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Why has veganism gained so much popularity in recent years?



Michelle Pfeiffer has stated that “eating a vegan diet — it’s just so much healthier — and you avoid a lot of toxins that could age your skin and your body. I really noticed a difference in my skin not too long after switching to fully vegan.” The vegan lifestyle has become so popular that even celebrities give up on meat, meat products, and the appeal to join this trend. The question is, why has veganism gained so much popularity?


From burgers to sausages to meatballs, food products that were previously only made with meat now can be seen everywhere with the ‘vegan’ label plastered on the packaging. Decades ago, veganism was thought of as strange behavior, mostly practiced by hippies. Nowadays, veganism has gained so much popularity that people protest against animal consumption. Vegans choose to utilize only plant-based products for a variety of reasons including health concerns, ethical values, or religious beliefs. Many people choose to eliminate meat consumption as a way to advocate animal rights. Livestock production also puts more strain on natural resources (such as land, water, and fossil fuels) than harvested crops do, and it has a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, a well-designed vegan diet is usually healthier than a diet that contains a lot of meat and dairy products. Vegan diets seem to increase the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and minimize the intake of dietary factors associated with a number of chronic diseases [1].


Vegan diets are usually higher in [2]:

● dietary fiber

● magnesium

● folic acid

● vitamins C and E

● phytochemicals


And they tend to be lower in:

● calories

● saturated fat and cholesterol

There are many health benefits of veganism, so here are a few listed below [3]:


The prevention of obesity & cardiovascular disease


Consuming red meat, in general, can increase the risk of heart disease up to a thousand percent more than consuming solely plant-based foods. Vegans have the lowest body mass index and are less prone to obesity when compared to vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The reason behind this significantly lowered weight gain in vegans can be attributed to higher fiber and lower animal protein intake. Studies have shown that adopting a vegan diet produces beneficial effects on cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Vegans also have a higher consumption of whole grains, soy, and nuts, all of which provide significant cardio-protective effects.


Better control of diabetes


A vegan diet may also be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes (T2D). Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin sensitivity. Vegan diets consist of plant foods that are naturally rich in complex carbohydrates and low in fat. The inclusion of a plant-based diet can even help reduce the need for insulin, which is essential for insulin addicts.


Lower chances of getting cancer


Vegan diets reduce the risk of colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. Vegans also may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer from consuming considerably more amounts of legumes, total fruit and vegetables, tomatoes, allium vegetables, fiber, and vitamin C than omnivores. All those foods and nutrients are protective against cancer.


Protecting bone health


An inadequate protein and low calcium intake are both shown to be associated with bone loss and fractures of the hip/spine in the elderly. Essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K contribute significantly to bone health. All of these nutrients, along with soy benefits, can be found in a vegan diet.


Anti-aging


Studies have shown that dairy consumption worsens acne in both men and women. A low-fat vegan diet may help slow the human aging process. The activity of IGF-1, also known as the insulin-like growth factor, plays an important role in the regulation of the aging process.


Due to vegan diets being stricter than vegetarian diets and containing only plant-based foods, there is an increased risk of developing micronutrient deficiencies. These nutrients include vitamin B12, zinc, and calcium or n-3 fatty acids. The evidence is clear that reducing animal-based sources can help optimise nutrition, with plenty of beneficial outcomes. However, if you decide to steer towards a vegan diet, considerations need to be made regarding nutrients mainly found in animal sources. The following nutrients that vegan diets do not provide include [3]:


Vitamin B12


Also known as cobalamin, vitamin b12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin with a wide range of important functions such as central nervous system functioning, and the synthesis of DNA. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can produce abnormal neurologic and psychiatric symptoms that include ataxia, psychoses, paresthesia, disorientation, dementia, mood and motor disturbances, and difficulty with concentration.


Omega-3 Fatty Acid


EPA and DHA are the 2 main classes of omega-3 fatty acids, which can both be found abundantly in fish. These long-chain fats typically found in marine sources have an array of health benefits and are linked to healthy aging throughout life. These types of fatty acids help reduce inflammation and support cardiovascular functioning as well as eye and brain functions. Studies show that compared with non-vegetarians and vegetarians, vegans tend to have lower blood concentrations of EPA and DHA.


Iron


Iron is essential for red blood cell production and oxygen transport. It exists in two forms, heme and non-heme, and is found in animal products and plant-based sources respectively. Heme iron absorption is substantially higher than non-heme iron from plant foods. However, hemoglobin (a protein found in red blood cells) concentrations and the risk of iron deficiency anemia are similar for vegans compared with omnivores and other vegetarians.


Vitamin D3


Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that we need to obtain in sufficient quantities. Vitamin D3 is only available from animal foods such as eggs, oily fish, and organ meats. Low blood levels of vitamin D may potentially increase the risk of depression, bone loss, and a variety of chronic diseases.


Zinc


Zinc is a nutrient that plays many vital roles in the human body, including gene expression, enzymatic reactions, immune function, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, wound healing, growth, and development. Many animals such as shellfish, poultry, meat and dairy products are naturally rich in zinc

Sutter and Bender note that vegan diets can be beneficial for children, preventing deficiencies in vitamin C and folic acid, and preventing obesity, which usually persists into adulthood. Similarly, an early vegan diet can further reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, since atherosclerosis begins in childhood. However, deficiencies in cobalamin, calcium, and vitamin D appear to be the greatest risk from poorly designed vegan diets based on available data [4].


Nevertheless, we still have some vegan substitutes that can provide essential nutrients. For example, tofu provides a versatile protein-rich alternative to meat, fish, poultry, and eggs in many recipes; calcium-fortified plant milk and yogurt help vegans achieve their recommended dietary calcium intake [5].


To sum up, vegetarian diets have recently experienced an increase in popularity. Consuming large amounts of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and monounsaturated oils is essential to providing the body with vital nutrients. However, some nutrients are deficient in plant-based foods, so proper planning is vital to making sure the essential nutrients are obtained.




References:

  1. Jenni. Why Do People Go Vegan? 2020 [Available from: https://www.chooseveganism.org/why-do-people-go-vegan/#:~:text=Preventing%20the%20exploitation%20of%20animals%20is%20the%20key,to%20be%20free%20from%20pain%2C%20fear%20and%20suffering.

  2. Davey GK, Spencer EA, Appleby PN, Allen NE, Knox KH, Key TJ. EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes in a cohort of 33 883 meat-eaters and 31 546 non-meat-eaters in the UK. Public Health Nutr. 2003;6(3):259-69.

  3. Craig WJ. Health effects of vegan diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1627S-33S.

  4. Sutter DO, Bender N. Nutrient status and growth in vegan children. Nutr Res. 2021;91:13-25.

  5. Sear J. Top 10 vegan substitutes 2022 [Available from: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-10-vegan-substitutes.


 


Contributors:

Author: Yipaerguli Mohetaer

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health scientist: Chantelle


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