Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?
Veganism is a diet and lifestyle movement which has become increasingly popular, with 2019 has been named ‘The Year of the Vegan’ by UK magazine, The Economist (Economist, 2019). However, there is a difference between and vegan diet and lifestyle, with vegan lifestyle meaning all aspects of their life do not include animal derived products whereas a vegan diet is only dietary related. Vegan diets involve the exclusion of all animal-based or derived products, and solely consists of; no meat, seafood, or dairy and is majority plant based. Majority of the population consume omnivorous diets which include dairy so it’s no wonder that vegan and plant-based diets are surprising and confusing for many. There have also been many surprising claims by vegans regarding health and nutritional benefits. If not well followed, just like any type of lifestyle diet, a vegan diet could result in malnutrition and cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A healthy diet refers to a diet which helps to maintain or improve overall health of the person by providing their body with enough nutrition. With it being expected that in the next ten years 1 in 10 people will be vegan (Meyer, 2019), it is important to know whether a vegan diet is actually healthy and sustainable for wellbeing.
New scientific research and studies have been done to test the possible health risks and benefits caused by a vegan diet. This includes studies to see the likeliness of malnutrition when following a vegan diet, how a vegan diet can prevent common chronic diseases, as well as ways in which vegans can get adequate nutrition from plant sources. Most of these studies done regarding veganism have been conducted by nutritionists and physicians most likely funded by different western governments, as veganism is most common in western countries.
Malnutrition can be found in various Australians with differing diets; however, vegans are often perceived to be at high risk of vitamin or mineral deficiencies due to the lack of animal-sourced vitamins and minerals in their diet. Specific nutrients include; iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and Omega-3 fats (Dietitians Association of Australia, 2019). Through research it has been proven that vegans can alternatively get ample levels of these minerals and vitamins through supplements and plant-based sources. Although it may be lower in comparison to omnivorous diets, adequate levels of iron can be consumed through plant-sources, and the America Diet Association states that even for people with vegan diets, iron deficiency anaemia is rare (Tuso, 2013). Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal products, therefore vegans are naturally more susceptible to a B12 deficiency. B12 supplements or the addition of B12 fortified foods should be necessarily input into their diet (Donaldson, 2000). It’s been shown that fracture risk due to lack of calcium is much the same for both omnivores and vegans and that irrespective of dietary preferences, sufficient calcium intake is very important for everyone’s bone health (Appleby, 2007). Vegans can consume Omega-3 fats through plant sources such as ground flax seeds, walnuts, and canola oil. (David, 2003)
Other recent developments and studies regarding the health aspects of a vegan diet have proved that a vegan diet can in fact help to prevent illness and disease. A balanced plant-based and vegan diet which includes a variety of vegetables, legumes, beans, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and fruits, has been found to reduce the risk of multiple chronic diseases. Examples of diseases which can be prevented and possibly reversed by a vegan diet include; heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer. Dr T Colin Campbell’s ‘The China Study’ is one of the most comprehensive studies on nutrition ever and show clear links these links between consumption of animal products and these diseases. It’s been found that vegetarians and vegans have approximately half the risk of developing diabetes than non-vegetarians or non-vegans. (Snowden, 1985) Another study showed that vegetarians had a 24% reduction in ischemic heart disease rates compared to non-vegetarians(Key, 1998) Likewise, many other recent research and studies have been impactful and demonstrated how a vegan diet can be beneficial for overall health and reducing chance of diseases.
The Australian Government funds research for dietary health and nutrition related work, this includes studies relating to vegan and plant-based diets. As of June 20, 2019, the Australian government has invested $10 million dollars in order to ‘promote better health choices, prevent disease and keep people out of hospital’. This funding is used to research into a wide range of topics including childhood obesity, better nutrition, increase physical activity, smarter lifestyle choices, and better health food and activity options for at-risk Australian populations (Boosting Preventive Health Research, 2019). Government funding of this research is justified, as the wellness of the Australian pubic and society is important and should be valued. With the growing rise and popularity of veganism, it is important that new studies are being done regarding what we put into our bodies. Funding for this research is justifiable as not only vegan diets, but many different diets and their effects on our well-being should be studied to allow Australian citizens to live healthy and nutritious lives.
The rise of veganism has led to have many different impacts on global society. The main reasons in choosing a vegan diet are ethics and health related and because of this social debates and disagreements regarding veganism are common. Both vegans and non-vegans are extremely passionate in their beliefs and so it can sometimes cause social controversy. The ethical and environmental impacts of a vegan diet is that it is beneficial towards animal rights, human rights, and environmental sustainability. This is shown as a plant-based vegan diet uses much less energy than a non-vegan diet, contributing to substantially less air pollution, habitat destruction, oils spills and global warming. (Veg Vic, 2019) Because there has been a large rise in number of vegans, the vegan diet has impacted the economy, causing a downfall for the dairy and meat industries. Despite this, it is also beneficial towards other areas of the economy, with recent reports stating that plant-based meat could boost the Australian economy by $3 billion (Vegan Australia, 2019). Culturally a vegan diet would mean loss of tradition for some cultures, and it would also not be realistic for others due to restraints and restrictions from what’s available near them.
To conclude, a balanced plant-based vegan diet is nutritional and sufficiently healthy. It has proved to be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing common chronic illnesses and does not ultimately cause malnutrition. Government funding regarding research on vegan diets is justifiable as all diets should newly be studied to see their effects towards the human body. Veganism has clear impacts on global society, as the movement has risen by 300% in the U.K in the last 5 years alone, resulting in many ethical, economic, social, cultural, and environmental risks and benefits. As stated in the Australian dietary guidelines; ‘Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate.”. It is important for all people to eat balanced and healthy diets for good health and wellbeing.
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