Vegetarian and vegan diets have been around for a long time, but now that we’re seeing meat shortages and COVID-19 is shining a bright light on the problems and faults with our focus on meat-centric diets, more people are eating less meat or at least considering it.
The rise of vegan diets has also been attributed to health, environmental, and ethical concerns for animal welfare. Meatless diets have been linked to higher nutrient intake and a decreased risk of certain chronic diseases. And animal agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions are truly enormous. Last year a UN report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended reducing meat consumption in order to adapt to climate change.
What are the health benefits and consequences of going vegan? What happens when you switch to a plant-based diet? How will it affect your body? I’ve spent years working with clients that wanted to transition to plant-based eating. This article is a compilation of their experiences, along with current nutrition research to support their experiences.
Before we get into it, there’s something you should know: a vegetarian diet refers to one that is free of any meat or fish. However, vegetarianism has many variants (lacto-ovo vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, pescatarians). Vegan diets exclude all of those products.
Still thinking about making the switch? Here’s what you can expect when you go on a plant-based diet.
Table of Contents
- Your First Vegan Year
- Tips to Make Your First Vegan Year Successful
- Wellness and Beauty Benefits of a Vegan Diet
- You Will Still Get All the Protein You Need
- You’ll Be Eating More Nutrients
- Beans are Good for You!
- You Will Likely Lose Some Weight
- Your Taste Buds Will Adapt and Change
- Veganism Can Help With Younger Looking Skin
- You May Have More Energy
- Better Quality Sleep
- Veganism Can Lead to a Happy, Healthy Gut Microbiome
- Your Bowel Health May Change
- Your May Smell Different
- Your Immune System May Get a Healthy Boost
- Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Cognitive Decline
- A Vegan Diet Can Protect Your Eyesight
- You May Age Better
- Disease Prevention
- What Happens When You Go Vegan Conclusion
- Works Cited
Your First Vegan Year
We’ll start by breaking your experience into three major timelines: the first month, the first six months, and one year and beyond. Then we’ll get into specific conditions and how vegan dieting positively affects each.
The First Month
The first thing you may notice when starting a vegan diet is an energy boost. When people give up animal products, they usually replace those calories with plants. Eating more fruit, vegetables, grains, potatoes, and nuts will flood the body with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are lacking in most animal-based foods. Especially fiber!
Grains, potatoes, fruits, veggies, and nuts are all loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and easy-to-digest carbs that will give you both immediate and sustained energy. Processed meats, on the other hand, are lacking in carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and require more energy to digest.
Your bowel function will change.
As weeks go by without eating animal products, your gut bacteria will change, favoring anti-inflammatory bacterial families that love to feed on all of the fiber you are giving them! Bowel activity is likely to change for the better, depending on whether you previously had a healthy or irregular pattern of movement. This is due to the greater fiber content in vegan food and the rise in carbohydrates that ferment in your gut. (1)
Fiber helps your digestive system by pulling water into your intestines and keeping waste moving through your system. You’ll notice that you are more regular and will experience less constipation than you may have in the past!
But beware! These changes can come with some short-lived digestive distress!
The move from a Standard American Diet to a vegan diet comes with a bump in fiber intake. And this bump can be very large if you haven’t been eating many whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans). And then comes the gas!
But not really. If you are going vegan, you are likely going to eat more beans. And we all remember the song! But in reality, it’s not that bad. This study from the Winham and Hutchins Journal of Nutrition mentions, only a small amount of people notice an increase in gas production above their normal amount. (2)
This will settle over time and lead to positive changes in the diversity of the bacteria in the colon, especially if you are focusing on whole plant foods and limiting processed vegan foods. Remember, just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy! And the more diverse and varies your diet the better! Research is pointing to high species diversity of gut bacteria being beneficial for your whole body, not just your gut.
Read my top tips for reducing the bloat and gas some experience when moving to a vegan diet.
You’ll also have eliminated dairy. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics International, kids who drank cow’s milk had a 25 percent higher level of blood estrone, an estrogen derivative. A 20% decrease in testosterone was observed after ingesting less than the USDA’s recommended daily amount of milk. (3) So no more having your hormones hijacked by dairy.
