Is veganism just another health fad?

RD BSc, Health Coach Dietitian at Bupa UK
31 January 2017

More people than ever before are opting for a plant-based, vegan diet. However, with a wealth of information available it may feel overwhelming to assess whether veganism is a sensible diet or even worth the effort.

A line of autumnal apples

As ‘Veganuary’ draws to a close, it’s a good time to consider the pros and cons of going green.

Pros

  • The good news is that it can have a very positive impact on your health. Vegan diets tend to be higher in fruit and vegetables, meaning they are rich in vitamins and minerals, and high in fibre which decreases the risk of diseases like colorectal cancer. Weight management is also  important to consider in a vegan diet as some healthy sources of fat, such as nuts, have a high calorific value.
  • By avoiding foods which are typically high in saturated fat, such as red meat and cheese, you can have a positive impact on blood cholesterol levels.
  • Generally, vegan diets can be lower in calories than non-vegan diets due to not consuming meat and dairy products. This decreases the chances of diseases that are associated with being overweight such as diabetes, high blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Veganism contributes towards a more sustainable way of living. A plant-based diet requires much less farming than a meat and dairy diet, which has a positive effect on CO2 emissions

Cons

  • On the other hand, veganism can be restrictive. Despite its popularity, it can be time consuming initially to read labels on each product you’re purchasing to ensure it is vegan. It may also be difficult in social situations, such as when dining in a restaurant or at someone else’s home.
  • Planning vegan meals may be more time consuming initially as you need to consider the overall balance and nutritional content of meals. Ensuring you have a balanced diet can help with this.
  • Another factor to consider is the nutritional deficiencies associated with a vegan diet. Many nutrients we need are found in animal and dairy products (such as calcium and iron). A vegan diet can lack essential amino acids, iron and omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.

Not quite ready to be fully vegan?

Some of the benefits of a vegan diet are clear, but it’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons of veganism as a lifestyle choice. Small changes to your diet can also have a positive impact.

  • Try going vegan or meat free for just one day a week to reap some of the positive benefits.
  • Try to limit red meat to once or twice a week and be mindful of quantity; a portion size of meat should be no bigger than the palm of your hand.
  • Limit the amount of processed meats such as bacon and sausages. They can be high in saturated fat and may impact cholesterol levels and salt, potentially increasing blood pressure.
  • Replace red meat with chicken or fish which are leaner sources of protein or consider non-meat protein such as chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans
  • Consider alternative methods of cooking such as baking or grilling instead of frying.

For extra information on eating a balanced diet, and some meat-free recipe ideas, have a look at this article.

Valerie Maclean
RD BSc, Health Coach Dietitian at Bupa UK

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