Has veganism gone mainstream? Fast food restaurants now have vegan burgers on the menu, and businesses are making big bucks from selling vegan alternatives. In 2016, Europe was the largest market in the world for meat substitutes, with Germany the global leader in terms of vegan product development. Many vegans have opted for the diet to protect animals and the environment. However, could there also be health benefits to going vegan?

In fact, there are few studies out there on the health implications of vegan diets. It may well be that healthy vegans are benefiting more from the fact that they are much more conscious of their diet and lifestyle decisions in general – getting more exercise and consuming less alcohol. On the other hand, vegans have to work harder in order to get all the nutrients they need. For example, vitamin B12 occurs almost exclusively in animal products, so the German Nutrition Society advises pregnant women and children not to follow a vegan diet.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Dan, who has been vegan for some time. He feels much healthier, not only physically, but even mentally, than he did when he ate meat and animal products. Is there any science to support the idea that vegan diets might make us healthier?

To get a response, we spoke to Antje Gahl of the German Nutrition Society. What would she say?

It is true that, on the whole, we also recommend a plant-based diet, which has many advantages and which of course can be different: vegetarian or vegan.

If Dan is vegan, he may have some of the benefits of a vegan diet, such as a low Body Mass Index. Many vegans live with a lower body weight as a result of this altered diet because it provides less energy overall. Furthermore, a plant-based diet also has benefits for blood lipid levels and lower blood glucose levels compared to a mixed diet. Eating a mixed diet carries a higher risk for some diseases, such as for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and also for cancer diseases.

Therefore, I think that a certain optimism is quite appropriate. Also, the vegan diet is overall a lighter, with fewer calories, less energy but very rich in nutrients, because lots of plant foods are consumed. But what the studies have not shown so far is a difference in mortality. Vegans live no longer than the mixed dieters, though the overall lifestyle is crucial.

For another perspective, we also spoke to Louise Davies of the Vegan Society in the UK. What would she say about Dan’s supposed health benefits?

There is absolutely lots of positives about a vegan lifestyle and we know that people are coming to veganism for three key reasons: because they are aware of the environmental benefits; they perceive it to be a healthy choice; and they see it as a way of reducing animal suffering. Those are the three key areas. The health one is really interesting. We are very much an evidence based organisation and there is evidence to say that a vegan diet can reduce the likelihood of some forms of cancer, and it can reduce the chances of diabetes. That’s a well-planned, healthy vegan diet. Just going vegan does not mean you are going to be healthy.

There is not really any broad unanimous support for a vegan diet being a healthier diet. In terms of the scientific evidence it’s the weaker of those three angles. Clearly it’s better for animals. The science around the environmental impact is really strong. You can certainly be healthier on a vegan diet but, like any diet you choose, you have to follow it carefully, follow nutritional advice and make sure you are planning what you are eating.

It’s interesting that Dan is saying he personally feels great. We hear so many anecdotes from people saying: I’ve never had more energy, I just feel much better in myself. I always wonder whether the ‘better in myself’ comes from knowing you aren’t consuming animal products and the ethical concerns around that. Anecdotally there are some really strong examples but it isn’t really scientific evidence that a vegan diet is healthier.

So, I would certainly say to people, if you are interested in the health angle of veganism, check out our website. We are about to launch a campaign on 1st of November which is all about how you can be vegan and thriving. We are going to have a bank of really good nutritionally valuable recipes so we will have lots of resources for people who are coming to veganism for those reason. If you are going to go out and eat Greggs vegan sausage rolls every day and vegan burgers then it probably won’t be the healthiest choice.

Finally, reader Julia is of the opinion that a “healthy diet” means something different for each of us. What may be healthy for one person could be unhealthy for another.

What does Antje Gahl say?

I can certainly agree with Julia’s statement that healthy eating means something different for everyone – we are all individual, we may want to settle for certain nutritional styles nowadays, to be self-optimising, to be individual. Health is a big trend, so vegan diets have become so trendy.

Many people just want to be different, they want to show that they are against factory farming, or in favour of sustainability, or other health aspects. It is certainly not unhealthy in general to eat vegan food. For some risk groups, however, it can actually be unfavourable. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, and also for children throughout their entire childhood, a vegan diet carries certain risks. So, if I they do not take any nutritional supplements, if they do not consume fortified foods, then there are potentially critical nutrients they might miss.

These can be proteins in themselves, but also some vitamins, especially vitamin B12. When a person eats a vegan diet, they have no sources of vitamin B12 because there’s simply not enough in plant-based foods. Anyone who is vegan, therefore, must definitely take vitamin B12, otherwise it can lead to neurological disorders. This is especially important for high-risk groups such as pregnant women, nursing mothers and children. We do not want to ban anyone from eating vegan foods, but just encourage them to keep taking vitamin B12 supplements and selecting nutrient-dense foods to make up enough calcium, zinc, iron and enough protein. If you are unsure, you should also seek advice from a doctor.

Is it safe to be vegan? What’s the state of the science on the health implications of a vegan diet? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts!

Image Credits: Bigstock (c) photosvit; Portrait Credits: DGE (c) Christian Augustin, Vegan Society (c)


22 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • avatar
      Arnout

      facts say differently though.

