How Healthy is the Vegan Diet?
In 2018, about 25% of the world population were vegetarian, vegan and semi-vegetarian. They feed only on fruits and vegetables, grains and nuts. This can be healthy if certain rules are followed properly.
The desertion of all animal products whether in food or retail products is a conscience decision for most vegans.
But health benefits are not the only reason why people turn vegan. More and more new vegans use the diet change to self-medicate against skin problems, indigestion, migraine or gout.
Because there is little research on the benefits of a vegan diet, new vegans must acquire new information about the kinds of food and ingredients they need.
Nutritionists point out that although vegans are usually significantly better supplied with a range of nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C or folic acid than the average population, they often have a deficiency in iron, calcium and some essential fatty acids.
However, the inadequate supply of certain nutrients in vegans doesn’t necessarily lead to deficiency symptoms.
Since they live healthily, don’t smoke or drink alcohol and move more, they have a lower nutrient requirement than others.
The greatest risk for vegans is the deficiency of vitamin B12 because it is commonly found in animal products. Vitamin B12 is involved in cell division, blood formation and the function of the nervous system.
Vegans need to meet their needs with dietary supplements, fortified foods or specially formulated products with vitamin B12.
Vegan Food Pyramid
The vegan food pyramid ensures an adequate supply of vital nutrients and minimizes the risk of diseases.
Numerous scientific studies prove that both can be optimally implemented with a well-organized vegetarian vegan food selection.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a well-planned vegan and other forms of vegetarian nutrition are suitable for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, childhood and adolescence.
To build your own vegan food pyramid, water, vegetables, fruits and whole grains are highly recommended and should be consumed more frequently.
While sweets, snacks and alcohol should be consumed sparingly or may be omitted from diet.
Food Groups and Consumption Recommendations
1. Water (1.5 liters per day)
Water and other non-alcoholic drinks. Prefer low-calorie drinks.
2. Vegetables (at least 400 g or 3 servings per day)
Fresh vegetables, including unheated fresh foods, and juices are an important source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber.
3. Fruit (at least 250 g or 2 servings per day)
Fresh fruits, supplemented with dried fruit and juices, are an excellent source of many vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber.
4. Cereals and potatoes (3 servings per day)
Cereals are the most important source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Whole grain provides complex carbohydrates, fiber and phytochemicals and is an essential source of vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium). Potatoes contain vitamin C, potassium and magnesium.
5. Legumes and other protein sources (1 serving per day)
Legumes like peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupines; soy products like tofu and tempeh and other meat alternatives (seitan, lupine-based meat substitute) contain a lot of protein.
Legumes provide fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, iron and phytochemicals.
6. Milk alternatives (200-300 g or 1-3 servings per day)
Milk alternatives from soy, cereals or nuts, soy yogurt, vegetable cream and cream cheese alternatives provide protein are often fortified with calcium.
7. Nuts and seeds (30-60 g or 1-2 servings per day)
Nuts, also nutmeg, and seeds contain essential fatty acids. They provide protein, folate, vitamin E, phytochemicals and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
8. Vegetable oils and fats (3-5 tablespoons per day)
Oils and fats are suppliers of essential fatty acids and work for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Natural vegetable oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid like linseed and rapeseed oil are recommended. Use 2 tablespoons of DHA-enriched linseed oil daily.
9. Sea algae (1 tsp per day)
Iodized salt, sea salt enriched with iodine containing algae and sea algae provide the body with enough iodine.
The sea algae preferred are nori algae which contains <20µg iodine per gram.
Instead of 1 tsp nori flakes, ½ nori leaf can also be used. If you do not like algae, you can add up to 3g of iodized salt daily to your diet.
10. Optional: snacks, sweets and alcohol
These foods are not necessary for a healthy diet. However, alcohol, snacks and sweets can be thoroughly enjoyed in moderation.
Important Reminders Before Going Vegan
- Volume Guidelines
The recommended quantities require a dietary energy intake of about 2,050 kcal in women and men per day.
With a higher energy requirement, higher proportions of the food groups need to be consumed.
2. Physical activity should be at least 30 minutes a day.
3. Sun exposure should be at least 15 minutes per day for vitamin D.
During colder months, vitamin D supply can be from dietary supplements or vitamin D enriched products for at least 20 µg / day.
4. Vitamin B12 and calcium
Vitamin B12 deficiency is inevitable with a vegan diet, thus dietary supplements are necessary.
In the same way with calcium, calcium-rich plant-based foods like dark green vegetables, nuts, seeds, tofu; calcium-rich mineral waters and calcium-enriched products should be consumed in a targeted manner.
Vegan in the Long-term
As with any type of diet, giving up something should be done gradually. Because radical changes, according to studies, don’t last long.
In the long term, studies show that a vegan diet is an effective remedy for obesity. Since avoiding animal products leads to lower body weight, lower blood pressure and better blood lipid levels.
Vegan nutrition is also a suitable therapy for certain chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Furthermore, a plant-based diet is even more effective than conventional nutritional therapy for the treatment of diabetes, as shown by studies in the US.
As a result, dosage of drugs that regulate blood sugar levels can be significantly reduced.
In addition, the vegan diet also improves blood circulation and pain in patients suffering from nerve damage caused by diabetes.