What are the health benefits of Going Vegan?
The following are the twenty benefits and these are based on science.
Blog Published with permission from the author Jesse Miller
A plant-based diet is increasingly becoming recognized as a healthier alternative to a diet laden with meat. In recent years veganism has become one of the most popular diets, endorsed by many celebrities and members of the medical community. Going vegan has many benefits for us and our environment.
1. Vegans Live Longer
Scientists have been talking for years about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on our atmosphere and planet. Now, more than ever, the need to find solutions for these problems has become urgent.
One of the ways in which we can help is by switching to a plant based diet. A study conducted by Oxford Martin School concluded that by switching to diets that rely on on vegetables rather than meat, up to 8 million lives could be saved by 2050, and greenhouse gas emission could be reduced by two thirds.
To assess the health and environmental impacts of imbalanced diets, researchers modelled four different dietary scenarios for the year 2050. These included a scenario based on the way we eat today; another scenario based on global dietary guidelines which include minimum amounts of fruit and vegetables and limits the amount of red meat, sugar and calories; and a vegan and vegetarian scenario conforming to dietary guidelines.
They found that adopting a vegan diet could reduce the number of annual deaths by 8.1 million per year by 2050. This was greater than a vegetarian diet, which reduced the number of deaths by 7.3 million, and the global dietary guidelines which reduced deaths by 5.1 million annually.
A vegan diet doesn’t only benefit individuals, it also benefits the planet. The study projects that by 2050, following vegan diet guidelines could reduce food related greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.
Bottom Line: A vegan diet helps you live longer and benefits the planet too.
2. Improved Physical Fitness Levels
Many athletes, from tennis players to body builders are now following a vegan diet to improve their performance. Amongst them is Barnabas du Plessis, world-renowned body builder and former Mr Universe, who insists that his vegan diet has given him more energy, fewer aches and better health.
In her book, “The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition”, Julieanna Hever notes that athletes following a plant based diet recover faster and are able to maximise their training to improve their performance.
These results are borne out by research conducted in amongst Sri Lankan athletes. The study concluded that male and female vegetarian young adults appeared to have higher levels of physical fitness than that of non-vegetarians when assessing endurance and musculoskeletal flexibility.
Bottom Line: A vegan diet contributed to improved fitness levels, energy and endurance.
3.A Vegan Diet Can Protect Against Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become fragile and brittle, affects a significant percentage of the population over age 50. Worldwide, osteoporosis is estimated to affect 75 million people in Europe, USA and Japan, causing more than 8.9 million fractures annually.
Many people believe that increasing their intake of dairy products will boost calcium and increase bone strength, but that is not correct. In fact, osteoporosis appears to be more prevalent in developed countries where dairy products are easily available.
Animal protein causes calcium to be leached from bones. This is because animal proteins contain amino acids which are high in sulfur. The body converts these amino acids into sulfate, which acidifies the blood, and in the process of neutralising this acid, bone gets dissolved into the bloodstream.
Since meat and eggs contain two to five times more of these amino acids than plant based foods, their effect on bone density can be quite significant.Instead of increasing one strength, animal proteins can actually cause an increase in fracture rates.
According to a 1994 report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when animal proteins were eliminated from the diet, calcium losses were cut in half.
One of the arguments people make is that vegans can’t get enough calcium in their diets if they don’t eat dairy products, but this is not true. The calcium absorption from milk is about 32 percent. For vegetables such as kale, brussel sprouts, mustard greens and turnip greens, that figure is between 40-64 percent.
Replacing animal products with plant foods reduces the amount of calcium lost, which may explain why people who live in countries with more plant based diets have lower rates of osteoporosis, even when their calcium intake is lower than dairy-consuming countries.
A vegan diet therefore provides an easy way to maintain bone health, because it allows for easy absorption of calcium in low fat foods that are good for the body.
Bottom Line: Vegan diets improve bone strength and lead to a reduction in the risk of osteoporosis.
4. Vegan Diets Promote Weight Loss
Obesity is a growing problem and worldwide obesity numbers have doubled since 1980.
A vegetarian diet tends to be lower in total fat, and vegetarians tend to eat proportionally more poly unsaturated fat to saturated compared with non-vegetarians. (Animal products are the major sources of dietary saturated fat.
