The Vegan Lifestyle

The Vegan Lifestyle

21 August 2018

A quiet revolution has been happening, especially among millennials, who have adopted a different regime altogether. Interest in a totally animal-free diet is at an all-time high with celebrities like Brad Pitt, Liam Hemsworth, Beyoncé and Jay Z leading the pack.

Veganism… the movement once associated with hippies and flower power, is now appealing to a far wider audience. In fact, once judged as either hipsters or animal rights nuts, this plant-based lifestyle is now widely regarded as one of the fastest growing trends. The number of vegans in the UK rose by more than 360% over the past 10 years! And, here in South Africa, although we don’t have exact statistics, it’s clearly a path more and more people are choosing to take.

But, before you jump on the vegan bandwagon, here’s what you need to know:

A vegan does not eat meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy products, eggs or honey, and many choose to avoid animal products such as leather and wool. But, why are so many people choosing the philosophy not to exploit animals for food or any other purpose?

Growing concerns over climate change, the rights of animals, as well as health considerations are all contributors to the growth of the vegan movement. An Oxford University study suggested that our health would benefit from slashing the proportion of animal sourced foods from our diet. Also, the World Health Organization’s 2015 report states that processed meats such as bacon and sausages are dangerous cancer causing carcinogens.

So, whatever the reasons for becoming a vegan, can you truly expect health benefits? According to Dr Denise Robertson from the University of Surrey and a vegan for four years, veganism is no more or less healthy than any other kind of diet. There are good vegan diets and really diabolical ones.

True, there is evidence that a more plant-based dietary pattern has more health benefits when compared to more traditional diets, but studies show that unhealthful vegan diets had a raised risk of heart disease compared to those on regular diets.

Also, although many people automatically correlate the word vegan with weight loss, well, that may not always be the case. Turns out that vegans have to watch the calories just as much. Fruit smoothies made with lashings of almond milk and a scoop or two of protein powder often pack enough calories to make them a full-size meal. So, it’s easy to overindulge and consume far more than the recommended number of calories in one day, especially if you add other calorie heavy foods such as coconut based foods or calorie rich nuts.

The same proportions of food groups as other diets come into play: About 15% protein, 50 to 55% carbs, and the rest fat. People generally worry about protein deficiency when living the vegan lifestyle, but the truth is that almost everyone is over-consuming protein. The only difference is that unlike animal protein, plant protein may not be complete. So yes, you might not get everything from beans, but beans with rice are fine.

The reality is that raw food diets, made up of only fruit and vegetables, don’t deliver the necessary nutrients. A variety of plant protein sources including pulses, tofu, nuts and seeds and dairy alternatives such as almond milk, should be included. Like all diets, saturated fats and salt should be limited and unsaturated fats such as olive and grapeseed oil should be added.

So yes, a well-planned vegan diet can fill in the gaps and if followed properly can provide most (not all) of the nutrients we as human beings need. However, the trio of nutrients to keep a close eye on when following this diet are vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine.

Bottom line: A healthy vegan diet requires careful attention and provides very nearly everything you need with just a little help from supplements and fortified foods.


DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.

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