According to The Vegan Society, veganism (not to be confused with vegetarianism) is a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
Once an obscure and misjudged diet, veganism continues to gain more and more popularity. But because it’s one of those hot button topics on which everyone seems to have a strong view, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate fact from opinion.
What are the health benefits? What are the risks? With so much conflicting information floating around out there, we figured we’d dive in and do the research for you.
We broke it down in a judgment-free, totally unbiased fashion to bring you just the facts so you can decide for yourself if you’re willing to take the meatless plunge (or if a juicy hamburger is still looming in your future).
1. Richer in Nutrients
Vegan diets are richer in dietary fiber, higher in potassium and magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E and health-promoting phytochemicals.
2. Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease
According to Dr. David Katz, Director of Prevention Research Center at Yale University, vegans tend to show lower levels of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers, making it a very powerful medicine.
3. Lower BMI
Studies show vegan diets are associated with lower body mass index and tend to be thinner and have more energy than non-vegans.
4. Less Expensive
Meat costs roughly 25% more per gram to produce than alternative proteins. Factoring in feed prices, money to house food animals, vaccinate them and provide antibiotics, the cost of animal used for food and dairy is relatively high.
5. Ethical Concerns
Part of the attractiveness of veganism is being able to take a stand about animal welfare, the betterment of the environment and global food supply and food safety. The Environmental Working Group published a study showing the difference in environmental impact for various sources of protein, finding that proteins like lentils and soy represent a fraction of the carbon footprint of beef, cheese, and pork.
1. Lack of Essential Nutrients
According to Dr. Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU, big concern with plant-based diets is a B-12 deficiency, which can have consequences like early dementia and lack of coordination. Other highly imperative nutrients like vitamin D, iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids are also lost when practicing a vegan diet.
2. May Need to Take Extra Supplementation
While it’s possible to receive the above nutrients without meat, it requires much more careful planning and supplementation based around how long one has been a vegan and their body’s specific nutritional needs.
3. Protein Deficiency
With a vegan diet, there are very limited plant-based “complete proteins,” meaning proteins that contain all 10 essential amino acids that the body can’t make on its own.
4. Very Restrictive/Limited Options
The vegan lifestyle is much more restrictive—avoiding meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey—making it harder to come up with meal ideas or eat out at your favorite restaurants. You’ll also need to avoid products like leather and wool clothing.
5. Veganism Doesn’t Always Equal Healthier
Remember, just because you leave off the bacon doesn’t mean you have a “healthy” lunch in the form of a baked potato loaded with vegan butter and vegan sour cream. Sugar is technically considered “vegan,” so calories can still sneak up on you.
CELEB VEGAN INSPO
Many celebrities swear by veganism, citing distinctly improved health since making the switch. Celebs like Ellen DeGeneres, Natalie Portman, Lea Michele, Carrie Underwood, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Jessica Chastain, Emily Deschanel, Jared Leto and Michelle Pfeiffer have all spoken out about the benefits of going vegan and the remarkable shift they’ve noticed in their bodies.
In her book The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone, a committed conservationist and one of the most outspoken vegans in Hollywood, shares why she swore off meat and dairy forever and how it’s given her more energy, better skin and smooth digestion.
And while not technically a full-fledged vegan, Beyoncé made the trend more mainstream when she launched a vegan meal delivery service with her trainer.
SO, TO BE OR NOT TO BE?
The official position of the American Dietetic Association is that vegetarian diets can be a healthy option for people in all walks of life (adulthood, childhood, infancy, pregnancy) if they are well-designed and include all of the essential vitamins and nutrients.
Many dieticians and doctors will suggest a happy medium though: strike a balance. By eating a mostly plant-based diet with a few exceptions, you can get the best of both worlds without sacrificing health or essential nutrients.
As with any drastic diet change, consult your doctor before diving in. You’ll need to weigh all factors like your age, weight and particular vitamin requirements. We also highly suggest digging into this and doing your own research.
A great place to start your studies is The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implmications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health.
Another great read for a beginner vegan is The Happy Herbivore, which helps you with the basics like building your vegan pantry.