    • avatar
      Toni

      Which are your “facts”?The fact that in the inland(endemic regions) there are not enough suplements and elements for healthy living and people adapted, by receiving them through the meat? The fact, that you evolved to have enzymes for digestion of almost any meat? Or the fact that you, like everybody else, have canine teeth in your mouth? Pseudoherbivores shouldn’t teach us on science and traditions. Vegans start to be annoyng, by talking for their so called “facts” and “researches”, just like the gender euphoria and the libtards.

    • avatar
      Toni

      @Arnout are you so called vegan?

    • avatar
      Arnout

      There are not so you say their food doesnt come from brazil? Stop joking please.
      Canine teeth yea a gorilla is a meat eater right? You cant even properly digest red meat mate. Stop ranting and start researching please.
      I dont teach you facts do. You dont need meat never had.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      @Toni go watch The game changers on netflix and maby you can get as strong as an ox :)

  1. avatar
    Peter

    It is healthier if you know anything about nutrients, not to mention, less impact on the enviroment.

  2. avatar
    Isabelle

    No, you have much trouble in your belly. All the vegan people that I knew have been obliged to eat chemical pills so that not to have too much trouble. In a other way, they were angry all the time ou flabby or with a brain which does not work well.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      they are not chemical pills. And those same pills are fed to cows as they also dont magicly get B12.
      Your belly isnt made for red meat :)

    • avatar
      Isabelle

      The methylcobalamin is a chemical product and it is in all the B12 sold in the shops. it is a pure allergen and it makes trouble in the immune system of many people. And sorry to tell you that, but my teeth, my stomach, my brain and my all body have been made by my mother to eat meat, like you.

  3. avatar
    Julia

    I am very angry with veganism. This diet is promoted as healthy for everybody, including adults and children. However that is a an unethical, harmful and dangerous lie. My health was harmed on a vegan diet. I ended up in A&E a few times with severe intestinal spasms, which I later discovered was an oligosacharide Fodmap intolerance to beans, nuts and certain veg. I also got iron-deficiency anemia even I supplemented and ate high iron vegan foods. I suffered from weekly chronic migraines with vertigo which all left when I went back to eating animal meat and low carb. I also got an oxalate kidney stone from all the spinach and almonds. What we should be demanding is health warnings that ‘any diet’ may not be suitable for a persons health and may damage it depending on a person’s sensitivities, intolerances, health issues, health issues they may be prone too, metabolism and even genetics. I am disgusted. I am now stuck with a fodmap intolerance that never affected me before and I can’t even eat foods I used to eat before I became vegan. I also have to eat low oxalate veg now. I reversed my pre-diabetes on a low-carb diet which would have been impossible for me to do on a high-carb vegan diet. Supplements and vegan food is very profitable for corporations though.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      it isnt. Its more healthy and better for the planet.
      Yes, there are people that have issues like with anything also meat.
      It is not profitable at all. Meat is though…

    • avatar
      Julia

      No way of eating is good for the planet when billions of people have to eat to live. We cannot design diets to help the environment that harms people’s health. Human beings have unique nutritional requirements. Of course all ways of eating are harmful to some people. My own sister feels ill eating meat and my friend needs a high carbohydrate diet. My point is all ways of eating must come with a responsible health warning and not be promoted as a blanket diet suitable for all humanity. That is irresponsible, unethical and dangerous to human beings well being. However harm to the environment can be mitigated or balanced out by other actions to help the environment. Nobody has noticed that it is the profit model we run our society by that causes all the harm to the environment, harm to our health and mass suffering.

  4. avatar
    Martyna

    Vegan not always means healthier a lot of Indian Vegan people is fat or eating more to have adequate level of energy as rest of population. Second thing for some reason I have to eat vegan alternatives of dairy some of them are really tasty some of them disgusting but all of them have long list of ingredients to achieve structure or taste similar to non vegan products ( some of those ingredients aren’t natural one). I love third opinion that not everyone can be vegan. That is true. Overall we should eat less animal products and more vegetables, grains, fruits but we shouldn’t boycott those people who would not even consider to go vegan or vegetarian. Your diet should be your personal choice as your religion.

    • avatar
      Arnout

      you dont need to eat replacements*
      Well when it comes to methane and saving the planet. A plant based diet does come in dire need.

    • avatar
      Martyna

      I need as this is what was suggested for me and my kid in hospital.

  5. avatar
    Simone Mamo

    Veganism is healthier, but you really need to understand how to balance your meals so some form of nutritious information should be taught even in schools, for example plant protein, most people know about beans and nuts, but not so many know you can also get it from mushrooms and broccoli.

  6. avatar
    Anna

    Even though vegetables and fruits are good for you I don’t think the vegetarian diet is very healthy especially regarding women and children who can suffer from anemia if followed …. I would say eat meat in moderation and follow the Mediterranean diet…..

  7. avatar
    Arnout

    Ofcourse it is safe. And with the top diseases being animal related, I would say definatly yes.
    Its also more healthy for our planet.
    Now with vegan food its still that you have to eat all the nutriants…
    I find the question silly as the anwser is a huge yes. People that diagree are not the ones that use the facts but rather emotion

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