There is nothing wrong with the moderate consumption of meat. In fact, most of us could not imagine living a life without meat. I, for one, will not give up the occasional spicy steak or grilled fish. However, research does show that a vegan diet can help you live longer.
There has been a massive amount of science coming out supporting how a plant-based diet can help you lose weight and improve your wellness. Vegans and vegetarians have significantly lower death rates than those who eat meat.
What is a Vegan Diet?
Veganism is not a new concept and it has been receiving more attention recently. Many people think that a vegan diet is the same as being a vegetarian. The confusion is understandable, but the difference is that vegans have a stricter diet than vegetarians.
Vegetarian diets have been around since 700 B.C. Vegetarians do not consume any poultry, meat, shellfish, game and fish. Their diets contain various levels of vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and pulses. The inclusion of eggs and dairy products depend on the type of diet they follow (1).
The common types of vegetarians include:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians who avoid all animal flesh but eat dairy products and eggs.
- Lacto vegetarians avoid animal flesh and eggs but they still eat dairy products.
- Ovo vegetarians avoid all animal products but they eat eggs.
- Vegans avoid all animal flesh and animal-derived products.
Thus, a vegan excludes not only animal flesh, but also eggs, dairy, and other animal-derived ingredients such as honey, gelatin, shellac, albumin, pepsin and whey. They only consume foods strictly from the Earth. When it comes to milk, vegans choose rice, soymilk, or almond. They also use maple syrup instead of honey.
In vegan diet, vegans replace eggs by following recipes that use ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, dairy-free yogurt, and unsweetened applesauce. There is also an egg replacer powder available in the market. A diet without dairy products or any meat is likely to contain less saturated fat, which is associated with higher cholesterol levels.
But where do they get protein? How do vegans acquire enough protein without the consumption of meat and dairy?
How to Get Sufficient Protein in a Vegan Diet
One of the biggest debates among vegans and non-vegan dieters is how vegans acquire enough proteins daily while following their strict diet. Most anti-vegans claim that it is almost impossible to get enough proteins. However, there are many protein sources available without having to eat meat.
Vegan athletes like Rich Roll, Jimi Sitko, and Brendan Brazier are proving that plant-based protein can also built strong muscles and help in keeping vegans healthy enough to bike, swim, run, or pump. Vegans get their protein from:
- Veggies: Yes. Did you know that one cup of cooked spinach has about 7 grams of protein? Two cups of cooked kale has 5 grams and one cup of boiled peas has about 9 grams. There are many veggies that provide protein.
- Quinoa: It is not only delicious but it also provides about 9 grams of proteins per cup!
- Non-dairy milk: One cup of almond or soy milk contains about 7 to 9 grams of protein. Eating it with some cereal will provide you a delicious and healthy breakfast.
- Sprouted-grain bread: Sprouted-grain bread gives about 10 grams of protein.
- Beans: Beans contain numerous health benefits. Just one cup of kidney, pinto or black beans contains about 15 grams of protein!
- Lentils: One cup of it gives 18 grams of protein. With lentils, you can make casseroles, veggie burgers, rice dishes, and more!
- Nut Butter: Two tablespoons of almond butter, cashew butter, or peanut butter will give you 8 grams of protein.
- Tempeh: Just one cup of tempeh provides 30 grams of proteins. That is already more than 5 eggs!
- Tofu: Consuming about 4 ounces of tofu will provide you 9 grams of protein.
- Hemp: Adding 30 grams of hemp powder in your shake or smoothie will give you 11 grams of protein.
Vegans have lots of protein sources without having to consume meat.
Do Vegans Live Longer?
Vegan diet is increasing in popularity nowadays. It is associated with numerous health benefits due to its high content of fiber, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, and other phytochemicals and unsaturated fats. Also, vegans tend to be thinner, have lower blood pressure and lower serum cholesterol, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease (2).
This certainly sounds great as a vegan diet is healthy for the heart. It is low in saturated fats and reduces the risk of heart ailments. However, excluding animal products from your diet also increases the risk of some nutritional deficiencies such as vitamins B12 and D, omega 3 fatty acids, and calcium. In some cases, vegans may also have zinc and iron deficiency.
In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, the levels of triglyceride, total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein and high density lipoprotein were compared among vegetarians and omnivores (3).
