Pros & Cons of a Vegan Diet
Recent studies indicate that about 1% of Americans follow a vegan diet. So, what's the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian? Vegans don't eat any products that come from animals, while many vegetarians still eat honey, milk or eggs. people choose to "go vegan" for a lot of different reasons; health and environmental concerns are the most common. We all know that meat, fatty foods, and highly processed foods are not very healthy, even if they taste good. Obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes are just a few of the problems that the typical American diet can cause. The question is, will going vegan hurt you, or help you?
A Look At The Research And Benefits
According to the American Dietetic Association, people who follow a vegan diet have lower levels of LDL, the "bad cholesterol", than those who follow an ordinary diet, and even those who follow the diet recommended by the American Diabetes association. One study showed that vegans lowered their LDL by almost 21%, while those following the ADA diet only saw a decrease of 9% on average. The study followed people who have type 2 diabetes. Other major studies have had essentially the same results, and have also shown that becoming a vegan lowers your blood pressure, and can decrease your chances of developing type 2 diabetes as well.
Vegan diets are very high in antioxidants and fiber, as well. Antioxidants can help your body combat the damage done by free radicals, which are volatile molecules that can cause damage at the cellular level. Some studies suggest that free radicals might be connected to cancer. Many studies have shown that diets high in fiber promote digestive health, and lower the risk of certain types of bowel diseases and cancers. Going vegan is also very effective if you need to lose weight, for a few reasons. Eating a lot of fiber doesn't only make your digestive system healthier, it also makes you feel fuller, so you generally eat less in an average meal. Also, because you aren't eating most packaged snack foods, dairy products, or meats, you'll be eating less fat.
So, Is There A Down Side?
Starting a vegan diet can be pretty difficult. Though there are over twenty major cookbooks devoted to vegan recipes, many of the packaged foods available in your grocery store contain products that aren't vegan. You have to read the labels carefully, and it's a good idea to read a book or two and find out what hidden non-vegan ingredients are in your food. Gelatin, some types of lecithin, and some types of lactic acid are all non-vegan, as are several types of food coloring agents. If you also want vegan beauty products, you'll have to avoid those with bee's wax and lanolin. Finding restaurants that offer true vegan choices can be a challenge too.
If you are allergic to soy or soy products, you'll have to plan your vegan diet carefully, as soy is a complete protein. If you can't eat soy, you will need to combine two other plant proteins, or a grain and legume, to produce a complete protein. Beans and rice will work for this. Also, vegans are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency,calcium deficiency, and vitamin D deficiency. Eating a lot of broccoli and other dark vegetables, figs, sweet potatoes, and tofu, as well as vitamin D fortified vegan foods, will prevent all these deficiencies except vitamin B12. All vegans should take vitamin B 12 supplements, and make sure their diet has at least 600 mg. of calcium a day.
Before you decide to start a vegan diet, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor, of course. Most doctors will be happy to help you go vegan and enjoy the benefits while avoiding the risks.