Not so long ago, vegans were considered oddballs with radical ideas about diet.
They refused to eat most of the staples of the American diet—meat, fish, milk, eggs, cheese. Instead they feasted on bizarre foods like tofu and quinoa.
Many Americans dismissed their interesting dietary choices.
But science validated a lot of their concerns, and today most Americans recognize that vegans are on to something, even if we’re not prepared to join them.
Veganism offers many health benefits, which I will summarize below. But first, a quick discussion of the practice.
Vegans are not the same as vegetarians, who eat no meat.
Vegans eat nothing derived from animals. That includes dairy products like cow’s milk and eggs.
For a long time, nutritionists feared that vegans and vegetarians would lack protein. But mushrooms and soy-based products like tofu and tempeh can provide sufficient protein in a vegan diet.
Vegans do need to be vigilant about consuming enough calories, along with vitamins D and B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids that are commonly provided by meat. Many vegans take supplements with these three elements.
That said, research supports a slew of positive health outcomes from a vegan diet. Here are six.
- There are few obese vegans.
Vegans are less likely to build Buddha bellies than the average American, 2/3 of whom are overweight. One study found vegans thirty pounds leaner than average. The vegan diet has also been shown to help overweight people lose pounds better than any restricted-calorie diet.
- Vegans are less inflamed.
Dairy, fried foods, processed meats, and refined sugars and starches have been linked with inflammation and arthritis because they promote the growth of free radicals—evil-doing molecules roaming around inside our bodies. Vegan diets have been shown to reduce inflammation and the symptoms of arthritis when they are high in antioxidants, the free radical’s arch-enemy. Many doctors prescribe a vegan diet to patients suffering with arthritis.
- Vegan diets reduce the risk of diabetes.
Because most vegans enjoy lower blood sugar levels, they are 50-78 percent less susceptible to type 2 diabetes than meat-eating adults. In one study, vegan diets lowered blood sugar levels in diabetics and allowed nearly half of them to lower their insulin dosage.
- Vegan diets appear to reduce the risk of cancer.
Voluminous research links some foods to cancer—processed foods and foods high in saturated fats, for example—and others to cancer-fighting qualities, like legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Well, vegan diets are rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes. Vegan diets are generally lower in processed foods and saturated fats.
Smoking meat and cooking it at high temperatures has also been linked to some cancers. Vegans don’t eat meat.
- Vegans avoid high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Studies have shown that a vegan diet reduces cholesterol and blood pressure levels. In some cases, patients taking cholesterol and blood pressure medications were able to eliminate the medication after adopting a vegan diet. Vegans are also 42% less likely to suffer heart disease.
- Vegans age better and live longer.
Vegans are better hydrated, and consume more of the critical nutrients, than the typical American diet. Hydration, along with Vitamins C and E, help prevent wrinkles. In addition, preliminary results of a long-term study show that vegan men and women live 9.5 years and 6.2 years longer, respectively, than non-vegans.
There is also evidence that a vegan diet reduces the risk of other diseases, including kidney ailments, osteoporosis and Parkinson’s disease. That is an awful lot of benefit to this diet.
It should be noted that simply going vegan is not a panacea. Vegans must be careful not to eat an excess of processed and fried foods, particularly soy products. They must be careful not to load up on empty carbs with breads and starches. They also must avoid foods that are technically vegan but still not healthy. Donuts, french fries, and potato chips are three examples.
With these caveats, a vegan lifestyle generally contributes to overall good health, reduces the risk of disease and leads to a long, healthy life.