Vegan For Beginners: The Science-Based Health Benefits Of The Vegan Diet
Vegan diets offer clear advantages over standard Western diets. While we are a long way from being able to deﬁne the optimal eating plan, it is clear that people who base their diets on plant foods have a lower risk for certain conditions, including some types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hyper- tension, gallstones, and kidney stones. There are a number of factors related to plant-based diets that may contribute to this protection.
Here are some of the most compelling considerations:
- Vegans tend to eat less fat than both omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetar- ians. Excess fat in the diet may contribute to obesity and raise the risk of Most important, vegans consume very little saturated fat and no cholesterol, since cholesterol is found only in animal foods. This is most likely the primary reason for their lower cholesterol levels and reduced heart-disease risk.
- Vegans consume as much as four times more ﬁber than Fiber protects against colon disease and is an important factor in the reduced rates of colon cancer seen in vegetarians. It also may help to protect against heart disease and diabetes. Fiber is found only in plant foods.
- Vegans consume generous amounts of These are components in plant foods (they include certain vitamins, minerals, and non- nutrient components) that protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are a normal by-product of metabolism, but they play a critical role in the development of cancer and heart disease and perhaps other diseases, like arthritis.
- Vegans eat less total protein than omnivores and lactoovo vegetarians and, of course, they eat no animal protein. Animal protein may contribute to higher blood-cholesterol levels and increase the risk of kidney damage; it may also affect bone
- Vegan diets are high in phytochemicals, which are found only in plant foods. They aren’t actually nutrients—that is, we don’t need them to live—but they do have important biological properties that can affect health in a myriad of There are hundreds of phytochemicals in a variety of plant foods including vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- Vegans have high intakes of the B vitamin High levels of folate reduce the blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. Homo- cysteine is an independent risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, this may be one important protective factor for vegans.
Given what we know about how vegans eat, we shouldn’t be too surprised by their better health proﬁle. All these factors in plant foods combine to provide protection against a number of chronic conditions.
Atherosclerosis and Heart Disease
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty deposits (called plaques) in the arteries. This buildup can impede blood ﬂow to organs, and if arteries leading to the heart are involved, the result can be a heart attack. Other organs can be affected as well, since atherosclerosis also affects blood ﬂow to the kidneys, brain, and other parts of the body.
High blood cholesterol increases the risk of atherosclerosis; the risk is further raised when the cholesterol is oxidized. Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in antioxidants lower the risk of atherosclerosis. Fiber- rich diets may be protective as well. There is some evidence that high animal- protein intake, too much iron, and low levels of the B vitamin folate also raise the risk. It is no surprise that vegans have a comparatively low risk for heart disease and that they are at even lower risk than other vegetarians. Vegans have lower blood-cholesterol levels because they eat less saturated fat and no cholesterol. Their diets are also rich in antioxidants, fiber, and folate and lower in iron and protein.
While there is little evidence that vegans speciﬁcally have a lower risk of cancer, the evidence from populations throughout the world is that plant-based diets reduce risk for certain types of cancer. There are many ways that diet might affect cancer risk. Dietary ﬁber can aid the body in excreting some carcinogens, which are compounds that initiate the cancer process. Promoters, like dietary fat, can prompt cancer cells to divide, setting tumor growth in motion. Also, many enzymes in the body that deactivate carcinogens are themselves increased by phytochemicals in plant foods.
A variety of lifestyle factors afford protection against cancer, and a plant- based diet is among them. This is especially evident regarding colon cancer. The entire environment of the colon is signiﬁcantly different between meat eaters and those who eat mostly plant foods. Vegetarians have a much lower risk of colon cancer.
The picture for breast cancer is a bit murkier. Worldwide, populations that eat plant-based diets have lower rates of breast cancer. Plant diets pro- duce changes that seem to protect against breast cancer. For example, high blood estrogen raises breast-cancer risk. Some studies show that vegetarian women have lower estrogen levels, perhaps because they eat more ﬁber and less fat. Despite this, there is no reported difference in cancer rates between vegetarians and nonvegetarians. This may be because most studies have involved Seventh-day Adventist vegetarians whose diets are mostly lactoovo and not signiﬁcantly lower in fat. Studies of vegans might provide a differ- ent outcome, but we don’t have those data yet.
It is well established that vegetarians have lower blood pressures than omni- vores, and there is evidence that vegans have lower blood pressures com- pared to other vegetarians. The reasons for this are poorly understood since it doesn’t seem to be related to sodium intake or body weight, both of which are closely related to blood pressure. There are probably a number of factors in plant foods that help reduce blood pressure.
Each day, the kidneys ﬁlter the entire volume of blood in the body about sixty times in order to sift out and excrete unwanted chemicals. Diets high in pro- tein force the kidneys to work harder by increasing the rate at which they ﬁl- ter blood. In turn, this places stress on the kidneys and can raise the risk of kidney problems in older people or in people already at risk for kidney dis- ease. Not surprisingly, the ﬁltration rate of the kidneys is lower in vegans than in both lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores—presumably because their diets are lower in protein. High cholesterol levels can also contribute to kid- ney disease, so the lower cholesterol levels of vegans might be protective.
Although high calcium intake seems to protect against kidney-stone formation, vegans—whose calcium intake is relatively low compared with other groups—have a lower risk for this condition than omnivores. This may be because their diet is also lower in protein. Excess protein raises rates of calcium excretion which can lead to the formation of kidney stones.
A number of studies reveal that vegans tend to weigh less and have less body fat than both omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians. Most likely, this is due to the lower fat and higher ﬁber content of vegan diets. Exercise may also be a contributing factor.
All of the preceding information suggests that vegans enjoy some health advantages over omnivores, and in some cases, over lacto-ovo vegetarians as well. But while vegan diets offer protection, this is only true if they are well-balanced and nutrient rich. Planning healthful vegan diets isn’t difﬁcult—it’s just different. However, it does require some attention to a few speciﬁc nutrients. If you are new to the lifestyle, and would like to easily and effortlessly learn how to prepare tasty vegan recipes, while also feeling more energized and making sure you don’t develop nutrient deficiencies, Download The Complete Vegan Recipe Solution.