In our last blog, we looked at the differences in definition between vegan vs vegetarian, and the myriad of sub-categories among vegetarians. We now look more closely at the health benefits – and possible deficiencies – of each diet.
In terms of nutrition, research shows that both vegan and vegetarian diets tend to contain vitamins, minerals, fibre and healthy plant compounds, and are low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Both also contain high amounts of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit, vegetable, whole grains, nuts, seeds and soy products. All very good, but unless vegan and vegetarian diets are carefully planned, both could also result in low intakes of some nutrients, in particularly iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin D. Both diets also tend to contain limited amounts of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, although levels of these nutrients are, in general, lower in vegans than vegetarians. So it may well be that until a measured and well-researched approach to both diets is adopted, supplements should be taken. But, of course, there are foods which do meet these nutrient requirements, but that is for another day.
So which diet is considered healthier? According to a report by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – as well as several scientific reviews – both vegan and vegetarian diets are suitable for all stages of life. But only if the diet is well planned. Deficiencies in nutrients such as omega-3, calcium and vitamins D and B12 can negatively impact various aspects of health, both physical and mental. That is why diets must be planned, with considerable research carried out by anyone considering adopting either a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
On the whole, both vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower intakes of these nutrients, although vegetarians tend to consume slightly more calcium and vitamin B12. On the other hand, those adopting a vegan diet may have a marginally lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and various cancers when compared to vegetarians. Vegans also tend to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than vegetarians, and seem to gain less weight as they age. But most studies tend to be observational in nature, meaning that it is very difficult to say exactly which aspects of both diets produce these effects. Plus, of course, diet may not be the only contributory factor – but it definitely plays a major role. But the bottom line is that if either diet is well-researched and planned, any risks and deficiencies can be minimised – but both vegans and vegetarians should monitor their intake of nutrients and take supplements if required.
So which diet is the right one for you? That very much depends on your aspirations, reasons for choosing a change of diet, ethical viewpoint and lifestyle. Veganism tends to be more than just what you eat – it is a lifestyle of varying degrees, depending on the point of view of the individual. Veganism is understandably often associated with animals rights, and many vegans will also avoid clothing containing silk, wool, leather or suede. Vegans may also boycott companies that still perform testing on animals, and only purchase cosmetics and household cleaners that are free of all animal by-products. Ethical vegans will also steer clear of circuses (which, as we have seen, are changing for the better) zoos, horse racing – indeed, any activity which involve the use of animals for entertainment. And from an environmental perspective, many adopt a vegan diet for its reduced impact on the earth’s resources and climate change.
As we have seen, both veganism and vegetarianism is as individual as one’s taste in music. Whichever you choose must be the right choice for you. Just be aware of the potential deficiencies and, as long as you remedy those, you can expect to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. And don’t forget to have a look at our recipes section of this site for some delicious ideas using your favourite vegan cheese!