Moving to a vegan diet is one of the fastest growing trends in the diet and nutrition world. For every reason from its low environmental impact to being kind to animals, more and more people are seeing the reasons to go vegan. But what is the impact of an animal-free diet on our health? We take a closer look at the health benefits of going vegan.

1. More Efficient Digestion

The typical American diet of primarily starches and meat (think of your classic sub sandwich, pizza or pasta dinner) does not contain the recommended amount of fibre for healthy digestion (25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men) [1].

Switching to a vegan diet means that you’re likely to replace meat based sources of protein for fibre rich foods such as lentils and beans. Vegans also typically eat a higher quantity of plants in general which are high in fibre and keep the digestive process moving along efficiently.

When switching from an omnivorous to a vegan diet you should remember to drink plenty of water to help your body process the extra fibre and include a small amount of healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, to help lubricate your digestive system.

More efficient digestion leads to a decreased risk of colon cancer and diverticular disease (where pouches form in the colon).

2. Potentially Reduced Risk Of Cancer

The American Institute of Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund report that one of their main recommendations for cancer prevention is to eat mostly foods of plant origin with emphasis on non starchy vegetables, leafy plants and fruit [2].

A study carried out by Oxford University found that vegans had a 19% reduced risk of cancer compared to omnivores and the 11% risk of the vegetarian group. The famous China study conducted in the 1970s and 1980s found that there was a significant pattern between diet and cancer risk [3].

The study found that people eating ‘affluent’ diets- those high in animal fats, protein, milk, meat and eggs- were at increased risk of several cancers including lung, colon, brain and breast cancer and leukaemia.

There are also several studies into the cancer-preventing properties of vegetables, with findings reporting that consuming at least one portion of cruciferous vegetables per week greatly reduced the risk of several types of cancer.

3. Weight Loss

Cutting out high fat foods such as dairy, eggs and meat can help with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. Increasing your intake of fibre rich foods such as pulses, legumes and vegetables will help you feel full for longer and prevent overeating.

Several studies have found that people who do not eat meat are on average slimmer than those who do. However, seeing the word ‘vegan’ on food packaging does not guarantee that it is a low calorie or healthy option so be sure to thoroughly read through the nutritional facts labels before making your purchase.

Whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses and legumes as well as fermented soy products as excellent vegan choices for a reduced calorie diet.

4. Lower Blood Pressure

A diet rich in vegetables and whole grains and lower in fat, helps to reduce blood pressure. This in turn prevents conditions such as cardiovascular disease, blocked arteries and stroke.

One study known as the CARDIA study (The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) carried out over a period of 15 years, found that the more plant based foods consumed, the lower the risk of hypertension.

The opposite was found to be true of meat intake, and red or processed meats were found to be particularly bad for blood pressure.

Out of four dietary types- meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans- the vegans consistently had the lowest prevalence of raised blood pressure [4].

5. Potentially Reduced Risk Of Cataracts

Cataract surgery is one of the most common forms of surgery carried out today. A research study of over 25,000 participants found that compared to people who ate just 100 grams of meat per day, those who cut down on meat reduced their risk by 15%.

People who only ate fish lowered their risk by 21%; vegetarians had a 30% less chance of developing cataracts and vegans had a 40% reduced risk. The conclusion? People who consumed a vegan diet were the least likely to develop cataracts [5].

6. Better Skin Health

Cutting out dairy is great for skin health, and people who eat a vegan diet often notice blemishes, even long-term ones, disappearing.

Vegan diets are often high in vitamins A (carrots, butternut squash, pumpkins and dark green leafy vegetables) and E (nuts and seeds) which Masterpiece Skin Restoration state are the perfect nutrients for clear, healthy skin.

People who eat a vegan diet also avoid the hormones from meat products that stimulate the oil glands and in turn cause cystic skin issues.

One study found that found that foods that are high in carotenoid pigments such as red peppers, carrots and yellow vegetables give Caucasian skin a yellow tiny that makes it appear healthier and more attractive [6].

7. Fewer Congestion Problems

The consumption of dairy is commonly associated with congestion problems such as sinus issues and blocked or runny noses.

By switching to a vegan diet you eliminate dairy and thereby reduce your intake of casein, the cows’ milk protein that is often responsible for inflammation in your ear nose and throat cavity.

Eating vegan probiotic products such as fermented foods- think kimchi, miso, kefir and sauerkraut- can help boost your immune system and stave off blocked noses caused by colds.

8. Reduced Symptoms Of Arthritis

The inflammation that dairy causes is also partially responsible for the pain caused by arthritis inflammation symptoms.

In 2015 a study found that participants who followed a vegan diet for three weeks saw a significant reduction in C-reactive protein, a key indicator for both acute and chronic inflammation [7].

In a second study people with arthritis who followed a vegan diet for three and a half months found that participants found a marked reduction in pain and inflammation.

9. Better Gut Health

As well as more efficient digestion, people who consume a vegan diet have a lower incidence of the bacterial microbe B.wadsworthia which is linked to inflammatory bowel disease [8].

People who ate a vegan diet also had less fecal bile acid inside their digestive system and less risk of the related gastrointestinal infections.

Another study found that compared to omnivores and vegetarians, vegans had the largest amounts of F. prausnitzii, the most abundant bacteria in the digestive system of healthy adults. This bacteria protects against metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes, intestinal disorders and obesity.

10. Reduced Risk Of Diabetes

Vegans have been found to have, on average, lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity and up to a 78% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

People consuming a vegan diet even had lower blood sugar levels than people on a diet prescribed by the American Diabetes Association, National Cholesterol Education Program and American Heart Association.

In one study 43% of people who started following a vegan diet were able to reduce their medication to lower blood sugar compared to 26% of people following a diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association [9].

Another study found that people with diabetes who swapped their meat intake for plant protein sources could reduce their risk of poor kidney function, and that people with diabetes who follow a vegan diet could eliminate their symptoms of systemic distal polyneuropathy (a sharp burning pain).

Conclusion

Transitioning to a vegan diet has multiple short term and long term health benefits as well as a positive impact on the environment and animal welfare. Making small changes towards a plant based diet can be one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental wellbeing; see The Vegan Society’s website for more vegan diet and lifestyle tips.

Hannah Canavan
Hannah Canavan
Researcher at DietProbe
Hannah is a health and lifestyle journalist with a passion for veganism and nutrition.
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