Vegansim has received a huge publicity boost recently because of the health benefits associated with a plant based diet. The tabloid press, magazines and lifestyle television programs have carried a plethora of stories regarding the advantages of vegetarianism, veganism and even the oxymoron part time vegan diet (the other part of this fad diet being omnivore based meat eating!). We have also seen a deluge of A-list celebrities converting or at least experimenting with veganism with an eye to it's health benefits.
A balanced vegan diet meets current healthy eating recommendations such as eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains and consuming less cholesterol and saturated fat. In fact you may have read that a vegetarian diet increases your life expectancy. As a study recently reported: “Over a six-year period, vegetarians were 12 per cent less likely to die from any cause”. This story was picked up by many of the major newspapers including the Daily Mail and the Telegraph this summer.1

Balanced vegan diets are in fact often rich in vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. A vegan diet can decrease the chances of suffering from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Well-planned plantbased diets are suitable for all age groups and stages of life.2

Red meat, especially processed meat, contains ingredients that have been directly linked to increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.3

These ingredients in red and processed meat include saturated fat, sodium nitrite and carcinogenic chemicals produced by cooking red meat. We are all aware that cigarettes cause cancer, so smoking is greatly discouraged. But how many people are aware of the links between eating meat and developing cancer?

Obesity is on the rise in England – more than 15% of children and 26% of adults in the UK are obese. Vegetarians and vegans generally weigh less than meat-eaters. Evidence shows that a plant-based diet is the healthiest option for weight loss or to maintain a healthy weight, and that replacing meat with a plant-based alternative can help control weight.5

Diabetes is less frequent among vegetarians and vegans as shown by a 21-year study of over 25,000 adults in the USA. Those on meat-free diets had a 45% reduced risk of developing diabetes compared to the population as a whole. Meat consumption was associated with diabetes in both men and women.6

There are many ill-informed opinions and urban myths about a vegan diet. A couple of examples:

  • Lots of people think that the only way to get calcium is from milk and cheese. There are actually a lot of other foods that contain calcium, including green leafy vegetables, fortified foods such as soya milk and white flour, calcium-set tofu, oranges, figs, black molasses, and even drinking hard tap water.
  • Increasingly people are becoming aware of the need to consume Omega 3 oils to stay healthy. Fish oils are widely promoted as “the” source of Omega 3. However, a heaped tablespoon of ground flaxseed or two tablespoons of rapeseed oil a day gives you all the Omega 3 you need.

How to maintain good health information for vegans -

Eat plenty of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables including dark leafy greens. Wholefoods (such as brown bread and brown rice).

Make sure you get enough:
Vitamin B12(3 micrograms daily) from fortified foods or a supplement.
Vitamin D2(10-20 micrograms daily) from sun exposure, fortified foods or a supplement.
Iodine (100 to 150 micrograms daily) either 15-30 grams of kelp (kombu) per year or take a daily supplement.
Calcium(500 micrograms daily) from foods rich in calcium or a supplement.
Omega 3daily amount: one heaped tablespoon of ground flaxseed or two tablespoons of rapeseed oil.
More information here.

(Many thanks to Viva for their help and information with this section).
1. These newspaper articles are based on a paper first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
2. Leitzmann C, 2005. Vegetarian diets: what are the advantages? Forum Nutr. (57) 147-56.
3. BMC Medicine 2013, 11:63 doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-63. Published: 7 March 2013
4. The NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre report, published in February 2012 (data refers to studies in 2010).
5. Newby PK, Tucker KL, Wolk A. 2005. Risk of overweight and obesity among semi-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, and vegan women. Am J Clin Nutr. 81 (6) 1267-74.
6. Snowdon DA and Phillips RL, 1985. Does a vegetarian diet reduce the occurrence of diabetes? Am J Public Health. 75 (5) 507-512.