Low-fat and vegetarian diets have already been proven effective in weight loss. However, a two year study which compared a low fat vegan weight loss plan with one that followed the National Education Control Program (NECP) resulted in a significantly greater weight loss for the vegan group. This was true both at one year and two years.
Another 6 month study conducted in 2013 also proved that a plant based diet led to greater weight loss than omnivorous groups, with vegans showing a greater decrease in fat and saturated fat than the pesco-vegetarian , semi-vegetarian , and omnivorous groups.
Bottom line: a vegan diet is low in fat and helps promote weight loss.
5. Veganism Protects Against Cancer
In 2016, The UK Cancer Society released figures showing a 45 per cent rise in the number of cases of cancer caused by excess weight in the past two decades.
Since obesity is now a growing worldwide problem, the same is the case in many other countries.
A 2012 analysis of five country studies (UK, Japan, USA, Netherlands and Germany) examining vegetarian diets and their effects on cancer concluded that vegetarians have substantially lower cancer risks.
Similarly, a European study that examined 500,000 men and women in 10 different countries, concluded that for vegetarians the incidence of all cancers combined is lower than for non-vegetarians.
For women, in particular, following a vegan diet can reduce the risk of breast cancer. A study out of Loma University in the USA, funded by the National Cancer Institute reported that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Vegan women, for example, had 34 percent lower rates of female-specific cancers such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. This rate was is even more significant when you take into account that it was in comparison to a group of healthy omnivores who ate less meat than the general population.
So why do vegans have such a lowered cancer risk? It all has to do with a growth hormone called IGF-1(2. This hormone causes cancer cells in the body to grow more rapidly. Animal products increase IGF-1 levels in the body, while a plant based diet reduces the levels of IGF-1 enough so that the growth of cancer cells is slowed.
In a series of experiments where men and women followed a plant based diet for two weeks, blood tests using cancer cells in petri dishes showed positive results for both sexes. Women were found to have a reduction in the growth of three different types of breast cancer and men had a similar result with prostate cancer cells.
Bottom Line: Several forms of cancer can be prevented or treated by a vegan diet.
6. A Vegan Diet Controls Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
High blood pressure contributes to a person's risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disorders and other health problems. For many people, the only treatment has been medication, but that means costs and possible side effects.
Studies dating back to the 1920s show that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than omnivores. A recent survey which analysed data 7 clinical trials and 32 observational studies concluded that following a vegetarian diet is associated with lower blood pressure. The study further suggests that such diets could be a useful means for reducing blood pressure, without the need for medication. The authors suggested that unlike drugs, a plant based diet produced weight loss, lowered cholesterol and controlled blood sugar without side effects and at a lower cost.
Similarly in Japan, a review of 39 studies that included almost 22,000 people found that vegetarians had substantially lower blood pressure than people who ate meat, leading the authors to suggest that following a vegetarian diet could reduce a person's risk of heart attack by 9 percent and the risk stroke by 14 percent if sustained over time.
Bottom Line: Hypertension appears to be successfully controlled by a vegan diet.
7.A Vegan Diet Protects Against Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases of our time. In 2012, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and another 2.2 million deaths were attributed to high blood glucose.
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that in 2015 seven countries had more than 10 million people with diabetes: China, India, the United States of America; Brazil, the Russian Federation, Mexico and Indonesia.
Type Two Diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, occurs when the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin but can’t use it well. Insulin allows cells to convert glucose from the food we eat into energy. People with type 2 diabetes make insulin but the cells don’t use it as well as they should. At first the pancreas makes more insulin in an effort to get glucose into the cells, but eventually the sugar ends up in the bloodstream instead.
It has long been accepted that a vegetarian diet can greatly improve blood sugar levels. This is because such diets are usually associated with reduced body weight, and reductions in cardiovascular risk factors. Since diabetes often leads to heart problems, this is especially important.
A 2009 study comparing a low fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet concluded that although both diets led to a sustained reduction in weight, a low fat vegan diet appeared to improve glycemia and blood lipids more than the conventional diabetes diet.
Eating a vegan diet is an easy way to improve your blood sugar and keep your risk of adult-onset diabetes to a minimum.
Bottom Line: Vegans have healthier sugar levels and a reduced risk of developing type two diabetes.
