Veganism, often seen as the natural extension of or progression from vegetarianism, can provide numerous benefits to animal ecosystems, the environment, and our own health, through healthy dietary and lifestyle changes.
According to the American Dietetic Association, both vegetarian and vegan diets can offer a number of nutrition and health benefits. Among these benefits are lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, increased dietary fiber and nutrients such as folate, antioxidants and vitamins. Vegetarianism and Veganism have also been reported to be associated with lower body mass indices (BMI) than non-vegetarians as well as decreased health risks for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.
Since animal foods such as meat, dairy, and eggs are high in saturated fats and cholesterol they tend to have a more stressful effect on our bodies than plant foods, causing hypertension and other health issues. The most powerful cholesterol-lowing agents are soluble fiber, unsaturated fats, and phytochemicals, all of which are found almost exclusively from plants.
While there are rumors of dietary deficiencies resulting from vegan diets, it is one-hundred percent possible to receive all of the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals from a vegan diet, with proper supplementation from vitamins and minerals.
Vegan options that include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are rich in fiber and nutrients. These healthy sources are nutritionally dense foods that help promote proper growth and development. In terms of protein, vegans can get all the protein they need from legumes such as beans, tofu and peanuts, as well as other sources as grains including rice, corn, whole wheat breads and pastas. Foods such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, tofu, fortified juices and non-dairy milks as soy, almond or rice milk, are all important sources for calcium to maintain proper bone health. When immunity and circulation are concerned, iron from chickpeas, spinach, pinto beans, and soy products will satiate our body’s need. Vitamins such as B12 can be obtained from fortified foods or dietary supplements.
When exercise is concerned, the vegan diet can supply all the necessary components for fueling our bodies, but extra attention should be paid towards eating prior to a workouts in order to provide the body the with proper fuel and hydration it demands during and after high intensity activities. The key is to choose foods that will prevent hunger, provide additional carbohydrates as energy and minimize possible digestive complications. Since vegan diets can easily turn into low-calorie diets, its important to eat the proper portion sizes, which can be larger than normal due to the high amount of vegetables and plant foods. This will help to provide you with the energy needed to rebuild your muscles and promote healthy body conditioning.
Here are a few suggestions healthy serving sizes when trying to maintain a healthy vegan diet from the Vegan Society.
- 2-4 servings of vegetables, plus 2 to 3 servings of vegetables from the ‘green leafy’
- 6- 10 servings of bread, pasta, rice and fortified cereals
- 2- 3 servings of beans, pulses and protein foods
- 1- 2 servings of nuts and seeds
- 2- 3 teaspoons of oils and fats
- 1- 2 servings of fruit, plus 1- 2 servings from the dried fruits sub-group
- 3 servings from the fortified non-dairy sub-group (such as soya milk)
- 8 glasses of water daily (more if very active)
In addition to this, adults should try to eat:
- Vitamin B12 – 2.4 micrograms daily
- Vitamin D – 5 micrograms daily
- Calcium – 600 milligrams daily