Last Year, the British Dietetic Association (BDA) announced that a well planned Vegan diet can support healthy living in people of all ages.
However, although I 100% agree with their statement, and fully believe that we should all be eating more plant-based foods, I fear that the announcement was misinterpreted by the masses. The statement was that only ‘well planned’ Vegan diets are healthy, and in no way suggests that being Vegan makes you automatically healthier than your meat eating friends. It has been estimated that there has been a 160% increase in Veganism in the past 10 years, and the movement doesn’t seem to be faltering. So, rather than promote Veganism, or knock it, I’ve decided to list the pros and cons, to inform people of the benefits and downsides to a fully plant-based diet.
Vegan diets are not all created equally!
There are two types of Vegans; The Vegan who eats foods that are Naturally Vegan, like legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables, and The Vegan who eats Vegan alternatives such as Vegan burgers, Vegan cheese, Vegan Butter and endless amounts of Oreo Biscuits and Doritos (they’re Vegan, don’t you know?!). Unfortunately after a quick scan through Instagram, it’s clear that a lot of Vegans fall into the latter category, eating highly processed foods and imitations of animals products, which are full of nasty additives to mimic the taste of the real version. If going Vegan, it’s crucial you don’t fall into this unhealthy trap but instead eat real, unprocessed naturally Vegan foods.
Vegans may actually be unknowingly harming the environment!
A large proportion of Vegans choose this diet for the environment, and it’s true, eating a plant based diet in general is better for our environment. However, the majority of Vegan butter alternatives and other alternatives, contain Palm oil. Palm oil production is responsible for deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, making it an unethical additive to Vegan Products. We should all be avoiding Palm oil as much as possible, which means we probably should ditch the Oreos ( an easy task if you replace it with one of our heavenly healthy snacks, like our Vegan Friendly Raw Energy Nut Bar).
Veganism and Deficiencies
One of the most worrying deficiencies in a Vegan diet is Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an Omega-3 fatty acid, which is seriously lacking in Vegan diets, and any Vegan or Potential Vegan should be aware of the negative implications of this deficiency. A DHA deficiency directly affects the brain, as it is the principal fatty acid in our brain’s grey matter and has neuro-protective properties. Unfortunately, evidence has pointed towards a DHA deficiency increasing our brain’s vulnerability when it comes to disorders such as depression and Bi Polar. Vegan sources of DHA include Algae supplements, but they in no way are a replacement for real DHA found in Oily fish and eggs. Although Vegan suitable foods like flaxseed oil is a source of ALA, a precursor of DHA, the conversion happens at a rate of less than 1%, which would mean you would have to consume buckets full of flaxseed to reap the same benefits of directly consuming DHA.
Veganism and Food Sustainability
There is no two ways about it, a plant based diet is better for the environment than a diet filled with meat and dairy. Having completed research during my MSc. Dissertation on Food Sustainability and Alternative Protein Sources, I now know, that without a doubt our current dietary habits are not sustainable in the long run, are a threat to food security and are harming the environment. Cutting back on animal products and replacing them with plant foods such as nuts, fruit and vegetables and wholegrains will reduce carbon emissions, use less water and will leave less of an ecological footprint. It is claimed that to produce 1kg of meat, 5000-20000 litres of water is required, which is heaps more than plant based foods. Therefore, if you care about the environment and the ecological impact your diet has, then maybe Veganism is for you. More on sustainable diets from Irish Life Health.
Veganism and Heart Health
The EPIC-Oxford Study found considerably lower levels of hypertension (high Blood Pressure) in Vegans. Although the explanation for this still remains unclear, it is probably due to 3 main reasons. The first is that Vegans eat considerably less saturated fat than meat eaters and vegetarians, and high levels of saturated fat is a risk factor when it comes to heart health. Secondly, Vegans normally have higher fibre intakes then Omnivores. Fibre in particular regulates blood sugar levels and can help lower cholesterol. Vegans also may eat more Soy than meat consumers, and Soy contains cholesterol lowering Isoflavones, which improve the health of our arteries and reduce the risk of Heart Disease.
However, it’s not all great news for Vegan’s heart health. Vegans who don’t supplement with B12 (B12 is not found in a Vegan diet naturally) may have high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in their body, which can raise their heart attack risk. Also, as mentioned before, due to the lack of the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA in a Vegan diet, Vegans could be putting themselves at further risk when it comes to heart health.
Veganism and Animal Rights
Being Vegan is about living a lifestyle that does not inflict suffering on animals. Although this means abstaining from foods like meat, dairy, eggs and honey, it also means avoiding certain practises, like buying leather, going to Zoos and avoiding cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Although not everyone shares views as extreme as PETA , maybe we could all take a leaf out of a Vegan’s mindset and be more compassionate in our day to day lives, and stop to think before we buy a product, where did this product come from, and is it ethical. Even though nutritionally, many people might not agree with a Vegan diet, its hard to argue with the fact that it is an empathetic, compassionate diet.
The Vegan diet has its merits and its downsides. If you want to learn how to eat a carefully planned Vegan diet, book in a consultation with me today and I would be happy to help.
In the meantime, take a look at some of our Vegan dishes:
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Katie is a registered Associate Nutritionist with the UKVRN through the Association for Nutrition. Katie completed her Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition and Health in Glasgow Caledonian University and her Bachelors Degree in UCD in Health and Performance Science. Before joining the team at GourmetFuel, she worked in a kitchen catering company, and for Our Lady’s Hospice Harolds Cross and is heavily involved with UCD Boxing Club. Her areas of interest are Vegetarian diets, disease prevention and Sports Nutrition.
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