Three to Six Months on a Vegan Diet
At this point, you may notice that your vegan diet has improved your skin and acne has cleared up. The bump in vitamins, minerals, and short-chain fatty acids from the fiber is causing changes on the inside and the outside of your body. Especially the boost in vitamin C is helping your body build collagen. Collagen is essential for skin, bone, and joint health. This helps us both look and feel younger! Your joints may stop aching and your skin will get its “healthy glow” back. (4)
Your vitamin D reserves could be dwindling by now, however. Key sources of vitamin D in our diets come from meat, fish, and dairy products. We’re still learning a lot about Vitamin D, but we do know that it’s important for bones, teeth, and muscles to be healthy. Deficiency has been linked to cancer, heart disease, headaches, and depression. (5)
Vitamin D stores only last about two months in your body. Of course, how long your stores will last depends on the time of year you decide to go vegan. Our bodies make vitamin D from sun exposure. If you decide to give vegan dieting a try in the summer, your stores are going to last longer than if you try in the middle of winter.
Get 20 to 30 minutes of direct, mid-day sun exposure between 10 am and 3 pm, as long as the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, eat plenty of fortified foods or take a supplement, especially in the winter months. This is actually the same advice for everyone! Vitamin D fortified foods or supplements during winter can really help stave off seasonal depression. (5)
Read up on all of the essential vitamins and minerals you need on a vegan diet.
Your First Year and Beyond
Over the long term, a well-balanced vegan diet that is low in salt can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Much of this is due to what plant-based foods do not contain, such as cholesterol and excess saturated fat.
Vitamin B12 levels may fall after a year on a vegan diet, especially if you don’t consume supplements. Vitamin B12 is essential for the proper functioning of blood and nerve cells, and it can only be found in animal products. (6)
Breathlessness, tiredness, forgetfulness, and tingling in the hands and feet are some of the symptoms of B12 deficiency. (6)
B12 deficiency is easily avoided by eating three portions of fortified food per day or taking a supplement. Supplementation is the best recommendation, and most people should supplement it with cyanocobalamin. Managing your B12 levels is very important and cannot be overstated. Any deficiency would ultimately negate the benefits of a vegan diet for heart disease and stroke risk and can result in permanent nerve or brain damage. (7)
You need to make sure you’re getting enough calcium at this point as well.
By the time we’re in our forties, even our bones will be affected. Our skeleton is a mineral depository and, as long as we are under the age of 30, we can consume minerals from our diet to help it grow; however, after that age, our bone mass stops increasing, so it’s critical to get enough calcium throughout childhood. (8)
A high-calcium diet when you’re young helps bones absorb and handle falls and bumps throughout your entire life.
After the age of 30, our bodies take calcium from our bones to use in the body. If we don’t replenish the calcium in our blood through diet, our bones will fill the gap and can become brittle as a result.
Vegetables like kale and broccoli, and nuts like almonds are rich in calcium and may help protect bones. But the calcium from plant foods is not as readily absorbed as calcium from dairy products, and many vegans don’t meet their calcium requirements. For these reasons, there is a 30% increased risk of fracture among vegans compared to vegetarians and omnivores. (9)
Just like with B12, taking supplements or eating plenty of calcium-fortified foods is recommended. My favorite, for my entire family, is calcium-fortified soy milk! You can easily reach your 600 to 1,000mg of calcium each day with 2 to 3 cups of fortified non-dairy milk or yogurt. Or you can take a calcium supplement specially formulated for vegan diets. Either way, get your calcium!
When considering the years ahead on a plant based diet, it’s important to keep things in balance. Vegan diets that are well-balanced may provide significant health advantages. But if the diet isn’t properly managed, many of these benefits can be lost. Supermarkets and restaurants are making it more convenient than ever to eat a varied and exciting vegan diet, and people’s appetite for meat as a whole is waning.
Tips to Make Your First Vegan Year Successful
A well-planned vegan diet is healthy and appropriate for all stages of the life cycle. Whether you are healthy, elderly, pregnant, or raising children, everyone can benefit from and thrive on a vegan diet. The key term there, however, is well-planned. The more varied and balanced you make your meals, the more benefits you will reap.
Take it Slow and Easy
Some people make the switch overnight. Almost like quitting smoking “cold turkey.” It can definitely be done! My wife did. For most people, however, eliminating one animal group at a time and replacing it with something simple is easier and can help make your vegan diet stick.
