Going vegan is a trend many people seem to be gravitating towards and for good reason. There is a plethora of research out there which boasts the many health benefits of vegan eating, from decreased cancer risks to a reduction in inflammation and even weight loss.
However, the decision to switch to vegan eating should be made carefully are there are several key factors to consider before determining if the vegan lifestyle is a good fit for you and your specific health needs.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance of protein is roughly 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body mass each day. Protein is needed for our antibodies, blood, connective tissue, enzymes, and other bodily elements and processes to function properly(Pendick, 2019).
Most people rely on meat for their protein intake, but vegans must rely on other sources such as soy, lentils, beans, quinoa, and seitan among others. It takes a quick adjustment in thinking to make the shift, but it is easily doable if one is determined enough.
Simply put, vegans need to take a B-12 supplement on a daily basis to ensure they are getting the necessary amounts. B-12 is an essential vitamin involved in the process of making DNA and maintaining nerve and blood cell health. B-12 occurs naturally only in animal products, and while it can be obtained in a vegan diet from foods fortified with B-12, there likely won’t be enough to ensure adequate amounts are being obtained daily. It is important to note that a lack of B-12 can result in exhaustion, nerve issues, constipation, loss of appetite and even depression (Reynolds, 2006).
Many of the vegan meat substitutes on the market are soy-based. While there are varying opinions as to the exact impact of soy-based food on the body and whether it is more good or more bad for the body, there is evidence to suggest that consumption of soy in large quantities can do more harm than good.
The goitrogens in soy can negatively impact the thyroid (Divi, 1997). The phytoestrogens in soy can negatively impact male hormones (Niederberger, 2011). Additionally, many soy-based products are highly processed and contain large amounts of sodium and preservatives, with nearly 90% of all soy containing genetically modified ingredients (Consumer Info About Food from Genetically Engineered Plants, 2018).
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
When people think of omega 3 fatty acids and food, they often think about fish or fish oil. Naturally, vegans don’t consume fish products, so they rely heavily on the one type of omega 3 fats found in plants. Products like flax, chia, and hemp which can be easily added to oatmeals and smoothies, are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
An algae supplement may also be taken if there is concern about a vegan diet not providing enough of the nutrient, as omega 3 fatty acids are vital for brain development and can help reduce the risk of inflammation, depression, and even breast cancer (Effect of marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor α: a meta-analysis).
There are two forms of iron- heme and non-heme, and vegan diets only possess the non-heme form which is less easily absorbed within the body. Thus, vegans must be diligent about ensuring their diet contains an adequate amount of iron and vitamin c. Sources of vegan iron can include legumes, dark leafy greens, sunflower seeds, and food fortified with iron among others. Consuming foods rich in vitamin c alongside these iron-rich foods will also aid in iron absorption (Review on iron and its importance for human health).
Many new vegans may not realize it, but often the transition to vegan eating means a drastic cut in the sources of calories one is getting in their diet. If not careful, there can be unhealthy weight loss due to this shift. To avoid this it is important to eat lots of nuts, whole grain, fruits, legumes, and seeds in addition to the other foods being eaten in their vegan diet.
Adopting a vegan diet is a decision that should be well thought out and well planned. With careful consideration of the above-mentioned factors and with the oversight of a healthcare professional, vegan eating can prove to be a safe and effective way to live a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight.