In recent times, vegan diets have become increasingly popular due to a variety of health benefits. Vegans do not consume of any type of animal-based products; this sets them apart from other forms of vegetarianism. Vegan diets are higher in fiber, vitamins, potassium, and antioxidants in comparison to other diets. Vegans may be presented with some nutritional deficiencies as a consequence of the lack of animal products in their daily diet, however, but vegans can circumvent these disadvantages by taking supplements with calcium and omega-3, as well as vitamin B-12.
The rising popularity of the vegan diet is mostly due to the fact that people are looking for ways to care for the environment, as well as an increased awareness of animal care and the consequences of allergies to animal based products, which can be avoided with soy or rice based substitutes.
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Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet The first, and most important, health benefits from a vegan diet is an increase in the consumption of dietary fiber, folic acid, vitamin C and E, as well as iron and other important nutrients. This lowers the intake of calories and saturated fats. This allows vegans to have a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and possibly even some forms of cancer.
Clinical research has shown that vegans have lower cholesterol and lower risk of diabetes, according to a 2006 Diabetes Care study. The study found that cholesterol dropped by 21.9 percent after 22 weeks of a vegan diet. This is, once again, achieved with the higher consumption of soluble fiber and plant proteins, as well as low levels of saturated fat consumption.
Another study showed that vegans have a lower risk of colorectal cancer, as well as prostate cancer, due to the protective elements in their diet, together with a lower incidence of obesity. The consumption of a larger amount of legumes and vegetables, together with tomatoes and other cancer-protective foods, shows an increased protection against certain types of cancer. Risk of lung, stomach, and oral cancers may be reduced. On the other hand, vegans have a lower consumption of vitamin D, which has been associated with an increased risk of certain forms of cancer.
Because of the increased amount of vitamins and minerals in vegetables, those who follow a vegan diet tend to have healthier bones, as long as they supplement their diet with some form of vitamin D and calcium. When a vegan diet is not supplemented, there is an increase in bone fractures and other related diseases, especially in women past their reproductive age, although more research is still required to pinpoint the exact influencing factors for the decrease in bone health exhibited by vegans.
Potential Nutritional Deficiencies of a Vegan Diet While most vegan diets show an increase in certain valuable nutrients, the avoidance of animal products will certainly produces a nutritional counterbalance. Such is the case of vitamins D and B-12, iron, zinc, and omega-3, which can be found abundantly in fish, eggs, and milk, but not as much in a plant-based diet. This means it is important to supplement a vegan diet with fortified foods or other items such as brown kelp and micro-algae, which prevent any negative health consequences caused by the lack of these elements.
This is also true of vitamin D, which is in charge of fixing calcium to the bones, thereby increasing their strength and preventing fractures. While some essential nutrients generally found in meats, such as iron, can also be found in certain plant foods, the total amount is insufficient in comparison to required daily values. Foods such as soy, tofu, legumes, grains, and seeds, are adequate suppliers of the aforementioned nutrients, but a problem may arise in areas where they are not readily available to the consumer. In these cases, a good option would be to take a daily supplement in pill form, one which does not contain any animal products. All in all, the benefits of a vegan diet seem to outweigh those of an omnivorous one, which can translate to a healthier lifestyle in the long run for those who choose to follow that path.