Veganism is a lifestyle choice that is practiced by someone who is vegan. Veganism is felt to be a good dietary option that is heart healthy if making the right nutritional choices. Usually lower in calories, veganism can result in healthy weight loss and prevention of weight related diseases. Long term effects can result in certain nutritional deficiencies that can predispose to certain disease states.
Veganism in its strictest definition is when an individual adopts a dietary lifestyle that excludes all meat products, all egg and dairy products and will not eat honey or any type of seafood. There are several reasons that vegans choose this way of life. Vegans simply believe it is a healthy way of life that keeps their weight and energy levels optimum. Vegans believe that animals should not be exploited by humans. Strict vegans do not eat honey because they respect the fact that bees create honey for their own use and taking their honey disrupts their fine tuned ecosystem. There may also be damage to the hive when harvesting the honey and can result in the deaths of bees. Strict vegans consciously try to avoid hurting any living creatures-from humans to animals, down to the level of insects. Strict vegans also avoid animal products such as wool, leather, silk, feathers and of course any coat or clothing products made from fur. Vegans will not eat gelatin because it comes from the hooves of animals. Many food products contain gelatin as an additive. Vegans will also avoid topical products that contain lanolin and tallow because they come from sheep and cow fat respectively. Adhering to a strict vegan diet can be difficult since hidden animal products can be found in numerous foods that would appear vegan appropriate. Some bread products contain an amino acid know as L-cysteine which may be sourced from poultry feathers. Candies may contain gelatin derived from collagen from cows and pigs and some brands of peanuts may contain gelatin. Some white sugars contain animal additives called bone char-which comes from the bones of cattle. The site Barnivore.com will provide a list of what wines and beers are vegan approved. Of course Omega-3 fish oil supplements are a no go and check your dressings to make sure there are no anchovies. Canned refried beans may contain animal lard and vanilla flavored foods may contain Castoreum-an animal byproduct.
Because animal products are good sources of protein, fats, minerals, vitamins and iron the vegan must find healthy alternative sources. Most vegans eat soy as their main protein source but there is still some controversy involving high ingestion of soy products. Soy contains phytic acid which binds to some minerals resulting in decreased absorption. Vitamin B-12 is found in high amounts in animal meats. B-12 fortified plant sources include soy, seaweed and cereals. Non-animal sources for iron include dried beans and dark leafy vegetables. Calcium levels and vitamin D levels can drop on a vegan diet. Tofu, tahini and green leafy vegetables provide calcium and spending time in the sun and eating vitamin D fortified foods will help with these levels. Vegans need to pay attention to this because of their increased risk of osteoporosis. Some of your Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flax, walnuts, soy products, canola oil and hemp products. Zinc deficiency can occur so vegans turn to whole grains, legumes and soy products that are good sources of zinc.
Overall a proper healthy vegan diet is low in calories and can help individuals lose weight and avoid weight related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type-2 diabetes, elevated blood lipid levels, hypertension or even cancer. According to a study from the American Heart Association, a plant based diet can reduce heart failure and cardiovascular disease by 42%. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed multiple studies that demonstrated that long term plant based diets would increase life expectancy for 3.6 years. A vegan diet can also support better gastrointestinal function but because you are not getting animal fats the absorption of fat soluble vitamins may be low and need to be supplemented with various plant sources or supplements.
The practice of veganism is a lifestyle change that has its advantages and potential disadvantages stemming from possible nutritional deficiencies long term. It is also important to eat all natural vegan foods and avoid the processed choices. As with any lifestyle change, following along with a health care professional is a great choice so she or he can track your long term progress.
Possible short-term side effects
- may feel sluggish initially
Possible long-term side effects
- extreme weight loss
- vitamin and mineral deficiency
- omega-3 deficiency
- weight loss
- improved sugar levels
- better blood pressure levels
- better cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- improved cardiovascular function
- improved energy
- possible longer life expectancy