For those who are unfamiliar, a vegan diet is a diet free from all animal products, such as meat, fish, and eggs. It often also excludes dairy products and products containing gluten. Those who opt for a vegetarian diet usually do so for health reasons, due to the abundance of evidence suggesting that a vegetarian diet may be linked to weight loss, heart health, and even longevity.
While there is a wealth of information on the benefits of a vegetarian diet, it isn’t all good news. Studies have suggested that those who opt for this lifestyle may be more likely to develop certain health issues than those who consume an omnivorous diet. The evidence for this is discussed below.
A Possible Link To Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible condition that disproportionately affects the elderly. It is a form of dementia that causes loss of memory and cognitive function. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently around 500,000 people in the UK suffering from the disease, and it is estimated that this number will more than double by 2025.
While there is no causal link between food and Alzheimer’s disease, there is evidence to suggest that diets high in fat and carbohydrates may increase the risk of developing the disease. This is because animal products (especially those containing gluten) and refined carbohydrates can act as a sort of ‘antigen’ in the body, which may provoke an immune response that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Diets that are high in fibre and vitamin E can help mitigate this risk.
A plant-based diet can also improve memory and cognitive function, especially in people with Alzheimer’s disease. This suggests that those who adopt a vegan diet may experience faster cognitive decline than those who eat a more traditional diet. The Alzheimer’s Society notes that vegan diets can also be healthier, as they are free from the various animal products that contain cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium.
Is A Vegan Diet Always Perfect For Everyone?
If you’re looking for a diet plan that will suit everyone, then a vegan diet may not be the best choice. This is because, as mentioned above, it can increase your risk of developing certain diseases. It is also unlikely to provide complete nutrition for those with dietary restrictions, such as a gluten allergy. Finally, some people may find that a vegan diet is simply not practical, as it can be hard to achieve and maintain.
If you’re not sure whether or not a vegan diet suits you, then it may be worth trying out a vegetarian diet first. This is because many meat-free products are created equal, and it’s often easier to follow a vegetarian diet than a vegan one. You may also find that once you get into the habit of not eating meat, you’ll realise how much you actually enjoy it, and how much better you feel without it.
The Dangers Of A Sedentary Lifestyle
We’re all aware of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and the various health issues that come with it. It is well-established that sitting down for too long increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These are the same diseases that are linked to a vegetarian diet. In one study, after adjusting for age, sex, ethnicity, and BMI, those who sat for more than four hours per day had a 56% greater risk of diabetes compared with those who sat for fewer than four hours per day.
There is also strong evidence that suggests that prolonged sitting can cause cancer. Many cancers, including breast cancer, have been linked to lifestyles that include a lot of time spent sitting. Those who sit for more than four hours per day have a 138% greater risk of developing breast cancer compared with those who sit for fewer than four hours per day. There are also suggestions that those who adopt a vegan diet may be more at risk of developing certain cancers, due to the antigenic effects of some animal products on the immune system. While there are no direct links between cancer and a vegan diet, it is certainly a factor that needs to be taken into consideration when adopting this lifestyle.
The Lancet recently published a series of studies that looked into the effects of different dietary patterns on heart health. The results of these studies were rather conclusive: a vegan diet was associated with some of the best heart health benefits. Those participants who followed a vegan diet had lower rates of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes compared with those who followed a more conventional diet. This is especially interesting when you consider that those who opted for a vegan diet experienced significant weight loss.
It is well-established that diets high in fat and refined carbohydrates increase your risk of developing heart disease. These foods are often the ones that are most easily accessible by those who follow a traditional Western diet. They promote tooth decay and increase your cholesterol levels. Diets rich in fruit and vegetables have the opposite effect on your heart: they lower cholesterol and may even protect against heart disease. A diet rich in fibre can also significantly reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
It is also worth considering that vegan diets may be more suitable for people who already practise some level of physical activity. In one study, after adjusting for age, sex, and BMI, those who followed a vegan diet had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those who followed a more conventional diet. The authors of this study attributed this to the fact that vegan diets exclude foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are often found in animal-based products. It would be interesting to see a study comparing the health benefits of a vegan diet with those of a vegetarian diet, as the former may simply be a vegetarian diet with an additional ingredient. This is because many vegan products are made using plant-based substitutes for animal products, such as milk and eggs. These substitutes are usually high in fibre and contain no cholesterol, so they have the potential to offer the same health benefits as the animal products they are designed to replace. It is difficult to say whether or not a vegan diet is healthier than a vegetarian diet without comparing the two side-by-side. The jury is still out on that one.
The Influence Of Social Factors
It is well-established that both genes and the environment influence your risk of developing diseases. Some studies suggest that your genes may predispose you to certain diseases, whilst others suggest that the environment you grow up in has an impact. The same is true for those who opt for a vegetarian diet. Those who follow a vegan diet may be more inclined to suffer from certain diseases, due to their genes. This is borne out by the evidence that a vegan diet may be better suited to those who inherit a greater susceptibility to heart disease and diabetes. The same cannot be said for others, as there is no evidence that those who inherit these diseases are more likely to thrive on a vegan diet than a conventional one.
It is also well-established that different races tend to have different genetics and predispositions to certain diseases. In one study, after adjusting for age, sex, and BMI, those who followed a vegan diet had lower cholesterol and blood pressure than those who followed a more traditional diet. The researchers attributed this to the fact that vegan diets exclude foods that are high in fats and cholesterol, which are more common in the West and among people who are more likely to get these diseases. The influence of your genes and the environment are both key considerations when deciding whether or not a vegan diet is for you. You must also take into consideration your cultural background. Are you more likely to get sick from eating the food that is commonly available wherever you go? Or are you more likely to be healthy and content if you follow a vegan diet because it is the traditional diet of your heritage?
Is A Vegan Diet Always Healthy?
It cannot be denied that a vegan diet is often healthier than a conventional one. This is mainly because it is higher in fibre and free from the various food products that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. A vegan diet also improves your mental health and enhances your well-being. It can act as a sort of ‘antigen’ in the body, prompting your body to produce antibodies which protect you from diseases and boost your own health.