are protein-rich foods and an excellent alternative to animal products. Nuts and seeds contain beneficial plant compounds and are rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, etc.
  • Flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp when compared to other grains, are great sources of protein. Flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The healthy fats in hemp seeds help in lowering inflammation and improve UR skin’s health!
  • Tofu & tempeh are great meat substitutes made from soybeans. They are extremely rich in protein and contain a fair amount of iron and calcium too!
  • Plant milk & yogurt are made from soy or hemp seeds and have become popular choices globally. Almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk and rice milk can be easily incorporated in vegan diets.
  • Fermented & sprouted foods like tempeh, kimchi and kombucha, miso etc. are good for UR immunity and digestive system. Sprouted amaranth and quinoa are high in protein and are considered as suitable substitutes of rice and wheat.
  • Choline-rich foods are nutrients which are essential for the liver, brain and a healthy nervous system. Choline-rich foods can be found in small quantities in many vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes. In plant-based foods, choline can be found in soymilk, cauliflower, tofu, quinoa and broccoli amongst others.
  • Iron & calcium-rich foods include bok choy, kale, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, artichokes, broccoli etc.

A vegan diet can be made wholesome and nutritious with the help of a qualified nutritionist. Well-planned meals will ensure all the macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients are incorporated in your diet. Those following a vegan lifestyle need to be aware of including nutrients like iron, vitamin B-12, calcium, protein and vitamin D, which others get by consuming animal products.

Health Benefits
As mentioned earlier, a vegan diet can be extremely nutritious if personalized & prescribed by a qualified nutritionist. Listed below are some health benefits of going vegan:

Improved heart health: Plant foods boost heart health as they don’t contain harmful saturated fats, which raise UR cholesterol levels. Foods from plants also have fewer calories as opposed to animal products which can help you tackle obesity, a significant risk factor that causes heart disease.

Lessen the risk of cancer: Processed meats and red meat are known to be carcinogenic. When these foods are eliminated from UR diet, the risk of cancer is automatically reduced. Additionally, plant-based foods have properties that protect against cancer.

 For Many, ‘Becoming Vegan is not a trend, it’s an Awakening’

Helps you manage UR weight: Plant foods have lesser calories compared to animal foods, which are avoided when on a vegan diet. This helps reduce UR body mass index (BMI) and manage any weight issues that you may have.

Reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes: As a vegan diet consists mainly of vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and legumes, the risk of type 2 diabetes is reduced because these foods help to manage blood sugar and glucose levels better. Also, the absence of animal products in the diet helps prevent type 2 diabetes because when you adopt a diet high in plant products, oxidative stress and inflammation is reduced.

 

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