Posted on Nov 11, 2019, 3 p.m.
Going Vegan means that you don’t eat or use any products coming from an animal. Vegetarian doesn’t eat meat but can still eat dairy and use products such as leather if they choose to, and is not a strict as the nothing that comes from anything with a face as a vegan diet. Then you have flexitarian which is primarily plant based, but still eats and uses animal products; basically there are many styles of diet.
The vegan movement is gaining ground, and the number of self described vegans has increased by 350% in the UK alone; this change stems from various reasons such as concerns about animal welfare, religious reasons, concerns over hormones pumped into animals, and just in general wanting a healthier diet.
Veganism can have health benefits according to research if the diet is well planned. Switching to a vegan diet can result in significant changes within the body for a person who up to that point had followed a diet rich in meat and dairy for most of their lives such as reduced risk of excessive weight, heart disease, and certain cancers.
When switching to a vegan diet typically the first thing people report within the first few weeks is an energy boost after replacing animal products with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as these types of foods will boost your vitamins, minerals, and fiber levels far more than any convenience foods that are heavily processed ever could. Thinking ahead and planning your meals can also help you to sustain consistent energy levels without all those taxing spikes and drops.
Without animal based products being consumed as time moves into weeks there will be a shift in bowel function which will either be a more regular healthy pattern, or there could be increased bloating, wind and loose motions; this change is due to the higher fiber content and the simultaneous increase in carbohydrates that will ferment in the gut and can cause irritable bowel syndrome.
This may settle eventually, which may lead to some positive changes in the diversity of bacteria in the gut and colon, depending on whether the new diet is made up of processed food and refined carbohydrates or if it is well planned and balanced. A high species diversity of gut bacteria is believed to be beneficial for the entire body in the same way that ecosystems are stronger as a result of many different types of species thriving within it.
Three to six months into the vegan diet some may find the increased fruits and vegetables paired with reduced processed foods helps to clear up acne. However, by this point stores of vitamin D may be dropping as you have eliminated key sources of it from your diet with the animal based products. Vitamin D deficiency isn’t always noticeable until it is too late, but it is important to keeping bones, teeth, and muscles healthy, deficiency is linked to depression, heart disease, migraines, muscle wasting, reduced strength, impaired brain function, osteoporosis, and some cancers. Vitamin D stores now depend on the time of year you switch to vegan and how much time you spend outside because the body makes it from sunlight. Be sure to take a supplement or look for fortified foods, especially in winter.
As the months pass and the intake of nutrients such as calcium, zinc, and iron are reduced on the new vegan diet the body will become more efficient at absorbing them from the intestine, but the adaptation may not be enough to prevent deficiencies from occurring in some people, in these cases, supplements can help to fill the shortfall.
A well balanced vegan diet which is low in salt and processed foods can also have impressive benefits for cardiovascular health to help prevent heart disease, strokes, and reducing the risk of diabetes, these benefits can start to take effect within a few months.
After six months and moving towards a year on a vegan diet your vitamin B12 stores may also become depleted. This nutrient is only found in animal based products, and it is essential to healthy functioning of blood and nerve cells; deficiency symptoms include but are not limited to exhaustion, poor memory, tingling in hands/feet, and breathlessness. This shortfall can also be filled with supplements or fortified foods, but it must be managed or it will negate any benefits from this diet and can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, fatigue, impaired brain function, megaloblastic anemia, and it can cause permanent brain and nerve damage.
After a few years of being on a strictly vegan diet even the bones will start to change. Until the age of 30 our skeleton is a mineral store which can be added to, after that the bones do not absorb minerals anymore and this is where getting enough calcium becomes important to stay strong. After 30 the body harvests calcium from the skeleton for use within the body, if this is not replenished via diet our bones will fill the void and become brittle. Managing calcium intake is vital, vegetables rich in calcium can help to protect the bones. However, research shows that many vegans are not meeting the requirements and face a 30% increased risk of fracture compared to vegetarians as plant based calcium is harder to absorb therefore supplements or plenty of fortified foods are recommended.
While following a vegan diet planning a well balanced one is key, as they may have some significant health benefits. If a deficiency is allowed to form it can offset many of the benefits associated with this diet if not managed carefully. Supermarkets, food outlets, and health food stores are making it easier to find what is needed to enjoy a varied vegan diet, with the right preparation a vegan diet can be good for human health.
As always it is recommended to consult with a medical professional before starting any diet or taking supplements to determine if it is best for you, avoid any possibility of complications/interactions, and to design a healthy plan of action to meet your needs.
While you may be happy and proud of your new diet please keep in mind that it is fine to talk about it with those that are interested, but please try not to get all preachy and try to shame others for what they choose to eat. Shaming and being judgmental makes everyone look bad and this will not accomplish anything, in fact it is more likely to push them to do more of what you are chastising them for while lessening the chances of them ever contemplating making a healthier dietary switch.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.