If you switch cold turkey, you may go through a bit of a breaking-in period where you might experience cravings for the foods you were used to eating. And the feeling that “I will never eat animal products again” can make things feel too final. This can be hard mentally!
Instead, newcomers should allow themselves time to study the nutritional side of things and devise a strategy for achieving their objectives at their own pace.
If you gradually adopt a plant-based diet, you will have time to get used to the logistics of a vegan lifestyle while also allowing your gut to adapt to the increased amount of dietary fiber. You could try eating vegan breakfasts for a week, then vegan lunches for another week, and so on.
Or try eliminating one animal group. Stop eating eggs for a few weeks. Find meals that can take their place. Then remove red meat. Even if you replace it with chicken, you’ll still be getting rid of your mind’s cravings for it. Drop dairy by adding soymilk in its place. Try vegan cheeses and yogurts. Eventually, you’ll find your favorite vegan alternatives, same as you found the brands you currently like.
Be Vegan, Not the World’s Healthiest Vegan
I’ve talked to and helped countless people who tried to become vegan, sugar-free, oil-free, gluten-free, soy-free, raw, alkaline, and “you name it” free all at the same time! It’s just too much! This super strict “all or nothing” approach not only makes it harder to find new vegan foods that you’ll love, but it can actually take you straight to unhealthy territory instead of achieving the ultimate health you are after.
You’ll end up feeling deprived, anxious, and like your entire world has been turned upside down if you try to do it all. Instead, concentrate on why you’re most likely here…you want to be vegan for your health, the environment, or out of concern for animal welfare. Make your Why your main priority! Then go have fun and experiment!
Life’s far too precious to waste worrying or overthinking about food all day. A vegan diet is really simple! it’s full of health-giving and body-loving meals that taste just as good as all of your old favorites.
It’s Not All or Nothing
Dichotomous, all-or-nothing thinking is a quick way to sabotage your experience. Remember that this is a journey! You’re going to “screw up” or inadvertently have an animal product at some point along the way. It’s okay! Remember your Why and get back on track.
Seafood was the hardest for me to remove from my diet. I loved seafood! Especially sushi. I could have eaten sushi every meal, every day. For the longest time, I didn’t think I could be vegan because I thought I’d miss seafood too much.
Finally, instead of thinking “I’ll never eat fish again,” I just stopped buying it. I didn’t worry about whether or not I would go out for sushi or stop by Ivar’s the next time I went to a Seahawks game – Go ‘Hawks! I just stopped buying it and cooking it at home.
After a while, I kind of realized that I hadn’t eaten any seafood for more than a year. And I didn’t miss it! Today, I can’t even imagine eating it. It holds no appeal for me.
Make small daily decisions and don’t worry about, or think about the future. What you do today is just for today. Not tomorrow, next month, or next year. Just see where the journey takes you.
Get Your B12
Veganism may appear to be limiting, but it can actually help you add some variety to your diet. Forgoing meat in favor of tofu and tempeh might just change the tone of your kitchen. However, eliminating particular components could result in lower vitamin intake, which is especially challenging to obtain from food sources.
Consider vitamin B12, for example. Vitamin B12 is important to the body’s health since it aids in the formation of red blood cells, promotes nerve tissue health, and maintains brain function. Meat, dairy products, and other animal sources are high in vitamin B12. Unfortunately, a vegan diet may leave you without enough of this vitamin as WebMD pointed out. This can result in a deficiency of B12 that can lead to weakness, nerve problems, vision loss, and depression.
If you decide to go vegan, consider taking a cyanocobalamin B12 supplement to ensure that your health remains optimal. (7)
Here is my favorite B12 supplement
Wellness and Beauty Benefits of a Vegan Diet
Now that you’ve seen some of the changes that will take place in your body throughout your first year, let’s take a look at all of the specific benefits you can expect from your new vegan diet.
You Will Still Get All the Protein You Need
Going vegan means giving up all forms of meat, dairy, and animal by-products. As a result, if you decide to go vegan, you may have concerns about where your protein will come from. That is a minor worry. Eating enough protein is critical for growth and body cell maintenance, while too little can harm your immune system.
