Everything you should know before turning vegan

Vada Voices

After weeks of indulging in delicious rich meals, many people are giving their bodies a break by going vegan for the month of January.

With veganism growing in popularity, and chain restaurants like Greggs, Subway and KFC releasing substitutes for popular meat dishes, following a plant-based diet has never been easier.

Dr Daniel Fenton, Clinical Director at London Doctors Clinic, explains everything you need to know about going vegan…

What is veganism?

A vegan diet involves eating only food products made from plants and avoiding all foods or food products sourced from animals.

For many vegans, their dietary choices centre around:

  • Taking better care of the earth’s resources and the environment
  • Ethical issues about animal care
  • Concerns about the health impact of widespread antibiotics and growth hormone use in animals
  • The health advantages of a plant-based diet.

What are the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle?

  1. A more varied and balanced diet

Eliminating meat and animal products will inevitably lead you to rely more heavily on other foods. Substitutes usually take the form of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Since these foods make up a larger proportion of a vegan diet than a typical Western diet, they can contribute to a higher daily intake of certain beneficial nutrients.

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Studies have consistently reported that well-planned vegan diets tend to be higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, potassium folate, vitamins A, C and E, and phytochemicals (beneficial plant compounds).

  1. Weight management

Vegan diets have a natural tendency to reduce your calorie intake. This makes them effective at promoting weight loss without the need to actively focus on calorie restriction.

Several observational studies show that vegans tend to be thinner and have lower body mass indices (BMIs) than non-vegans. In addition, several randomised controlled studies — the gold standard in scientific research — have reported that vegan diets are more effective for weight loss, than the reference diets they were compared to.

  1. Reduced diabetes risk

Going vegan may also have benefits for the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels, and up to a 50–78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  1. Reduced risk of high blood pressure and heart disease

Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and fibre are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

All of these are generally eaten in large amounts in well-planned vegan diets. Observational studies comparing vegans to the general population report that vegans may benefit from up to a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure, and an up to 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease.

  1. Reduced cancer risk

According to the World Health Organization, about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by factors within our control, including diet. For instance, studies have shown that regularly eating legumes, may reduce your risk of bowel cancer by about 9–18%.

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Research also suggests that eating at least seven portions of fresh fruits and vegetables per day may lower your risk of dying from cancer by up to 15%. Vegans generally eat considerably more legumes, fruit and vegetables than non-vegans.

This may explain why a recent review of 96 studies found that vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer. Vegan diets generally contain more soy products, which may offer some protection against breast cancer.