Veganism seems to be eternally accompanied by polemic views on its relative contribution to human health, and this lack of clarity can prevent some people from considering adopting this lifestyle. Broadly speaking, vegans choose their diet for health or ethical reasons with evidence that there are differences in these groups, both in terms of adherence and food products consumed. Despite wildly misinformed negative opinion on veganism, well designed clinical studies have shown that vegans are generally thinner, have a healthier gut flora, lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lower overall mortality rate compared to meat eaters. Taken collectively, this represents significant health benefits that can be gained from avoiding animal products and should dispel the myth that veganism isn’t healthy. So why does this myth persist, and what can vegans do to make sure they are giving themselves the best chance of excellent health.
The word most vegans dread hearing is protein. Protein is a nutrient found in abundance in meat, but is often harder to find in vegetable matter. Compare cow’s milk which has 3.4g/100ml protein to almond milk, which only has 0.4g/100ml and it is easy to see how protein intake can drop when adopting a vegan lifestyle. Protein intake is important; it is a key determinant of skeletal muscle mass and turnover, and current recommendations for protein intake exceed 1g/kg of body weight each day. The need for protein is especially important in older adults, where loss of muscle mass can lead to mobility issues and frailty and it is this group, alongside children, where the importance of planning meals to include protein becomes sharply, clear. This however isn’t difficult, with many different types of vegetable having impressive protein content meaning that obtaining sufficient protein to keep muscles healthy isn’t as big an issue as some think. There is even evidence that a low protein diet, with the protein coming from plant material, will help you live longer suggesting that our understanding of protein intake and healthy ageing might be flawed.
Beyond protein, there are other nutrients that are abundant in animal produce that may be harder to come across in those that only eat plant material. Calcium, so important for bone growth, muscle function and blood clotting, is one of these micronutrients as is vitamin B12, but there are numerous plant based sources for these micronutrients which can be incorporated into a vegan diet with ease.
In conclusion, there is a growing body of evidence that not only is veganism safe, it is actually beneficial and may protect individuals from some of the most common and serious chronic diseases. Whatever your reasons for not considering adopting a vegan lifestyle, don’t let a perceived negative impact on your health be one of them.