Many people are scared of plant-based diets because they believe they will not be able to get enough protein without meat. However, many of these meals are high in protein. It’s important to maintain an eye on your protein intake, but if you’re cautious, you shouldn’t have a problem consuming enough protein.
Nuts and seeds like pistachios and quinoa, beans and peas, soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh, and other high-protein foods can all help you get the nutrients your body needs.
Just be careful with mock-meats and plant-based meat alternatives like Beyond Meat, the Impossible Burger, and Bocca. While delicious and high in protein, they are also ultra-processed and loaded with salt and oil. They make for great, high protein cheat meals, and can really be helpful for those transitioning to a vegan diet, but they should not make up the bulk of your meals.
To maximize the benefits of a vegan diet, shoot for 80% or more of your foods and meals to be whole plant foods, with the other 20% or less coming from processed foods.
You’ll Be Eating More Nutrients
When you stop eating meat and start eating vegan food, you’ll likely be eating more nutrient-dense foods.
Whole plant foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. And fiber is critically important! It has the ability to improve cholesterol levels, help you feel fuller for longer, give your body a huge energy boost, and help with both constipation and diarrhea prevention.
As you move into your new vegan diet, focus on adding in as many fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains as you can. Don’t just think about eliminating animal products. These are the foods that are going to give you the health benefits you are looking for.
Beans are Good for You!
Legumes were found to be the most important food for survival in elderly populations around the world, according to a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (10) This is an exceptional change in enterotype. This isn’t simply your stomach getting used to a high-fiber vegan diet; this is a shift in your entire gut bacteria makeup. According to the Open Access Nutrition Journal, this is a transition from a population of gut flora that may digest flesh and cause disease, to one that consumes more fiber and has higher resistance potential. (1)
People who ate a vegan diet and followed it had greater amounts of short-chain fatty acids in their bodies, according to this clinical trial from the journal appropriately named Gut. These are particularly protective, and those who didn’t follow the diet had higher levels of TMAO, trimethylamine oxide, which is a byproduct of animal-based food breakdown.
Eggs, beef, pork, and fish are the main sources of carnitine and choline converted by the gut microbiota to trimethylamine, which is then oxidized in the liver and released into circulation as TMAO…TMAO [Trimethylamine oxide] has been linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases.” (11, 12)
You Will Likely Lose Some Weight
Veganism is not designed to be a weight-loss strategy. It’s a focus on a cleaner, more compassionate way of eating by eliminating meat and animal products from your diet. You may, however, notice some changes on your bathroom scale.
Weight loss is actually a very common occurrence when switching to a vegan diet. Many people are shocked when they realize how simple it is to shed pounds after adopting a completely plant-based diet. This may be at least in part due to the fact that many plant proteins have fewer calories than meat and fish.
Red and processed meat have been linked to weight gain over time (13), as well as an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. (14) When a person switches from eating meat to a vegetarian diet, they tend to lose weight. You may get even better results by going even farther and eliminating all animal-based products from your diet.
And, since fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes tend to have more nutrients and fewer calories than animal products, you can eat less and still meet your body’s vitamin and mineral needs.
But who wants to always be eating in a calorie deficit?! Not me! According to research, becoming vegan can help overweight individuals reduce body fat and lose weight even if they consume the same amount of calories as meat-eaters. (15, 16)
In one study, participants on a vegan diet lost considerably more weight than those on a calorie-matched non-vegan diet. And researchers noted that nearly two-thirds of the weight lost by the vegan group was pure body fat!
Another research study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, examined a sample of randomized controlled trials for correlations in weight loss. Same result! The study found that vegetarian and vegan diets had promising associations with reduced body weight compared to non-vegetarian diets, with vegans achieving the greatest reductions in overall weight. (17)
Another, 16-week study of 244 people found that those who switched to a vegan diet shed an average of 14 pounds. (18)
Want another benefit? Sometimes it can be hard to find comfort foods that are also vegan. While this may be annoying when you want to grab something on the go, it has the side effect of reducing mindless grazing. The plant-based food industry is booming right now, but regularly can’t consume tempting, unhealthy samples in grocery stores since almost all of them include meat or dairy.
Any weight changes you notice when you go vegan are dependent on your diet. You might gain weight if you eat vegan junk food or excessively rely on refined carbs in place of meat and dairy. Make healthy, balanced choices, and you may lose weight, especially if your prior diet was composed of high amounts of saturated fats and processed foods.
