There are many reasons why someone would choose to engage in a vegan diet. It could be because they are concerned about their health or because they care about the well-being of animals. Despite popular belief and heresy, a vegan diet is a healthy choice. In fact, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) endorses a vegan diet.
Vegan Health Benefits
A vegan diet is a strict form of vegetarianism, as it excludes all animal products, including dairy, which is something that most vegetarians allow themselves to consume. Although vegans are rigid with what they allow themselves to eat, the foods they eat still provide most of the nutrients the body needs. The ADA has accepted a vegan diet as healthy and nutritional. According to the ADA, vegan diets have been found to prevent diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Vegans typically have lower BMI (body mass index), cholesterol, blood pressure, and hypertension levels than their meat eating counterparts.
Key Nutrient Requirements
A vegan diet can provide the appropriate nutrients needed by people in all states of life including children, adults, pregnant women, the elderly and even athletes. However, it is important that the daily requirements for the nutrients listed below are increased, as plant sources do not necessarily provide a large enough volume of the following:
- Proteins: Plant sources such as soy, beans and cereal provide a small amount of protein, so intake should be increased to meet the recommended daily amounts.
- N-3 Fatty Acids: While most fatty acids come from fish sources, they can also be received through foods like canola oil, flaxseed and walnuts.
- Iron: Because the iron which is received from plant sources is difficult for the body to absorb, the ADA recommends that a vegan’s intake is roughly 1.8 times a non-vegan’s recommended amount of iron. The vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables can also help in the absorption of iron.
- Calcium: Calcium can be found in leafy greens such as bok choy, broccoli and kale. Calcium fortified foods like fruit juices and soy milk, and calcium dietary supplements can aid in meeting the daily required amounts.
- Vitamin B12: The ADA recommends that B12 is received through fortified foods like soy and rice beverages.
A Healthy Balance
Just like any other diet, it’s important that vegans choose a variety of foods including heart healthy whole grains, vegetables, including leafy greens, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds. They should limit their intake of sugar and processed foods, as well as foods high in sodium, trans and saturated fats. With the right amount of nutrients and a balanced diet, the properly managed vegan diet can be as healthy, if not healthier, than an animal product based diet.