8. Vegans Have Reduced Cholesterol
It’s easy to way to high cholesterol, but luckily there’s a way to eat your way out of it too. How? By following a vegan diet.
Cholesterol is an essential fat that the body needs. We get some cholesterol from the food that we eat, and our liver makes some too.
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood, so proteins have to take it to where it needs to go. These protein carriers are called ‘lipoproteins’. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells; low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL.
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it forms part of plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Controlling cholesterol requires 1) reducing foods that raise LDL and 2) increasing foods that reduce LDL. Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol in the digestive system and removes it from the body before it can circulate. Some provide polyunsaturated fats which directly lower LDL, and some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.
A publication by Harvard Medical School recommends adding vegetables, fruit, nuts and beans to our daily diet. The article notes that a largely vegetarian diet noticeably reduces cholesterol and lowers blood pressure, LDL and triglycerides.
Bottom Line: A vegan diet is recommended for lowering, controlling and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
9. A Vegan Diet Can Treat Arthritis
For years people have suspected a link between diet and arthritis and there have been numerous stories about individuals who changed their diets and alleviated their arthritis symptoms.
Multiple studies have now demonstrated that this, is fact, the case. A 2002 study which looked at the influence of a very low fat vegan diet on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) showed that after only four weeks, almost all measures of RA symptoms had decreased significantly.
The same results were found in a 12 month study which looked at the effects of a gluten free vegan diet on RA. Researchers concluded that this type of diet had a beneficial effect on the symptoms of RA.
Vegan diets are rich in antioxidants, which can neutralise free radicals and reduce painful symptoms. A diet based on plant foods is also high in polyunsaturated fats and fibre, both of which contribute to our health.
Bottom Line: A diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans which is rich in antioxidants and fibre appears to be helpful in preventing and, in some cases, treating arthritis.
10. Vegans Have Lower BMI
BMI (Body Mass Index) is important because it is widely considered that your chances of living a healthy and long life are linked to having a healthy BMI.
If your BMI is high, you have a greater risk of developing several dangerous diseases. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists a high BMI as a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, bone and joint problems including osteoarthritis and a number of cancers, including breast, colon and endometrial cancer.
BMI can be controlled by weight loss and exercise, and research has shown that a vegan diet is the best way to keep BMI at a healthy level.
In a study which compared BMI for individuals following different diets, mean BMI for vegans was lowest, and grew incrementally higher in lacto-ovo vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Researchers concluded that this difference in BMI indicated a substantial potential for control of obesity by following a vegan diet.
The same results can be seen in a New Zealand study which noted that subjects placed on a whole food plant based diet (WFPB) showed a greater reduction in BMI than other diets. The study concluded that a WFPB diet led to significant improvements in BMI, cholesterol and other risk factors.
Bottom Line: A vegan diet maintains healthy BMI levels and increases your chance of living a healthy and long life.
11.A Vegan Diet Prevents Heart Disease
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease remains the number one global cause of death, with 17.3 million people dying in 2015. That number is expected to rise to 23.6 million by 2030.
We already know that a diet high in saturated foods and animal proteins can contribute to unhealthy weight gain, raised cholesterol, BMI and cardiovascular disease. But is the opposite true? Can a vegetable based diet actually improve cardiovascular health?
In a study conducted at the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, 198 patients with heart disease were placed on a plant based diet that eliminated all dairy, meat and fish. Their progress was followed over the span of almost four years, and the results showed that patients had a reduced rate of cardiac symptoms and events.
Bottom Line: A vegan diet can be beneficial in preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease.
12. Vegans Have Fewer Migraines
Migraines are often affected by diet. Most migraine sufferers are advised to avoid certain triggers like chocolate, cheese and alcohol. But a group of Washington, D.C. researchers recently found that a low-fat, plant-based diet may be beneficial to sufferers.
For the study, 42 randomly selected migraineurs ate either a vegan diet, or received a placebo supplement for 26 weeks. Followers of the vegan diet reported a significant decrease in pain, as well as changes in body weight and cholesterol levels.
The authors concluded that a vegan diet could potentially be of great benefit to migraineurs due to its exclusion of several common migraine triggers, and its effects on hormones. is potential value in nutritional approaches to migraine treatment.
Bottom Line: A vegan diet can lead to the alleviation of migraine symptoms and a reduction in the number of attacks.
