VEGANISM AND VEGETARIANISM
In recent times vegan and vegetarian diets have increased in popularity due to the surge in media and social media coverage promoting and claiming associated health benefits of the diets. Like any diet that advocates restriction, there will be pros and cons, which will be further outlined in this article
Often when people consciously change dietary habits to favour an increased amount of low energy dense foods, they will lose a recognisable amount of weight. The weight loss will be attenuated to a prolonged calorie deficit, which resembles well known ‘diets’, such as Keto, Atkins, skinny teas etc. Research is ongoing in regards to comparing animal product based diets to plant based diets to understand if there are significant health benefits or risk associated with consuming either type of diet.
Potential Health Benefits
A dramatic change in diet may result in weight loss. The weight loss will be attenuated to a calorie deficit. Eliciting a calorie deficit for many people will prove to be beneficial if their goal is to lose weight. It is important that a calorie deficit is managed carefully as prolonged energy restriction and or the elimination of dietary energy sources such as carbohydrates may result in lethargy or immune system suppression which over time may cause illness.
As well as facilitating a calorie deficit, a plant-based diet usually consists of lower cholesterol foods such as fruit and vegetables. By lowering overall cholesterol this may reduce the risk of atherosclerotic plaques in the blood vessels ultimately reducing the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Potential Health Implications
Although there are some health benefits vegetarian or vegan diets, there are potentially negative factors about the lifestyle choice that you need to be aware of. Those who adopt a prolonged vegetarian or vegan diet are at an increased risk of becoming deficient in vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and iron. The role of vitamin B12 is to generate energy within the body’s cells. A deficiency in vitamin B12 may cause lethargy and sugar cravings (1). Iron is an essential mineral for the majority of living organisms, for roles ranging from oxygen transportation and cognitive development (2).
A deficiency of the mineral calcium is also common amongst vegetarians and vegans.. The role of calcium is to optimise muscular contraction and overall bone health (3). Although following a plant-based diet doesn’t immediately omit you to a deficiency in calcium, an omnivorous diet will enable calcium intake much easier with an increased protein intake also.
Another disadvantage to following an unbalanced plant-based diet may be an insufficient protein intake. As protein is an essential part of the diet, below recommended intakes may result in muscle mass losses, decreases in muscle strength and a less desirable physique.
Often people only chose to acknowledge the benefits of a plant-based diet without looking into the long-term effects that may damage your health. As a vegan diet can be such a drastic change for some people, they will often restrict themselves too much and not have the correct education in the type and volume of food that they should consume to maintain health.
The addition of vegan meals into the diet (meat-free Mondays)
Implementing strategies such as meat-free Mondays enables people to explore vegetarian & vegan dishes while being conscious about health and improving vitamin intake through plant based ingredients. Flexitarian is a common dietary term people are using to categorise themselves. It is a less strict form of vegetarian or veganism allowing an individual to explore food.
Adopting a plant-based diet can result in positive health benefits but may also hinder wellbeing if it is not managed correctly. However, when considering all nutritional options, a varied well balanced diet that ensures the consumption of all nutrients in moderation should be adopted to reach optimal nutrition.
O’Leary, F. and Samman, S. (2010) Vitamin B12 in health and disease. Nutrients, 2(3), pp.299-316.
Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R. and Kelishadi, R. (2014) Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 19(2), p.164.
Pravina, P., Sayaji, D. and Avinash, M. (2013) Calcium and its role in the human body. International Journal Research of Pharmacology Biomedical Science 4(2), pp.659-668.