76 men and women were separated into four groups: vegans, omnivores, lacto-vegetarians and lacto-ovo vegetarians. To measure the effects of their diet, their blood samples were taken. It was reported that omnivores have significantly higher levels of triglycerides, low density lipoproteins, and cholesterol. Vegans had decreased levels of these three.
It was also discovered that there was no difference in HDL levels. However, the ratio of HDL to cholesterol was higher in vegans. With these results, people wonder if going vegan can make you live longer and lose weight faster.
In another study also published in the US National Library of Medicine, the relationship between vegetarian diet patterns and mortality has been evaluated. 96, 469 Seventh-day Adventist men and women participated, from which an analytical sample of 73, 308 participants remained (4).
According to the results, weighty associations with vegetarian diets were detected for cardiovascular mortality, renal mortality, endocrine mortality, and noncardiovascular noncancer mortality. This means that vegetarian or vegan diets can reduce the risk of various diseases and premature death. Swapping eggs and meat for nuts and lentils could add years to your life.
Does a Vegan Diet Aid Weight Loss?
Many people choose a vegan diet for different reasons, such as for health, animal ethics, or environment. Some people also try this diet to lose weight. Vegans have lower body mass indexes than omnivores and many studies acknowledge that this strict vegetarian diet can aid weight loss.
In a study of vegan diet compared to a more moderate low-fat diet, 64 overweight women was randomly assigned to a National Cholesterol Education Program or vegan diet for 14 weeks. The study was done in 2 replications and 62 women started the study. In the first replication, 28 women received no follow-up support after 14 weeks. The other 34 women were offered group support meetings for a year (5).
According to the results, women in the vegan group lost more weight than those in the National Cholesterol Education Program group.
Another study from the Arnold School of Public Health observed the effects of a vegan diet as compared to an omnivorous and plant-based diet. Participants were randomly assigned vegan, semi-vegetarian and omnivorous diets. After six months, participants on the vegan diet lost more weight than the other two groups by 4.3% or 16.5 pounds (6).
One of the instant results of embracing a vegan diet is weight loss. It is a positive effect that draws many people to veganism. While there are numerous benefits of this diet, there are also cons that vegans should watch out for.
Cons of a Vegan Diet
Practicing a stricter meal means additional effort in getting your everyday dosages of essential vitamins and minerals. While vegans can get protein from nuts, beans, and other vegetables, the recommended amount of protein according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 46 grams per day for women 19 and above and 56 grams daily for men.
Meat, especially beef and shellfish are the great sources of iron. It is important for vegans to consume foods rich in iron. Lack of this essential mineral can lead to severe fatigue and problems with the nervous system. Men need 8 mg daily between the ages of 19 and 50 while females need 18 mg of iron. Vegans can get iron from white beans, spinach and soybeans. They may also need iron supplements.
In a study of 4,000 participants, they were divided into groups of completely vegetarian and non-vegetarians. According to the results, vegetarians displayed elevated prevalence rates for anxiety, depression, and somatoform disorders (7).
In addition to nutrition deficiency, many vegans find it difficult to stick to their strict diet when traveling. Most countries cater to people who eat animal products and not many restaurants offer vegan choices. Events and parties can also be difficult and vegans may sometimes have to bring their own meals.
Of course, vegetarian and vegan diets are better than fast food diet that general public eat. However, they can also be restrictive.
What is your take on vegetarian or vegan diet? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section!
1. What is a vegetarian? Vegetarian Society. Viewed at: https://www.vegsoc.org/definition
2. Craig, Winston. Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease. Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Viewed at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1627S.full#ref-8
3. De Biase SG, Fernandes SF, Gianini RJ and Duarte JL. Vegetarian diet and cholesterol and triglycerides levels. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17364116
4. Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabete J, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Knutsen S, Beeson WL and Fraser GE. Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23836264
5. Turner, McGrievy GM, Barnard ND and Scialli AR. A two-year randomized weight loss trial comparing a vegan diet to a more moderate low-fat diet. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17890496
6. Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, Charis R. Davidson, Ellen E. Wingard, Sara Wilcox, Edward A. Frongillo. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Viewed at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141106101732.htm
7. Johannes Michalak, Xiao Chi Zhang and Frank Jacobi. Vegetarian diet and mental disorders: results from a representative community survey. Viewed at: https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-9-67