13. Vegans Eat a More Nutritious Diet
A vegan diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans has many nutritional benefits.
Following a healthy, balanced vegan diet ensures that the body has sufficient amounts of the following:
These foods provide the body with everything it needs to function at optimum levels, as demonstrated by a 2014 study which compared the nutritional qualities of vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diets.
The study concluded that a vegan diet was the healthiest for nutritional intake, nutritional quality, and body weight.
Bottom Line: Vegan food is healthier and provides better nutrition.
14. Vegans are Happier and Less Stressed
A vegan diet can help with stress and anxiety. A study conducted in 2015 indicates that a plant based diet may have a positive impact on mood. Participants were surveyed on mood, diet, and lifestyle factors. The results demonstrated that vegans had lower levels of anxiety, and ate a healthier diet.
This could be because meat based diets are high in arachidonic acid, a saturated omega-6 fatty acid.
Arachidonic acid (AA), in high amounts, can upset the balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The body needs these acids to be balanced at a rate of 1:1. If not, then the body’s immune system, and cardiovascular health becomes negatively affected.
Another outcome of a high intake of AA is changes to the brain that can affect mood.
In a randomized, controlled study, 39 omnivores were divided into 3 groups; a control group eating fish, meat and poultry daily; a group that ate fish 3-4 times a week but avoided meat and poultry; and a vegetarian group avoiding all meat, fish and poultry. After two weeks, results showed that mood scores were unchanged for omnivores and fish eaters, but the vegetarian group showed significantly improved scores.
In another study, researchers surveyed nearly 800 participants, including vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores. All participants responded to an online survey featuring questions about their dietary choices, vitamins and supplements, lifestyle activities, demographics, and levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. The results showed that overall, vegans, and to a lesser extent vegetarians, reported less stress and anxiety than omnivores.
Bottom Line: Vegans are generally happier and less stressed than non-vegans.
15. A Vegan Diet Balances Hormones
Our hormones control most of the major body functions, including hunger, reproduction, emotions and mood. When they are in proper balance, hormones help the body to function well, but problems with hormones can cause serious and life-altering symptoms.
Fatty foods affect the body in many ways, and have a strong influence on hormonal activity the body. High fat diets increase levels of estrogen in the blood. Although estrogen is a normal hormone for both men and women, if estrogen levels are too high it can lead to breast cancer.
Vegetarians have significantly lower levels of estrogen than non-vegetarians. In part this is due to the fact that their diet tends to be lower in fat, but vegetarians also have more of a certain type of carrier molecule called sex hormone binding globulin or SHBG which ensures that these hormones remain inactive in the blood until needed. Fatty foods reverse the process. They increase estrogens and reduce the amount of SHBG.
Animal fats appear to be worse at increasing estrogen than vegetable fats. A study at New York University Center that compared the diets of 250 Italian women with breast cancer to 499 women without cancer from the same province noted that the cancer patients had significantly more milk, cheese, butter and meat in their diets. In fact, women who consumed more meat products had as much as three times greater risk of getting cancer than other women.
Bottom Line: Eating a vegan diet controls hormone levels and helps the body to function at an optimal level.
16. A Vegan Diet Can Prevent Strokes
Strokes are essentially brain attacks. They happen when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, preventing essential nutrients and oxygen from reaching the brain cells. Without blood these cells get damaged or die. A stroke can affect both the body and mind, and its effects can be temporary or permanent.
Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and kill around 130,000 Americans every year.
The cholesterol and saturated fats present in animal products can clog the arteries supplying blood to the brain, which, in turn can lead to strokes.
Going meat free can greatly reduce your risk of suffering from strokes. Researchers have found that a vegetarian diet is the only lifestyle change that can consistently reverse the hardening of the arteries that cause strokes, and reduce cholesterol at the same time.
Vegetarians and vegans also tend to have consistently lower blood pressure which reduces the risk of strokes. Researchers who tracked 72,000 women over a period of 14 years have confirmed that those who adhered to diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains were less likely to suffer from strokes in comparison with those who ate the typical American diet, heavy with meat, dairy products, and eggs.
Bottom Line: A Vegan diet protects the brain by preventing strokes and maintaining healthy arteries.
