You can get all the nutrients you need from a healthy, balanced vegan diet rich in wholefoods including fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains, nuts, and seeds. Several studies have reported that people who eat vegan tend to consume more fibre, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E. It is important to remember that removing meat from your diet alone is no guarantee of a healthier diet. However, there is some evidence that shows vegetarian dietary patterns may have a health benefit when compared to more traditional dietary patterns. UPFs, she adds, “don’t hold a high nutritional value, and a lot can contain too much fat, too much salt and a lot of free sugars”. Better sources of vegan protein, she says, include beans, chickpeas, nuts, lentils, hemp seeds and soy protein such as tofu.
A plant-based diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre while being low in saturated fat, varying amounts of growth hormones and antibiotics. In summary, the long-term health of vegetarians appears to be generally good, and for some diseases and medical conditions it may be better than that of comparable omnivores. We also know that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ healthy diet, but that certain characteristics of dietary patterns are linked with better health. A recent study suggests that eating vegan can help reduce our risk for disease, as plant-based foods are packed with phytochemicals – including the powerful antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
It is not known why this is the case, but one factor may be that low LDL cholesterol increases the risk for haemorrhagic stroke. The risk of stroke in the pescatarian (fish-eating) participants, however, appeared no higher than for meat eaters. Here at NDPH, our approach in health research is to carry out studies that involve many thousands of different people, to work out the overall trends that apply to the general population.
Don’t assume the product has more protein or less saturated fat than meat. The reasons for this increased risk are not fully understood, but they may involve naturally-occurring chemicals in red meat and preservatives found in processed meats . These can cause N-nitroso compounds to form, which can induce mutations in intestinal cells. The process of cooking meat can also result in the formation of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, which are thought to be carcinogenic. Being vegan is more than just eliminating animal products from your diet – it’s about removing them from your day-to-day life, too.
Gunter Kuhnle, professor of food and nutritional sciences at the University of Reading, is more focused on nutritional balance than levels of processing. “The problem is that when something becomes popular, a fashion, people don’t think about it properly. A lot of people believe that if you can buy something, it is safe – people eat replacement products without checking the differences.” Milk is a case in point. Supermarkets have whole aisles ofmeat and dairy-free alternatives, and it’s no wonder.
Pulses, including beans, peas and lentils, are naturally very low in fat and high in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and fibre, and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day.
One of my favourite books is The Pleasure Trap; the authors explain how modern foods are designed to activate the pleasure centres in our brain and how neuroadaptation leads to becoming addicted to these processed foods. The book offers solutions on how to change our deleterious lifestyle choices. However, it is worth exploring the difference between a vegan diet and a whole food plant-based diet. It’s important to understand why you should aim to follow the latter. Vegans have been found to enjoy longer and healthier lives when compared to meat-eaters.