Veganism has seen a growth in popularity in recent years, with four times as many people adopting the diet in the UK than four years ago.
It’s thought that increased concerns regarding health, animal welfare and the environment are primarily responsible, though many believe social media and influencer culture could also play a part.
While the benefits for animal welfare and the environment are undeniable, there is some conflict over whether veganism is actually a healthier alternative to a omnivorous diet.
Are vegans healthier than omnivores?
A recent analysis, which collated the results of 10 different studies that compared the health of vegetarians and vegans against that of omnivores, suggests it can.
Researchers found that being a vegetarian or vegan can significantly lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, although there’s no evidence that it can reduce mortality from all causes.
To put it simply, eating a meat-free or meat and dairy-free diet has the potential to increase overall health while reducing the likelihood of certain diseases and conditions, but it won’t necessarily increase lifespan.
Is a lack of meat and dairy solely responsible?
However, it’s worth noting that it’s difficult to say whether the health differences between vegans and vegetarians versus meat eaters are solely down to diet alone. For example, vegans are often found to be more health conscious in other areas of their life and therefore some of the health benefits may be a result of more exercise, less alcohol and an avoidance of cigarettes.
Do vegan diets lack nutrients?
Although veganism can bring a whole host of benefits, it does run the risk of vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, so it’s important that vegans seek ways to introduce it into their diets. Vegan-friendly foods rich in Vitamin D include mushrooms, soy milk, almond milk, and tofu. Vitamin D supplements can also be helpful.
An iodine deficiency can also be common amongst vegans. Iodine can be found in seaweed, though exact levels are unpredictable. Iodine supplements are recommended.
To ensure enough vitamin B12 is obtained, fortified breakfast cereal and nutritional yeast is recommended.