Your Taste Buds Will Adapt and Change
Another significant advantage of adopting a vegan diet is that many vegans discover an enhanced sense of taste and new culinary desires. Veganism can alter your taste buds as a result of the emphasis on cleaner eating and the elimination of animal food sources. Even if you go a few weeks without junk foods and animal products high in salt, fat, and sugar, our research shows that your tastes start to change.
Your taste buds will be more sensitive, and those pesky cravings may be controlled!
Many new vegans claim that they lose their sweet tooth and that naturally delicious foods like apples and dates now satisfy it. Others say they can’t get enough of vegetables that they didn’t care for previously. And this isn’t just based on personal experience. Science actually confirms this taste-bud transformation. (19)
Veganism Can Help With Younger Looking Skin
Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables such as apples and carrots can assist with skin damage prevention. Beta carotene in asparagus, carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes; lutein in kale, spinach, and papaya; selenium in Brazil nuts, alfalfa seeds, and whole grains; vitamin C in most fruits and dark green leafy vegetables protect against free-radical damage and help your body produce natural collagen.
You May Have More Energy
You’ve probably heard it before. In fact, It’s become almost cliché for new vegans to talk about how energetic they feel. Perhaps it’s because new vegans are receiving a rush of plant energy and their bodies are reacting favorably to this intake of health-boosting nutrients. It could be that without the need to digest beef or other animal products, their bodies feel lighter and less weary, especially after big meals.
Increased energy levels are likely a consequence of a healthier diet overall, particularly if you’re vegan since you’re eliminating sugars and processed meals, which set you on a roller coaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes. And it’s true that most animal products are more difficult for our bodies to digest.
Now your body can focus on extracting nutrients and energy from easy-to-digest foods. You’ll feel lighter and more energetic!
Better Quality Sleep
Many new vegans notice that they sleep better as a result of their vegan diet. It’s possible that the fiber-rich diet keeps us energetic without the highs and lows that drain us, allowing us to sleep at night.
High-fat diets and the consumption of processed meats and other animal-based products seem to exacerbate sleep apnea, according to a recent 2019 study, therefore it’s obvious that animal foods can have an impact. (20)
We’re more at ease when we take care of our bodies, do all we can to protect the environment, and no longer support factory farms and slaughterhouses. And that tranquil serenity may lead to a restful slumber.
Veganism Can Lead to a Happy, Healthy Gut Microbiome
The majority of your food processing is handled by your gut. So give it some TLC! Adopting a vegan diet may really improve your gut health.
Our stomachs do a lot more than just extract nutrients from food and eliminate waste. Our gut health affects a variety of ailments, ranging from cancer to depression to diabetes to Alzheimer’s according to recent studies.
Researchers recently compared the gut microbes of vegans to omnivores. Vegans had more diverse and stable bacterial compositions than omnivores, which suggests that vegan diets could lead to a healthier microbiome over time. (21)
A vegan diet stimulates a diverse ecosystem of beneficial bacteria. And these friendly gut bugs aren’t just helpful in processing food and digestion, they are vital to maintaining your immune system, which is why they’re such an important part of your health. (21)
Animal products, on the other hand, are processed by and feed gut bacteria that are pro-inflammatory. (22)
Your Bowel Health May Change
Everybody poops. But some people find it easier than others. If you notice that your bowel actions are less than ideal, going vegan may be a remedy for you.
Fiber intake is increased by eating more plant-based meals like vegetables, beans, and whole grains. This will aid in the prevention of constipation, as well as improved bowel function and probably more regular bowel habits.
Plant-based diets’ impact on improving bowel movements has also been studied, as seen in a 2016 investigation published in Clinical Nutrition. The study discovered that a 12-week vegetarian diet followed by individuals reduced constipation and improved bowel motions. Although the group was rather small (only 40 people), the study is still significant and suggests that plant-based diets may be beneficial if you’re struggling to go when you’ve finished eating. (23)
Regularity in the bowel is good for your general health and well-being. You may, however, become more bloated than usual, particularly if you’ve recently increased your vegetable intake or if you consume brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and other veggies that are known to cause gas on a regular basis.
