Most of the time, people subscribe and adhere to a certain popular diet for health reasons. Be it the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet, paleo, Whole30, or any number of popular diets, the primary reason a specific diet is selected is usually that the person believes it will help them lose weight, improve their body composition, and/or reduce the risk of certain diseases.
The vegan diet is a notable exception. Not only may adherents be drawn to the diet for its potential health benefits, but also for its ethical and environmental benefits. The vegan diet is completely devoid of animal products; this differentiates it from a vegetarian diet, which typically includes dairy and eggs. Vegans may also avoid honey and may even adopt a vegan “lifestyle,” extending the no-animals policy to include choices like not wearing furs or leathers, or using any cosmetic or hygienic products that contain animal-derived ingredients or that use animal testing.
The vegan diet has been studied rather extensively, with demonstrated safety and efficacy across the lifespan for men, women, and children. That said, in order to maximize the benefits of a vegan diet and minimize any potential nutritional deficiencies, some degree of planning needs to go into dietary intake, with the potential need for specific supplementation, such as vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Below, we share some of the top benefits of a vegan diet to help you decide if a diet consisting solely of plant-based foods is right for you.
A Vegan Diet Can Help You Lose Weight
As with pretty much any diet, it is certainly possible to lose weight on a vegan diet, provided your caloric intake is less than your daily caloric expenditure. Vegan diets are often quite conducive to weight loss because plant-based foods tend to be more filling from a volume perspective than animal products. Vegetables, fruits, and legumes contain a lot of water and fiber relative to foods like cheese, meat, and eggs. Therefore, the caloric density of many vegan foods is substantially lower than foods derived from animals, which makes it easier to feel full on fewer calories. Most people who switch to a vegan diet experience significant weight loss as long as they are focusing on eating whole, natural foods.
Vegetables and fruits contain antioxidants, minerals like potassium, and nitrates, which can all help lower blood pressure. Research has found that those who follow a vegan diet tend to experience significant improvements in blood pressure, with decreases in both systolic and diastolic pressures. Some studies have reported that vegans have up to a 75% lower risk of developing hypertension than omnivores.
A Vegan Diet Can Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
A vegan diet can lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. Most studies show a decrease in both “bad” LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. Moreover, longitudinal studies have demonstrated a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis in vegans compared to omnivorous diets. Again, diet quality is the most important factor in capitalizing on the health benefits. It’s technically possible to follow a vegan diet and eat mostly processed junk food and snacks. The key is to eat whole foods in their natural state as much as possible. This includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
A Vegan Diet Is Rich In Antioxidants
Most plant-based foods, such as berries, vegetables, seeds, and soy, are high in antioxidants. For example, blueberries, red cabbage, blackberries, and other purple and blue foods contain anthocyanins, antioxidants that have been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, improve cognitive performance, and reduce the risk of cancer. They also contain flavonoids and procyanidins, polyphenols that can improve mood, cognition, memory, and learning.
A Vegan Diet Supports Digestive Health
The high-fiber vegan diet promotes healthy digestion and may alleviate constipation. The beneficial bacteria residing in your gut aid digestion by breaking down fiber and large macronutrients into absorbable nutrients. They also produce key vitamins such as vitamin B12 and K, and they play essential roles in fending off illnesses and infections. These good bacteria thrive with plant-based foods high in prebiotic fibers, while animal-based foods preferentially select for pathogenic microbes. Therefore, consuming a diet high in meat, dairy, cheese, and eggs can disrupt your gut microbiome and cause imbalances in the bacteria (known as symbiosis). This can lead to indigestion, bloating, weight gain and obesity, inflammation, skin conditions, and bowel difficulties.
A Vegan Diet Is Anti-Inflammatory
Plant-based foods tend to be the best anti-inflammatory food sources, as they are rich in antioxidants and low in inflammatory compounds like processed oils and saturated fats. To maximize the anti-inflammatory effects of a vegan diet, it’s important to limit your intake of added sugars. Moreover, consuming omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseeds, algae or seaweed, chia seeds, pecans, and walnuts can also reduce inflammation.
A Vegan Diet Can Regulate Blood Sugar and Improve Insulin Sensitivity
The vegan diet has been found to lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, thereby decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is predominantly due to the high fiber content, vegetable intake, and low-glycemic complex carbohydrates such as legumes and root vegetables, which are high in resistant starch. The vegan diet is also low in saturated fat, which has been associated with elevated blood sugar levels.
A Vegan Diet Can Protect Against Cancer
The vegan diet is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients. Between vegetables, fruits, soy, and other legumes, hemp and other seeds, and nuts, vegans consume a variety of superfoods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and free-radical-scavenging antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent oxidative damage in the body, inhibit tumor genes, and confer anti-inflammatory effects. Accordingly, the vegan diet has been found to lower the risk of certain cancers, such as prostate cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer.
Vegans are primary consumers rather than secondary consumers. As such, the vegan diet consumes far less water and natural resources than omnivorous diets and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint. We only have one planet and the environmental impact of many of our choices is rapidly depleting our natural resources and deteriorating our global home.
Animal welfare is a driving force for many people who decide to follow a vegan diet. The meat, dairy, and egg industries are rife with troublesome practices, and many vegans connect to the idea of sparing the lives of animals through their dietary choices.