The latest stats are in — veganism is in vogue! In the past, a plant-based diet got a bad rap for being a pretentious way of eating. But, recently, it’s experienced a renaissance. Everyone from medical professionals to celebrities is going vegan, and raving about all the benefits it has — for overall health, and for the environment.
However, how accurate are these claims? Eating more greens is definitely healthier for you, but is a strict vegan diet really the best option? Here are all the pros and cons of veganism you should know before you consider joining the plant-based ranks.
What Is a Vegan Diet?
Recent research suggests that in 2022, over 9.7% of American consumers are vegan. While that only amounts to around 6% of the US population, keep in mind that in 2014, the number was just 1%. That’s a staggering 500% increase in just 8 short years!
And the plant-based revolution shows no sign of stopping! Vegan foods, cosmetics, and restaurants are cropping up left, right, and center, as the general public is becoming more open to the idea of this diet. However, how many people actually know what it means to be vegan?
At its core, the vegan diet prohibits the consumption of all animal products. This includes the most common animal foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. However, it also includes plenty of other animal derivatives such as gelatin, rennet, and honey.
Veganism: A Lifestyle, Not a Diet
So, being vegan means you don’t eat animal products. That makes sense, right? But then why do you see ‘vegan-friendly’ labels on so many non-food items? The answer is simple — because veganism isn’t just a diet. It’s a lifestyle that prioritizes your health and wellbeing, along with the health and wellbeing of all sentient creatures you share the planet with.
Take, for example, the choice to not eat honey. While this natural sweetener isn’t made using any animal parts, commercial honey farming involves other forms of animal exploitation. Therefore, vegans take a stance against the unfair treatment of bees by boycotting honey, and all other honey-based products, like honeycombs, royal jelly, and propolis.
Thus when you sign up to become vegan, you aren’t just giving up animal food sources. You’re also pledging to stop using any product which was derived from an animal, or tested on an animal. This includes the obvious merchandise, like leather and fur clothing. However, it also applies to more obscure items like certain medications, fabric softeners, and even LCD screens!
Pros and Cons of A Veganism
It’s undeniable that veganism is ethical, especially if you’re an animal lover. However, is it really healthy? If you’re thinking about ditching the beef burgers for some veggie patties, here are all the pros and cons of veganism you need to know.
At first glance, veganism is full of restrictions and deficiencies. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A well-balanced plant-based diet has all the necessary nutrients to support optimal health. What’s more, it comes with many other benefits that make giving up meat and dairy a piece of cake!
1. Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
The WHO reports that the leading cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease. While genetics, stress, and alcohol consumption boost your chances of developing heart issues, the food you eat ultimately plays the biggest role. A diet rich in sodium, processed carbs, added sugar and trans fats raises blood pressure and puts you at risk for heart attacks, stroke, and hypertension.
However, if you switch to veganism, that risk drops significantly. A balanced plant-based diet centers around a wealth of nutrient-dense foods that promote heart health. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds provide essential micronutrients that help protect your blood vessels, and keep your heart pumping!
2. Helps to Improve Blood Sugar Levels
Type 2 diabetes is another life-threatening disease caused by poor eating habits. Since 2019, this debilitating illness has killed over 1.5 million people worldwide. However, more and more research is coming out to suggest that going vegan can help sufferers control their blood sugar levels.
When you go plant-based, you naturally cut out a lot of the processed foods that play a role in the development of diabetes. What’s more, the diet is rich in antioxidants, and minerals which significantly impact insulin resistance.
3. May Aid in Weight Loss
You may have heard that going plant-based will help you drop a few lbs. For once, the rumors are true! A balanced vegan diet consists of foods that are naturally lower calorie. So overall, when you swap most of your food for vegan alternatives, you’re creating an energy deficit that causes you to lose weight.
Moreover, a vegan diet is packed with fiber, one of the most important nutrients for weight loss. Fiber is a blanket term for types of plant carbohydrates the body can’t break down. Dietary fiber expands in the gut and slows down digestion, which in turn helps keep you fuller longer. Not only that, but it helps your body absorb several key nutrients, while also preserving your gut health.
4. Lowers Your Risk of Developing Certain Cancers
To be clear, a vegan diet can’t really cure cancer. However, it can help reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer. The vegan diet is rich in fiber, which helps promote regularity.
More bowel movements mean fewer fecal carcinogens in your stool, which further means a lower risk of developing colon cancer. Apart from colon cancer, going plant-based is associated with lower rates of liver, pancreatic, and breast cancer.
5. Better for The Animals and Better for the Environment
Veganism’s biggest advantage is that it’s both humane and environmentally friendly. Factory farming is not only incredibly cruel for animals, but it’s also not sustainable. Raising animals for food requires three-quarters of global agricultural land while producing more greenhouse gasses than several oil companies combined!
In contrast, veganism is much more sustainable. Research suggests that if you switch to a vegan diet, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint by 30%-90%, and preserving 72%-92% of the world’s water. But, most importantly, you’ll be saving countless animal lives — not just farm animals, but any wild animals who are currently facing extinction because of habitat destruction and pollution.
As fantastic as veganism is, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The diet has several downsides you should be aware of if you’re considering making the switch.
1. You May Become Deficient in Important Vitamins
A balanced vegan diet is perfectly nutritionally adequate for most people. However, many jump into it without informing themselves on how to properly supplement animal products. As a result, a lot of new vegans become deficient in key nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, and iron.
With the exception of B12, plant foods contain all of these nutrients. However, they also contain phytates that inhibit their absorption. Therefore, if you’re planning on eating plant-based you’re going to have to combine your foods and take B12 supplements to stay healthy.
2. Often Lacks Essential Fatty Acids
A vegan diet is rich in healthy complex carbs, fiber, and plenty of vitamins. However, there is one area where it’s lacking — the fat department. More specifically omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3s are a type of unsaturated fat that support several vital bodily functions such as:
• Maintaining cell walls
• Regulating blood pressure
• Lowering bad cholesterol
• Supporting brain health
While plant sources like walnuts, chia seeds, and flax contain this essential fatty acid, they don’t contain enough of it to meet your daily needs. To avoid deficiency, you’re going to have to add algae-based omega 3 supplements to your regiment to keep your brain in top shape.
3. Athletes Can Have a Hard Time Meeting Protein Needs
The question ‘where do vegans get their protein’ is an age-old cliche. The average, 165lbs person leading a sedentary lifestyle needs only about 60g of protein per day. And plant sources like legumes, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds provide more than enough to meet those requirements. However, there are two issues here — the amount of protein and the protein quality.
While 4oz of steak and 4oz of black beans contain 24g of protein each, the steak is a complete protein source. It, therefore, has all 9 essential amino acids your body needs to maintain optimal health. Granted, there are plant-based foods that contain complete proteins, like edamame, tempeh, and tofu.
However, you’d have to eat significantly more of them to get the same amount of protein you’d get from eating meat. For comparison, a cup of chicken contains 37 g of protein, while a cup of edamame contains just 18g. For the average person, this isn’t much of an issue. But if you’re an athlete looking to build muscle, you may have to supplement with protein powder to make those gains.