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Following a plant-based or vegan diet is becoming an increasingly popular diet trend. But is it hype? Or are there health gains to be had?
Eating a vegan diet means giving up all animal products such as fish, eggs, dairy and meat. But going vegan isn’t just about diet – it can be a wider lifestyle commitment to support animal welfare and the environment.
What are the health benefits?
Choosing to eat a vegan diet has been shown to have a positive impact on health. The diet is generally rich in fruit and vegetables, and therefore vitamins and minerals, fibre and antioxidants1. By avoiding meat and dairy products, vegan diets are often lower in saturates so may have a beneficial effect on cholesterol2. Those eating a plant-based diet are also more likely to eat fewer calories than meat-eaters and have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease3.
Dr Ali Khavandi, Consultant Cardiologist at BMI Bath Clinic says, “There is a major burden of disease in the Western world but certain foods have protective effects. Adopting a vegan diet has a lot of positive health crossovers, and by definition will encourage you to eat more of these protective plant-based foods.”
He adds, “Eating a plant-based diet generally means you’re eating a diet that’s high in fibre compared the average modern day diet, which doesn’t tend to contain enough.”
What issues are there with vegan diets?
Many people view veganism as a deprivation diet, fraught with pitfalls and getting caught out. It’s often associated with having much less choice, not getting enough protein, nutrient deficiencies, and difficulties eating out or on holiday. While it doesn’t have to be difficult, it does demand careful planning to avoid the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
“Vegans are more at risk of nutrient deficiencies and need to be more careful with their dietary patterns,” says Dr Khavandi. “When you eat animal products, the animal has done the hard work on your behalf, and the dense nutrient profile has been built with relatively little work required from you to access this diverse range of nutrients.
“Eating animal-derived foods allows you to be a bit lazier, but vegans have to be much more conscious about what they’re eating,” he adds.