Vegan is a person who do not use animal products for food or any other purpose. Such a person not only avoids animal products like milk, egg or meat in food but also avoids using silk or leather for clothing and other needs. Vegans are different from vegetarians as vegans avoid even dairy products and eggs which are generally consumed by vegetarians.
Vegan diet is that form of diet in which all animal based food products are completely avoided. Veganism is staying away from exploitation of animals in all forms including for labor or food. Veganism is more about adopting a humane outlook on life in addition to avoiding cruelty to birds and animals by exploiting them for food.
Adoption of this diet may be due to ethical, health or environmental concerns of an individual. Many variations of vegan diet are formulated. However there is no scientific classification of the types of vegan foods. Therefore the system of vegan diet can be discussed as one single type to understand the benefits and risks.
Benefits of a health vegan diet are:
- Healthy heart,
- Controlled blood sugar level,
- Reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol
- Better digestion and bowel movements preventing constipation,
- Weight loss.
The risks are based on the inadequacy of vitamins and minerals present in vegan food.
Before discussing the benefits attributed to vegan diet it must be clear that there are no scientific proof that conclusively determine the benefits. All benefits are only observational in general and need to be substantiated by evidence.
What does a Vegan Diet contain?
- Vegan diet consists of vegetables, leafy greens, grains, fruits and nuts all sourced from plants only.
- Vegan diet gives many health benefits. Some of them are, reduction of body mass index and consequent weight reduction, controlling blood sugar levels and preventing type-2 diabetes, reducing the blood pressure level thereby reducing the risk of heart problems and reducing cholesterol levels.
- It is helpful to some extent in addressing issues such as arthritis, malfunctioning of kidneys, Alzheimer’s disease and development of cancer. However, not all the benefits attributed to vegan diet have been scientifically proved but are based on certain presumptions and observations only.
Iron and Vitamin B12
This diet does not supply vitamin B12 essentially needed for the nervous system. It also does not provide as much iron as needed. Hence people on this diet need to have vitamin B12 and iron supplements without fail.
Calcium and vitamin D to absorb the calcium intake are necessary to maintain strong and healthy teeth and bones. Since much of the calcium requirement is present in dairy products, vegan diet which contains good quantity of calcium must be included in the diet. Some such calcium rich food are rice, oats, fortified soya without sweeteners, brown and white bread, pulses, dried apricots, raisins, figs and prunes.
Consuming calcium alone is not enough. Vitamin D is essential to make the body absorb the calcium from blood and strengthen the bones and teeth. Hence sufficient exposure to sun and in the absence of sunshine or in addition to sunshine consuming Vitamin D is a must.
Since iron required by the body is easily absorbed from meat and meat products, iron absorption from vegan diet is relatively less. Food that contain iron are dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli and spring greens in addition to the food items listed above which contain calcium.
Some of the vitamin B12 sources in vegan diet are cereals, marmite and unsweetened soya milk, all of which are fortified with vitamin B 12.
Likewise omega 3 fatty acid is needed for healthy heart for which fish oil is the normal source. It is also present in flax seed oil. Soya oil, rapeseed oil and walnuts. However omega 3 fatty acids found in these food items are not as effective in protecting the heart as fish oil.
Tips to know before getting into vegan diet
- People adopting vegan diet must consume enough fruits and vegetables besides reducing the intake of salt. It is also essential to reduce foods containing high saturated fat in order to keep their heart healthy.
- Anyone wanting to be a vegan need to carefully plan the transition to vegetarianism or veganism from non-vegetarianism. It is because sudden transition may lead to reduction in intake of much needed vitamins and minerals. Particularly, adequate amount of protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron and vitamin B 12 should be consumed. This has to come from either appropriate foods or supplements.
- Vegan diet does not contain vitamin D unless fortified. Hence when such non-fortified foods are part of the diet, sufficient exposure to sunlight is the only available alternative.
If your vegan diet has healthy constituents with good nutritional value, it is an ample diet. When some nutrients and minerals are inadequate in the food, you should consume supplements to stay healthy.