Vegan diets: pros and cons

Today, there is a growing interest in society in the impact on the health of the environment. Some are very concerned about cruelty to animals on farms. Many others are primarily interested in their own health and the changes that can be made to improve the quality of life. Driven by such considerations, people are moving towards a plant-based diet. Some of them become radical vegetarians, excluding all animal products from their diet. Does a plant-based diet provide additional health benefits? Although studies on vegans are few and far between, they clearly show certain things. Thus, we see that vegans are significantly leaner than representatives of all other categories, their blood pressure levels are lower, as well as the content of cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood compared to lacto-vegetarians, and much lower than people who consume in food meat (omnivores). All these factors together contribute to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Moderate weight also helps reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes. These beneficial effects can be partly explained by the fact that vegan diets are higher in magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin B9, antioxidant vitamins E and C, and health-promoting phytochemicals. Legumes and vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts – all these foods protect the body from major chronic diseases. People who eat these foods often experience fewer heart disease, strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer than those who consume fewer plant-based foods. In addition, the consumption of spices such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, and onion also protects against cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Eliminating meat from the diet may not lead to a decrease in saturated fat and cholesterol intake if a person takes in sufficient amounts of milk, eggs and cheese. However, if you consume low-fat dairy products and egg whites (without the yolk), your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol will be significantly reduced. Dairy consumption is associated with a risk of developing listeriosis and salmonellosis, as well as allergies caused by milk protein and antibiotic residues in milk. The use of eggs is also fraught with salmonellosis. Elderly women, pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable in this regard, due to weakened immunity. Are there any downsides to a vegan diet? Questions always arise about the intake of vitamin D, calcium and the associated risk of bone fractures in vegans. Removing dairy products from the diet means that an excellent source of calcium is eliminated from the diet. However, it is easy for vegans to get their daily dose of calcium by eating dark green leafy vegetables (such as Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and broccoli), vitamin-rich oranges and apples, soybeans, and rice. Tofu, oranges, tahini, figs, and sweet potatoes provide the body with adequate amounts of calcium. An extensive UK study found that common bone fractures are not common among vegans, provided they consume more than 525mg of calcium per day. In addition to calcium, other components of a plant-based diet that are thought to protect bone health are potassium, vitamin K, and magnesium, found in edible herbs such as thyme, sage, and rosemary.

Plants rich in magnesium and potassium are a source of alkaline residue that protects bones from injury. This alkaline residue is especially important for the kidneys in the aging body, which have a hard time absorbing excess acid. Leafy vegetables rich in vitamin K promote the formation of osteocalcin, an important bone protein. Women who consume high amounts of vitamin K (green leafy vegetables at least once a day) have a 45% reduced risk of hip fractures compared to women who consume low amounts of vitamin K (those who eat green leafy vegetables less frequently than than once a week). Soy is especially helpful when it comes to bone mineral density loss, particularly in post-menopausal women. The isoflavones in soy also greatly contribute to the process of bone formation and prevent their destruction. Two servings of soy per day provide optimal benefits. Vitamin D, required for calcium metabolism, can be obtained from fortified cereals, margarine and soy drinks. In winter, it is extremely important to consume foods rich in vitamin D, since in winter the body synthesizes a meager amount of this vitamin (or not at all). Iron deficiency is a problem for everyone, especially for women of childbearing age. Exclusion from the diet of dairy products does not affect the content of iron in the body, since milk is an extremely poor source of iron. Moreover, the iron in eggs is poorly absorbed by the body. Therefore, a vegan is not at greater risk of iron deficiency than a lacto-vegetarian. The main problem of people eating exclusively plant foods is vitamin B12. While meat, milk and eggs contain large amounts of this vitamin, plants do not contain it at all. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to serious consequences such as dementia praecox, coordination disorder, forgetfulness, nervous system disorder, memory loss, disorientation, inability to concentrate and inability to balance when walking. Vegans need to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 daily – soy and rice drinks, cereals and meat analogues. It is important to read labels to ensure you are getting enough of these foods. In fact, all people 12 years of age and older should eat foods high in vitamin B12 because their stomachs don’t produce enough acid to absorb vitamin B3 from animal products. Getting long-chain omega-XNUMX fatty acids is important for cardiovascular, brain, and vision health. The source of fatty acids is fish, but these days, vegetarians can get docosahexaenoic acid from seaweed. In addition, the body is able to convert alpha-linolenic acid to docosahexaenoic acid, although this is a rather inefficient process. 

Alpha-linolenic acid can be obtained from various plants, such as flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts, tofu, soy drinks. By wisely choosing foods, a vegetarian can eliminate all animal products from his diet and still eat adequately. Poor food choices lead to certain nutrient deficiencies, which are detrimental to health. A plant-based diet reduces the risk of age-related complications such as overweight, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

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