The vegan diet is becoming increasingly popular. With celebrities and influencers touting the health benefits of a vegan diet, you may be curious about what it means to be vegan and why everyone is beginning to follow this trend.
A vegan diet, otherwise known as a plant-based diet, is a way of eating the focuses heavily on plant-based, whole foods. On a vegan diet, you do not consume any products that come from animals, including meat, milk, cheeses, eggs, fish, and in some cases, honey and gelatins.
The reason for following a vegan diet ranges for each individual. For some, they follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons believing that the way animals are bred to be eaten and overall treated is inhumane. For others, they choose to be vegan due to environmental factors. And some people follow this way of eating to experience all the health benefits of a vegan diet.
Regardless of someone’s reason for being vegan, research has found there are astounding health benefits of a vegan diet. Below are six ways that following a vegan diet may benefit you and your health in the long term.
Yet it is important to note that none of these benefits will be achieved if you eat junk food as your “vegan” diet. Just like any other way of eating, your health will depend on the quality of food you are consuming, not just the quantity. So be sure you are eating whole foods that have high nutritional value.
6 Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet
1. Help you lose weight
Naturally, a vegan diet is lower in calories and, when followed appropriately, will result in weight loss in almost all cases. Many studies have concluded that plant-based dieters have a lower body mass index than meat-eaters. But why is this?
For starters, a vegan diet is high in fiber, allowing your body to metabolize the healthy nutrients you need while maintaining low blood sugar levels. With lower blood sugar levels, your body will not store the extra energy as fat and instead will get all the nutrients it needs from high-fiber fruits and vegetables at a lower calorie and unhealthy fat consumption.
Aside from a vegan diet being high in fiber, it is also low in fat as you eliminate animal fats from your diet. This explains why you can eat more carbs on a vegan diet yet still lose weight because your body will turn to glycogen for energy consumption first instead of animal fats. This forces your body into a state of mobilizing the fat stores for energy and allowing your body to burn fat faster.
Yet, the key to experiencing weight loss and all the health benefits of a vegan diet is to eat whole foods that are minimally processed, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and soy-based proteins (tofu, tempeh, and seitan).
2. Lower blood sugar levels and manage diabetes
Following a plant-based diet has been proven to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Scientific evidence has pointed to saturated fats being a significant reason for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This is because the excess fat will build up and prevent insulin from transporting glucose to your cells. Ultimately causing insulin resistance and a build-up of sugar levels in the blood.
By eliminating most foods high in saturated fat and refined sugars found in processed foods, you reduce your risk of developing diabetes and lower your blood sugar levels.
A vegan diet will result in more predictable blood glucose levels making it easier to manage blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. It will also reduce the burden on your kidneys by having a stronger insulin response. Research shows that individuals who follow a vegan diet will improve insulin sensitivity by over 40% within six months.
Similarly, a vegan diet is high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients which helps your cells properly absorb and utilize nutrients in tissues throughout the body.
3. Lower your risk of heart disease
A nutritious vegan diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fiber has been proven to lower an individual’s risk of developing heart disease. Vegans may have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure by nearly 75% while reducing their risk of dying from heart disease by 42%.
Due to the lower consumption of fatty foods and refined carbs, an individual on a vegan diet will have lower blood sugar levels (as discussed above) and lower cholesterol levels. This puts less pressure on the heart and blood vessels, ultimately reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
4. Lower rate of mortality from cancer
Other health benefits of a vegan diet suggest that it can reduce an individual’s risk of developing cancer by nearly 15%. The World Health Organization (WHO) has claimed that almost one-third of all cancer can be prevented by following a healthy diet.
On a vegan, plant-based diet, you avoid most processed foods high in refined sugars and saturated fats, ultimately contributing to a much healthier diet. Legumes may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, soy products can protect against breast cancer, and dairy products may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
5. Experience higher energy levels
We have all heard the adage that food is fuel. Individuals who eat a healthier, more balanced diet full of whole foods will experience higher energy levels. That is why most vegans who are eating mostly plant-based will have higher energy levels.
The absence of refined sugars, saturated fats, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates provides your body with cleaner and more sustained energy levels. However, energy levels also depend on the quantity of food you consume, not just the quality.
As mentioned above, a vegan diet is lower in calories, which is our fuel throughout the day. If you are not eating enough on a vegan diet, you may not experience the full benefits of higher and more sustained energy levels throughout the day. Knowing how much you are eating to meet the necessary vitamin, macro, and micronutrient levels is essential.
6. Improve your sleep quality
Studies have proven that a plant-based diet improves sleep quality in individuals. It is hypothesized that poor sleep quality results from bad health choices throughout the day, suggesting that healthy food choices may improve sleep.
A plant-based diet increases tryptophan (an essential amino acid) levels, which raises the body’s level of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin and melatonin directly improve an individual’s sleep quality and sleep duration. Melatonin helps you fall asleep at night, while serotonin helps you feel more awake the next day. And as we have discussed previously, better sleep lowers an individual’s risk of developing other health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
A Vegan Diet Improves Long Term Quality of Health
Following a vegan diet may improve your overall health and your long-term quality of life. However, you will only experience these benefits if you primarily eat a whole foods, plant-based diet and avoid the vegan “substitutes” that are overly processed.
Although there is substantial evidence that points to the benefits of eating vegan, it must be noted that most of these studies are observational. Therefore, following a vegan diet will not prevent you from having diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or other health conditions, it only reduces your risk of developing these.
Nonetheless, there is widespread evidence that eating a healthy diet and increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables can improve your quality of life, including reducing your risk of obesity. It is still important to monitor your macro and micronutrient intake to ensure you are meeting your optimal nutrient levels.
This article was originally published on the Bariatric Centers of America website.