Switching to a vegetarian diet does not need to be limiting. Make sure you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, rather than just the same ones. Drinking more water is also beneficial and can be helpful at preventing bloating and gassiness.
Your May Smell Different
Researchers at Charles University in Prague wanted to find out whether a change in diet affects body odor, so they conducted an experiment on men who eliminated meat from their diets for two weeks. Women were asked to rate the odors of the vegan men and the meat-eating comparison group after that period. And guess what? Vegetarian males had better smelling, more pleasant, and less powerful body odors than their meat-eating counterparts. (24)
We all know that our scent changes with what we eat. Now we know that we actually smell nicer just by eating a plant-based diet.
Your Immune System May Get a Healthy Boost
Plants, especially those that are high in Essential Fatty Acid omega-rich oils, and antioxidants, can help our natural immune system fight off the cold virus before it has a chance to take hold. A plant-based diet is ideal for ensuring the effective functioning of our natural defense system. It’s not simply about food; we need to exercise, get enough rest, and avoid cigarettes and alcohol. But a plant-based diet may benefit us greatly and prevent us from acquiring infections if others around us fall ill. (25)
Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Cognitive Decline
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, a progressive brain disease that usually strikes individuals as they grow older. A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in animal products has been linked to a decreased risk of cognitive deterioration later in life. (26)
In fact, the vegan diet has been part of the groundbreaking work by Dr.s Dean and Ayesha Sherzia. They have developed a five-point treatment they claim can prevent Alzheimer’s in 90% of individuals, and delay the onset of age-related cognitive decline by up to 15 years in those with a genetic predisposition. The fourth component is eating a plant-based diet, which is part of the program. (27)
Watch them talk about the best and worst foods for Alzheimer’s.
But don’t just take their word for it. According to a study conducted at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, people who followed plant-based diets in midlife had a decreased risk of cognitive decline during later years. (28)
A Vegan Diet Can Protect Your Eyesight
Research suggests that eating more plant-based foods, especially green leafy vegetables, can improve your eye health by reducing your risk of macular degeneration. (29) A randomized controlled trial found that people who consumed a larger amount of fruits, vegetables, and grains had a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration. (30)
You May Age Better
You may have heard of the Blue Zones. These are areas of the world where people live longer and healthier than average. People who reside in these zones eat a diet that is mostly plant-based. One of the suggested reasons for a vegan diet’s longevity effects may come down to our cellular biology.
Telomeres are protective caps on the ends of DNA strands that protect our chromosomes. Think about these like the plastic caps on the ends of your shoelaces. Every time your DNA replicates, these caps get a little shorter until they can no longer protect the DNA strand from fraying. When this happens, our cells die. (31)
According to a 2018 study conducted by the University of Michigan School of Public Health, those who followed diets that emphasized “eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein and limiting consumption of sugar, sodium, and red and processed meat” had significantly longer telomeres than those who ate a standard American diet. (32) In fact, participants on a high fiber, plant-based diet had telomere lengths that equated to being 5.4 years “older” than their chronological age! (33)
Ever notice how vegans and vegetarians just seem to age so well? Now you know why!
So far everything we’ve talked about are nice little benefits to a vegan diet. But what about disease prevention? A plant-predominant or plant-exclusive diet has been shown to be protective against a range of chronic illnesses and diseases.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that those who included meat in their diet were more likely to have higher blood pressure than those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. (34) In fact, those following a plant-based diet had average systolic blood pressure as low as 110…even without medication! (35)
The scientists at Loma Linda University found that those eating a plant-exclusive diet have been shown to have lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer when compared to the general population.
Let’s get into the specifics of how a vegan diet can help prevent and reverse some of our most deadly diseases.
Veganism Can Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes
A whole-food plant-based diet, which is naturally low in fat, is a powerful tool for preventing, managing, and even reversing type 2 diabetes because it allows insulin to function properly. It has also been found to be helpful in controlling and alleviating the symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
According to a 2003 NIH study, a plant-based diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than a regular diabetes diet and resulted in substantial health gains within weeks for hundreds of people with type 2 diabetes. You wouldn’t have even known they had the condition if it weren’t for their symptoms. (36)
Veganism Can Improve Your Heart Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting approximately one-quarter of all deaths. Taking good care of your heart health is important, especially if you’ve been considering going vegan.
