It seems that everyone is going vegan these days- from politicians to physicians, from Olympian medalists to Oscar winners. It used to be hard to find a vegan meal in most places. Today, vegan restaurants are popping up everywhere and it’s easier and more convenient than ever to be vegan. If you are considering a plant-based diet, here are 10 reasons to do it now and three things to watch out for.
Benefits of Veganism:
- Lower cholesterol. The Portfolio diet study demonstrated that 4 weeks on a plant-based diet lowered LDL cholesterol by 30%. This makes the vegan diet as effective as taking Lipitor.
- Lower blood pressure. The Adventist Study examined the diets of 70,000 people over 12 years. It showed that vegans have lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures than meat eaters.
- Treat and reverse diabetes. Dr. Neal Barnard’s study showed that the vegan diet improved blood sugar 4 times better than the often recommended American Diabetic Association diet.
- Decrease inflammation. Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that CRP, the protein marker of inflammation in the body, is decreased by adopting a plant-based diet.
- Lose weight. The Adventist study showed that vegans weigh an average of 25-30 pounds less than meat eaters.
- Prevent cancer. It is well documented that vegetarians have lower rates of colon cancer, prostate cancer and lymphoma.
- Live longer! The Adventist Study showed that vegans have a lower all-cause mortality rate. Vegans have a life expectancy that is between 3.6 to 7.28 years longer than their meat-eating counterparts.
- Animal welfare. There is nothing more compassionate for all living beings than the avoidance of eating meat, dairy and eggs.
- Conserve water. According to National Geographic, consuming a vegan diet saves 600 gallons of water per day compared to the average American diet.
- Environmental health. The lower on the food chain we eat, the less damage we do in terms of greenhouse emissions, fossil fuel use, air pollution and deforestation.
So you decide to take the plunge, what should you look out for?
- B12 levels. An estimated 75% of vegans and 25% of vegetarians have B12 deficiency. B12 is an important cofactor involved in energy, mood, blood production, nerve health and detoxification. If you are on a plant-based diet, it is important to test your B12 levels and take a good supplement.
- Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is not found in many plant foods. This cofactor is vital for bone health, immune health, energy, mood and even the prevention of cancer and heart disease. Everyone should know their Vitamin D levels and supplement as necessary.
- Fat intake. Plant-based diets are naturally high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats. It is important to have an appropriate ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in flax, hemp and chia seeds. I recommend taking an algae-based omega 3 fatty acid supplement, especially for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
Lastly, a word on protein. I am frequently asked about whether vegans have a high enough protein intake. In my 10 years as a vegan and physician I have never met anyone with protein deficiency. The USDA recommends 10-15% of our calories should come from protein. Most fruits, vegetables, and grains are 10-50% protein, so as long as you are eating enough calories, you are getting enough protein! It is important to take in all nine essential amino acids, so vary your sources of protein and include complete proteins such as quinoa and tofu.
Most importantly, eat mindfully and enjoy!
Dr. Sari Eitches is a board certified integrative internist with a focus on women’s health, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, chronic illness and preventive medicine.
Barnard N et al. “A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care, 2006 Aug; 29 (8): 1777-83
Jenkins DJA. “Effects of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods vs lovastatin on serum lipids and CRP.” JAMA, 2003; 290(4): 502-10.
Kim M. “Strict vegetarian diet improves the risk factors associated with metabolic diseases by modulating gut microbiota and reducing intestinal inflammation.” Environmental Microbiology Reports. 2013 Oct; 5(5): 765-75.
Mishra S et al. “A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting: the GEICO study.” Eur J Clin Nutri, 2013 July; 67(7): 718–24.
Ornish D, Lin J, Chan JM, et al. “Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study.” Lancet Oncol. 17 September 2013. DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8.
Petterson BJ, Anousheh R, Fan J, et al. “Vegetarian diets and blood pressure among white subjects: results from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2)..” Pub Health Nutr. 2011;15(10):1909–16