Vegan Health Concerns

If you have chosen to live a vegan lifestyle, chances are that you are pretty health savvy and aware of many of the nutritional aspects of food. Because of the overall lower saturated fat intake, vegans and vegetarians tend to have a healthier diet, one that contains lots of fiber, folic acid, vitamins and other nutrients. Vegans tend to have even more of these elements in their diets compared to vegetarians. Although many can have this higher nutrient content, there is always the potential for nutrient deficiencies when eliminating total food groups like meat and dairy. The best advice to give to vegans regarding these health concerns is to learn and recognize some of the deficiencies that are likely to occur. From there, you can consume proper natural sources or supplements to complement your vegan lifestyle.

Health Benefits

Because of the lower saturated fat content and other elements that can be hidden in animal products (e.g. chemicals, processed ingredients), being a vegan is one way to escape some of the health concerns that meat-eaters face. Cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are all illnesses that are directly linked to one’s diet. Vegans tend to have a lower risk for all of the above and thus benefit from escaping such illness. Because all of their diet has to come from non-animal products, vegans also are more likely to consume a wider variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, increasing their intake of essential nutrients to a level that may be higher than that of the average omnivore.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Although  some vegans may pool from a wide source of healthy foods, others may stick to a limited source of non-animal products, putting them at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Some of these key nutrients are zinc, Vitamins B and D, Iron , Calcium and of course protein.

Protein: Protein is important for muscle growth, repair, and other functions within the body. When it comes to vegan and vegetarian diets, it is often the concern of protein consumption that is of primary concern since meat and fish are often people’s main source of it.  Many vegans get their protein source from a variety of legumes, nuts, seeds and soybean products. There are also a number of vegan products on the market that are now fortified and enriched with protein and other elements that are known to be lacking in the vegan diet.

Iron and Zinc can be accounted for by consuming whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Zinc is essential for resisting infection and it may be easily compensated in its supplement form. The same goes for iron as its absorption in the body is especially important for infants, children, and pregnant women. If you are familiar with anemia then you are also aware of the illnesses that can occur through iron deficiency.

Calcium: Calcium can be found in greens such as kale, mustard greens and cabbage, so some of the main nutrients that we depend on meat for can actually be found plentifully in other natural food sources. One of the main differences between vegans and traditional vegetarians is the elimination of dairy as it is not meat, but still an animal product. Because of this difference, vegans must be even more aware of their calcium intake which should amount to about 1000 mg per day. Calcium is another element that you can find fortified in many vegan products in the stores.

Vitamin B12: Blood formation and cell division in the body heavily rely on the consumption of Vitamin B12, specifically. Unfortunately, this vitamin is rarely found in plants, which can be problematic for vegans and vegetarians. They are easily found, however in supplement form.

Vegans may have to be more mindful of capturing these nutrients in their diets, but there are also supplements where their diet may fall short.

Supplements

In order to compensate for the potential loss of nutrients in a vegan diet, many have to take supplements to replace these essentials in their diets. Vitamin B12 and the other Vitamin Bs are one of the most popular supplements that vegans consume. It is important for hormone regulation in the blood and a deficiency can lead to fatigue, nausea, bad digestion and a host of other health problems.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fish is undoubtedly the number  one source of omega-3s, so for vegans, supplements in this nutrient are are must. This healthy fat acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, helps lower triglycerides, and even helps alleviate symptoms of depression.

Vegans have to be especially careful and mindful of the nutrients that they pile onto their plates. It is easy for anyone to get settled into a food rut where you recycle the same handful of foods over and over again. In a vegan diet, you must remember that variety is important to ensuring that you are reaching all of your essential nutrients. This population should recognize some of these nutrients that they are likely to be missing out on and incorporate them either by expanding their diets or investing in quality supplements. If you’ve made the health conscious decision to become vegan, take it all the way and make sure that you recognize and repair some of the holes that can be left in a vegan diet.

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6 Comments

  • Ahsan says:

    As you said I also agree that vegetarians have healthier diet. Animal fat has LDL, on the other hand fish has High Density Lipoprotein. So vegetable & fish makes our life more cheerful & healthy

    • Elena Anne says:

      This type of vegetarian is called Pescetarian. My opinion is that this died with vegetables, fruit and fish is more healthy than the strict vegan one. Thanks for passing by Ahsan :)

  • Kiko Rex says:

    I don’t really advocate a vegan diet chiefly because of some of these concerns, though I admit such diets are pretty selfless from a humanitarian angle.

    I’d like to add that one can get a good amount of omega 3s from flax seed (I used crushed/shredded for better digestibility). In fact, chia seeds also contain complete protein (only plant source I know of that does!) so I guess in lieu of fish, vegans could chow down on that. I also grind it up and often use it as a flour.

    As for saturated fat, a big pile of the stuff isn’t good for you just like about anything; however, blaming it and LDL on everything is kind of illogical; they both have their place in the body’s processes, and you were very correct in mentioning in the article that most meat products contain preservatives, which I feel are much more dastardly. Trying to preserve what is essentially “dead” and letting those chemicals that do it into your body is dangerous.

    Still, and on that note, you’re right in saying vegans get many nutrients most meat eaters miss by simply not eating many plant foods. Just be sure to get a good multivitamin for some calcium and magnesium, and mix the amino acids in whole foods well to get “complete” protein.

    Thanks for the article!

    • Elena Anne says:

      Thank you for sharing Kiko.
      I agree, vegans and non vegans must get multivitamins and other supplements because the “quality” of foods we find today may not be good. I have already posted an article for chia seeds and one that recommends “smart” combinations to mix amino acids and get complete protein. Thank you for your points.

  • Felicia says:

    I once thought of becoming a vegan before, but since it requires one to always take a regular dose of vitamins (that we usually get from meat products), I don’t think I can maintain that for a long time since I am quite forgetful when it comes to taking vitamins. Also, I think it’ll be hard for me considering I have a family who consider themselves carnivores :)

    • Elena Anne says:

      Hello Felicia. I tried myself too, long time ago, but didn’t make it :) I don’t eat pork, nor red meat regularly, but I can’t give up chicken and fish! The Vegan diet is not for everyone I think, especially for those who have non vegan members in their family !

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