It was recently revealed that a record number of people have signed up to ‘Veganuary’ in a bid to reduce their meat consumption and increase the plant-based products in their diet.
With vegan options becoming more accessible and more affordable, this food trend has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity in recent years.
Here, Nutrition Manager at Fitness First Middle East, Banin Shahine, looks at the health benefits of a vegan diet, ways to counteract any potential negatives and dispels popular myths.
Several people turn to a vegan diet not only to protect animals and to help save the planet, but also because they believe it is a healthier option.
Veganism has recently been praised for its weight-loss benefits, with the average vegan weighing 2-4kg less than a meat eater. This is predominantly due to the amount of calories contained in animal protein – plant-based protein tends to be much lower in calories than animal protein.
A plant-based diet can also help to improve digestion with a high intake of vegetables, fruits, fibre and prebiotics helping to comfort the colon. Animal products derived from dairy such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, and chocolate, as well as eggs, can also cause intolerance reactions in sensitive people. Cutting these products out can help reduce symptoms from a food intolerance and decrease the chances of developing leaky gut syndrome.
According to the American Dietetic Association, reducing your animal product intake can also help lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Counteracting any potential negatives
Switching to a vegan lifestyle can result in uncertainty for many people. Many people are unaware of the vitamins and minerals you may lose out on when switching to a vegan diet and require information on how to ensure they are maintaining as healthy and balanced a diet as possible.
The most common negative impact of veganism is deficiencies in nutrients you would usually obtain from animal products. Some of these include:
- Vitamin B12 – a vitamin required for brain and nervous system health
- Omega 3 – a fish oil which plays an important role in concentration, memory, eye and vision health, and healthy joints, skin and hair
- Iron – without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. This can result in extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headaches, shortness of breath, brittle nails and a poor appetite
- Zinc – zinc is a mineral that your body uses to fight off infections and produce cells. It is an important mineral for healing injuries. Zinc deficiency can result in hair loss, lack of alertness and a reduced sense of taste and smell
To help avoid any of these deficiencies, people switching to a plant-base diet should do the following:
- Work with a nutritionist to learn more about which specific plant-based products should be consumed to avoid any deficiencies, for more information book an appointment with a nutritionist at Fitness First.
- Increase your intake of foods that are fortified with iron, zinc and vegan Omega 3
- Add supplements to your daily intake, vegan and vegetarian supplements are available online
- Go for bi-yearly medical tests to check your vitals, vitamins and minerals
Plant-based products that are high in protein
All plants have a good amount of protein, even cucumbers! However, the quality of protein in plants is different and dependent on the amino acid content as there are nine essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce. These nine amino acids can be found in the following vegan foods:
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
Popular vegan athletes
Many people believe that you must eat animal products in order to be able to train well and be an athlete, which is simply not true. Some of the world’s most successful athletes are vegan, here are just a few:
- Venus Williams
- David Haye
- Kendrick Yahcob Farris