Should I be switching to a Vegan Diet in 2018? Part 2

 

Welcome back to Should I be switching to a Vegan Diet in 2018? Part 2

In part one, I broke down the veganism into its three main components, the diet itself, the environmental factors and its wider ethical considerations. If you missed part one, then click this handy little link and go read it before plowing on into this blog. https://fundamentallyfit.co.uk/standard/3321/q-should-i-be-switching-to-a-vegan-diet-in-2018-1-2/

Today in part two I’m going to look at a few of the pro’s and cons of veganism as well as some important considerations, should you make the switch.

How common is Veganism?

According to the National Diet & Nutrition Survey, roughly 1.2 million people in the U.K are vegetarian with the majority of this population being teenagers. Vegans are thought to make up less than 1% currently and therefore it’s popularity as a long-term dietary approach may not be as common as you think. This does mean that this type of diet is not yet as popular as you might think and you should be careful about the many bold claims being made.

Benefits of Veganism

One of the biggest and hopefully most obvious advantages of a vegan-based diet is the quality of the foods that should make up your diet. A vegan diet is very rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, and pulses, oh and they certainly aren’t carbohydrate shy either. This not only means you will be getting stacks of essential vitamins, fiber, and minerals but your diet will naturally be lower in saturated fat, which is commonly found in processed and red meat and linked with heart disease and obesity.

For many, this change in lifestyle can be a catalyst for significant weight loss as it can represent a significant change in lifestyle and of course eating habits.
The other benefits of following this diet often lie in your personal beliefs as discussed in more detail in part one.

The Draw Backs of Veganism

Because vegans avoid all animal products including meat, eggs, dairy and honey they do miss out on a lot of nutrients which are found in these food sources. While most of these can be found elsewhere it is often not as well absorbed as it would have been from animal products.
A good example of this would be calcium found in dairy like milk and yogurt. In a vegan diet, fortified milk and yogurts or tofu should be eaten along with bread, sesame seeds, almonds, dried fruits like figs and apricots.
Leafy greens are often cited as ideal sources of calcium but in a diet, excluding all dairy, this is unlikely to be enough directly as it contains very little calcium per gram.

The same is also true of vitamin D which is only found in a few food sources like eggs for example which are not eaten on a strict vegan diet. Again, fortified milk and cereals should be used to help overcome this or consider the use of a supplement.

*Vitamin D deficiencies are not only limited to vegans*

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in brain function, the nervous system and the formation of red blood cells. Very low intakes can lead to anemia and nervous system damage. This is a very serious consideration for the vegan dieter as B12 can only be found in animal products. Fortified foods are very important and typically include plant milk, some cereals, and some soy foods.

This is a very serious consideration and I have linked the Vegan Society’s advice if you are considering the switch.

https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/nutrients/vitamin-b12/what-every-vegan-should-know-about-vitamin-b12

Protein

Finally, it wouldn’t be a veganism blog if we didn’t have an argument about protein intake. The arguments about sufficient protein intake are all over the internet so I will keep my thoughts on this brief. While it is true that the protein (and amino acids) is much easier to absorb from animal products, you can indeed get adequate protein from plant-based sources. The quality of plant protein might be a consideration if you are training heavily or doing a lot of resistance training.

Typical plant-based protein sources include nuts, tofu, plant-based milk, pulse and beans for example.

However

My issue with this aspect of veganism comes down to the practicality, especially when training hard and maintaining a moderate to high daily intake of protein. Plant-based protein sources are often misleadingly represented as being very high in protein. Images of broccoli containing 50% protein, for example, are commonplace online for example.

The big trouble here is that the volume required to be eaten is dramatically higher than its animal protein counterpart and as such either highly unrealistic or simply never going to be achieved by the average individual.

I think I will move on before the internet implodes around me….

Summary

In summary, it is, of course, possible to follow a vegan diet and be healthy. It is also possible to follow a vegan diet, lose weight and improve your lifestyle, this, however, is not limited to a vegan diet alone. With so many fortified foods or supplements required to achieve a healthy diet, this can be too much work for many and calls into question the legitimacy of this approach for the long term.

This approach is for those who are prepared to do the research and learn how to follow the diet without it impacting negatively on your long-term health. With many considerations to take into account, much more than listed in this short blog, this can make starting difficult and that’s without the big struggle to give up all animal-based foods in the first place.

My major concern for many following vegan diets is that they miss the essence of what the diet is supposed to be about. Yes, a vegan diet can be healthy but having visited many online communities I have seen first-hand that too often people are relying on foods which are technically vegan, yet heavily processed and low in nutrients. This type of veganism is no healthier than eating a normal diet full of processed foods.

In my experience, people are very good at cutting out food groups like carbs or dairy for example but less good at adding in the correct foods to replace them. It is a constant challenge to get people to hit their five a day fruit and vegetable target and if this sounds like you then a Vegan diet, which is the more extreme end of the spectrum is going to prove to be a very real challenge and most likely an unsuccessful one.

For me, I enjoy vegetarian and vegan food so long as it has plenty of flavour. The fact it is vegetarian, or vegan is irrelevant to me and you should be the same. Thinking that vegan food is automatically healthier or calorie-free is a mistake and you should really consider what you are looking for from your diet and lifestyle before making such a major switch.

If you have decided to take the plunge, then it would be smart to get some professional advice to steer you in the right direction. I hope you have found this two-part blog helpful and interesting, if you have any additional questions or would like some advice then please feel free to contact me on Andy@fundamentallyfit.co.uk

Andy Strong

 

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