Replacing meat and animal products with plant-based whole grains, tubers, legumes, healthy oils, and nuts, you boost your intake of fiber, magnesium, and potassium. This reduces your risk for stroke and heart disease. (37)
And the absence of processed meats and fats can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol. These changes have also been shown to help you keep your weight down, all of which contribute to a healthier heart.
Loading up on fruit and vegetables can dramatically cut your risk of heart disease. Study after study has shown vegan diets to be more effective than typical Western ones at lowering cholesterol levels. (38)
Veganism Can Improve Your Blood Pressure
Blood pressure problems plague many Americans. It is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular illness in the United States. Blood pressure is what pumps blood around our circulatory systems to bring life-giving nutrients and eliminate waste products from every cell in our body…we need it to survive! The healthier we can keep our blood pressure, the better off we will all be!
Just remember that even a vegan diet can be unhealthy. Consuming a poor plant-based diet high in refined grains, such as pasta, white rice, and sugary beverages might raise your risk of heart disease. So if you’re going vegan for heart health, pick foods that are good for you instead of convenient options.
A Vegan Diet Can Lower Your Cholesterol
Vegan diets have been shown to lower cholesterol without the use of medication. (41)
Some of this is due to the fiber content inherent to vegan diets. The majority of the fiber in produce is soluble, which has been shown to lower cholesterol. (42)
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and binds to cholesterol in the small intestine, reducing its absorption into the bloodstream. Rather than being absorbed into your circulation and contributing to plaque buildup, cholesterol is removed from the body through your feces.
Many foods consumed on a plant-based diet are also heart-healthy. Fine pointed out that flax seeds and canola oil are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Avocados, almonds, peanuts, and other nuts are excellent sources of healthy fats that keep your heart safe. (43)
Veganism Can Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers
We all know that processed meats and all red meat ‘very likely’ cause cancer. But did you know that milk might be harmful as well? According to research, consuming as little as one cup of dairy milk every day may raise your risk of breast cancer by up to 80%. (44)
Vegan diets, on the other hand, have been linked with a lower incidence of all cancers combined. Plant-based diets include phytochemicals, which are natural chemical compounds that not only impact the color, flavor, and scent of plants but also help to protect human health and combat disease. These plant chemicals have been found in some studies to lower the risk of certain types of cancer. (45, 46, 47)
A vegan diet can also reduce your chances of getting bowel cancer. Animal-based foods, especially red and processed meats, increase the risk for colon cancer.
Veganism Can Protect Your Kidneys
Animal protein increases your kidney’s workload by making them filter out larger amounts of waste products from the blood, which then becomes more concentrated in your urine.
Your kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from the blood…so what you eat has a big impact on how well they can do their job! Eating too much animal protein increases your risk of chronic kidney disease by putting unnecessary stress on these vital organs. If you are at high risk for developing kidney disease, reducing the amount of animal protein in your diet can make a big difference. (50, 51)
Following a plant-based diet is healthier for our kidneys because it reduces the amount of work they have to do to remove waste products efficiently. This results in less strain on our kidneys and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones and chronic kidney disease.
Relieve Symptoms Of Autoimmune And Inflammation Disorders
A healthy, robust immune system is your first line of defense against disease. So what you eat can have a huge impact on your immune system’s ability to fight off illness, infections, and other diseases.
There are lots of clues that show what we put in our bodies is what will show up on the outside…as chronic illnesses or otherwise!
By switching to a vegan diet, you’ll be eating foods that are rich in antioxidants, which your body uses to fight inflammation.
An underactive immune system makes us more susceptible to illness, but an overactive one that assaults our healthy cells can cause allergies, chronic inflammation, and deadly autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Increasing our plant consumption is recommended by immunologists to assist maintain a healthy immune system.
What Happens When You Go Vegan Conclusion
Going vegan has a plethora of benefits for both your body and brain. From reducing your risk of cancer to easing symptoms of autoimmune disorders, the health perks of veganism are many. Plus, you’ll be doing your part to help reduce environmental damage and animal suffering. We hope this article has inspired you to make the switch to a vegan diet and lifestyle!
We have an amazingly supportive community here. Say hello in the comments. Tell us about your experience! This decision you’ve made is so positive to you and the world we live in, and we’ll be there for you every step of the way.
Tell us about your experience going vegan!
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