17. A Vegan Diet Protects Against Allergies and Asthma
Allergies are an inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the nasal passages. They occur when our bodies recognize an external substance (common allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust, smoke, etc.), which triggers an immune response. Antibodies in our blood provoke an inflammatory response, which gives us the symptoms of itchy eyes, runny nose, and in the case of asthma, wheezing and tightness of breath.
Nutrition plays a major role in asthma, and there’s increasing evidence that foods can affect seasonal allergies too. For many years, people with asthma suspected that dietary changes might help. Many noticed that they had fewer episodes and needed less medication when they switched to vegetarian (especially vegan) diets.
In the mid-1980s, anecdotal reports led researchers to put these observations to the test. A 1985 Swedish study demonstrated that individuals with asthma practicing a vegan diet for a full year had a marked decrease in the need for medications, and in the frequency and duration of asthma attacks.
According to the longest-running study in history comparing vegetarians to non-vegetarians, women who eat meat appear to have a 30% greater chance of reporting chemical allergies, 24% more asthma, 17% more drug allergies and bee-sting allergies, and 15% more hay fever.
Why do vegetarian and vegan diets help? Researchers first attributed these benefits to the absence of common food triggers, such as meat, dairy and eggs, common allergy trigger foods for many people. But there’s probably more to it. Repeated studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have reduced risk of asthma, presumably because these foods improve immune system functions.
Vegetarians are also thinner, which also appears to have a positive effect on asthma. Harvard’s long-term Nurses’ Health Study (an ongoing project studying thousands of nurses for multiple health concerns) found that thin people have only one-third the risk of asthma compared to overweight participants. When heavy people begin a low-fat, vegetarian diet, they typically lose a significant amount of weight, which is likely to improve asthma.
Bottom Line: Many people have noted that their allergy symptoms reduced or even disappeared once they switched to a vegan diet
18. Vegans Have Beautiful Skin
Many vegans rave about how their skin has improved since they started this diet.
Our skin can be affected by many things, including diet and hormones.
Multiple studies of people eating traditional native diets – almost all of which are low fat-diets, based on starches, vegetables, and fruits – have found that these people have little or no acne. However, when these healthy people switch to a typical Western diet, acne becomes an epidemic.
Examples of well-studied populations include the Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea who live on a diet of 70% carbohydrate from plant foods, and the Ache’ of Eastern Paraguay with a diet of about 70% of the calories coming from manioc (cassava – a root vegetable). Acne is completely absent – not a single sufferer – in these two populations living primarily on unprocessed, low-fat plant-foods.
Research has demonstrated that dairy products can lead to acne vulgaris , as can foods with a high glycaemic load. A vegan diet eliminates these products, thereby improving the skin and leading to a clearer, brighter complexion.
Bottom Line: Vegans diets eliminate acne and lead to clear, healthy skin.
19.Vegan Foods Create Strong and Healthy Nails
To keep your nails looking their best and feeling strong, your body needs to produce sufficient amounts of collagen. In order to achieve this, the body needs large amounts of vitamin C. A typical vegan diet includes many of the foods that contain Vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, peppers and broccoli.
In addition to Vitamin C, Vitamin A also plays a role in healthy nails. This can be found in fruits such as apricots, while silica, a mineral which helps to keep nails strong can be found in cucumbers.
Bottom line: The vegan diet is filled with vitamins and minerals that give you strong and healthy nails.
20. Vegans Have Better Body Odour
Although not everyone realises this, there is a direct link between what we eat and our body odour. Body odour is affected by what is emitted by sweat glands, especially the ones in our armpits. These glands are designed to help us get rid of toxins from the body. The toxins we excrete are what causes body odour, so therefore what we eat directly affects how we smell.
Red meat is the number one cause of body odor. It causes stagnation in the body and releases all sorts of toxins into the bloodstream through the large intestine.
Other foods that contribute to body odour are manufactured foods lacking fibre and made with processed ingredients, including white flour, hydrogenated oil and added sugars.
Once those foods are eliminated, and replaced with a healthy vegan diet, body odour all but disappears and what remains is much more pleasant.
Bottom Line: Vegans smell better!
A vegan diet is healthy, nutritious, and good for the body, mind and planet.
Cooking vegan food doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. With a few fresh ingredients and some pantry staples you will soon be on your way to discovering a new and exciting way to eat.