Why it can be healthier to be vegan

Why it can be healthier to be vegan

Veganism is a lifestyle choice which has become increasingly popular in the 21st century.

But what is veganism? And why is considered healthier to be vegan?

What is veganism?

Many people have chosen veganism as it means adopting a lifestyle where you consume food and products which have been created – as far as possible - without exploiting animals.

Vegan celebrities and influencers have also given veganism a much more mainstream appeal.

Veganism is generally considered a positive practice, because it encourages the fair treatment of animals.

But it can sometimes be thought of as a rather restrictive lifestyle choice by some, who view it rather simplistically as a list of things you can no longer eat.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to tackle any of the negativity that might be associated with your choice to be vegan and it can always create the opportunity to educate others about the practice.

Vegans believe that animals should not be exploited for humans’ benefit. This does not just include a person’s diet but also involves opposing testing on animals, to create goods such as textiles or makeup for instance.

Why veganism is sometimes healthier

In 2009, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1 published a paper on the ‘Health effects of vegan diets’, where they reported that followers of a vegan diet tended to have lower body weights, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. The research also noted that vegans consumed more fibre, folate, vitamin E, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium as well as less saturated fat, than a non-vegan diet.

What do vegans eat?

Veganism is not just about eating plants.

Vegans also avoid products such as cheese, milk, butter, honey, eggs – essentially, anything derived from animals.

Becoming a vegan is not always an easy choice. And there are some surprising food items that you need to forgo such as tomato sauce, mustard and Coca-Cola. We explain why in our handy ‘How to become a vegan’ guide.

The NHS recommends certain vegan foods for a healthy vegan diet.

These include consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, wholegrain or starchy carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, potatoes), dairy-free products, and using unsaturated oils in cooking such as avocado, peanut or sunflower oil.2

Other vegan snacks such as nuts, seeds, hummus, beans and pulses are all good, healthy options for a vegan diet.

It is important to consume the right vitamins and nutrients for the body to function properly.

While vegans do not eat dairy products, they can find good sources of calcium in green leafy vegetables, rice, oat drinks, sesame seeds, tahini and dried fruits.3

Since vegans choose not to eat red meat (or indeed, any kind of meat), it can be a challenge for them to sustain their iron levels.

But there are other good iron sources and meat alternatives such as wholemeal bread, cereals fortified with iron, tempeh, black beans and lentils that vegans can eat. Vegans will, of course, also cut out dairy from their diet. But, again, there are also plenty of dairy-free alternatives to try such as the vegan version of the Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. And for dessert, why not try a date and chai tea sticky toffee pudding recipe?

Vegan products and vegan meals

Whilst it may appear that there are many restrictions with a vegan diet, there are also plenty of alternatives available.

For instance, vegan butter is made from plant-based milk. You can also use almond butter in your cooking for a healthy alternative to many non-vegan options.

Many people who are nervous of starting a vegan diet often worry about the lack of options but there are many vegan products and alternatives to eggs, milk and even cheese.

Vegan cheese is made from plant-based products from vegetable proteins and there are many alternatives to try. Holland & Barret also has a handy guide for those keen to find the best egg alternatives to incorporate into their vegan meals.

What is a vegetarian diet?

If you are looking to make a change to your diet but feel veganism is a step too far for you right now, then opting to become a vegetarian may be your best starting point.

Neither vegetarians nor vegans eat meat or fish. But there is much more flexibility with dairy products when you follow a vegetarian diet.

There are different types of vegetarian diets and you can pick which one suits your lifestyle best.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs, lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs and ovo vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products.4 Some vegetarian meals could be based on starchy carbohydrates. Foods such as potatoes, pasta, cereals, bread, rice are all good sources of energy.5

As with all diets, they must be balanced and provide your body with enough vitamins, nutrients and minerals.

Through a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, you should incorporate dairy products such as cheese, milk or yoghurt into your meals.

These are all beneficial as they provide calcium to help support healthy bones. However, like all food types, they should be eaten in moderation so choosing dairy products with lower fat or sugar would be healthier.6 Vegetarian meals do not have to be dull and there are a range of delicious vegetarian recipes, from Thai tofu laksa to a kimchi poke bowl to try out via our Health Hub.

Last updated: 28th October 2020