Nov 27, 2023
Health Benefits Of A Vegan Diet
There is increased consumption of calorie-dense foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, fast foods, meat, and less consumption of daily servings of fruits and vegetables among modern-day people. Chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are at an all-time high and are known to be heavily impacted by diet and lifestyle.
Healthy eating has been advocated as a cost-effective intervention to improve health outcomes. In this plight, a vegan diet has experienced an increase in popularity.
This article gives an insight into the possible impact of the vegan diet on weight loss, cardiac health, diabetes, and gut health.
WHAT IS A VEGAN DIET?
A vegan diet is a diet pattern that encourages one to eat plant-based foods and excludes meat, dairy, eggs, and often honey. A vegan diet encourages high intake of whole plant-based foods, cereals, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
A vegan diet is characterized by low cholesterol, high fiber content, a good amount of vitamin C, E, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemicals.
Vegan diets tend to have fewer trans fats and saturated fats (which are found mainly in processed foods and animal-based foods).
DOES A VEGAN DIET CONTRIBUTE TO WEIGHT LOSS?
Studies suggest that a diet void of animal-based foods and rich in plant-based foods would affect one’s body fat percentage and body mass index.
Your calorie intake largely impacts the weight you gain. Minimally processed foods of plant origin are both high in water content and fiber content that make them low in calorie density. Calorie density is the number of kilocalories (Kcal) per unit weight of food.
Consuming low-calorie dense foods contribute to feelings of fullness while regulating your calorie intake.
Example: 100g carrots contribute to 41 Kcal while 100g eggs provide 155 Kcal.
Dietary fiber might lower your energy intake by triggering satiety cues such as increased gastric distension, likely caused by the enhanced chewing of fiber-rich foods together with gel formation due to water absorption by soluble fiber. Gel formation by soluble fiber may delay gastric emptying and prolong nutrient absorption, promoting satiety and moderating post-prandial insulinemic and glycemic response.
DOES A VEGAN DIET CONTRIBUTE TO A HEALTHIER GUT?
A healthy gut contributes to a great extent to good health maintenance. An imbalance of the gut microbiota can give rise to gastrointestinal conditions, such as acid reflux, peptic ulcers, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and inflammatory bowel disease. Studies suggest that a plant-based diet fosters more diverse and stable microbial systems.
High-fiber plant foods like legumes, greens, lentils, avocados, berries, apples, bananas, carrots, beans, and bitter guard increase lactic acid bacteria, such as Ruminococcus, and reduce Clostridium and Enterococcus species.
Polyphenols found in plant foods increase Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which provide anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory effects. Short-chain fatty acids are produced during the fermentation of fiber, the SCFA regulates the pH of the gut, serves as an energy source for colon cells, controls appetite, combats inflammation, regulates the immune system.
A plant-based diet is made up predominantly of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids which favour the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the human gut.
The higher proportion of lignin in plant foods (especially raw plant foods) means lower nutrient bioavailability of macronutrients in foods. This means the nutrients reach lower in the gastrointestinal system, thus enriching nutrient delivery to the gut microbiota.
DOES A VEGAN DIET CONTRIBUTE TO CARDIAC HEALTH?
Low content of saturated fats and a high proportion of unsaturated fats in plant foods can improve your lipid profile.
Vegan diets are rich in polyphenols and natural bioactive compounds which display a high antioxidant capacity. Polyphenols modulate the production of nitric oxide (NO) which allows for the reduction of LDL-oxidation, inhibits platelet aggregation, reduces vascular inflammation, and preserves endothelial function.
Vegan diets tend to be low in bioavailable phosphate, where high phosphate levels are associated with an increased risk of cardio health.
Vegan diets are rich in potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium, studies show potassium to be beneficial in reducing blood pressure and the risk of stroke, which vitamin E and magnesium are highly beneficial for good heart health.
Many studies have found that plant-based diets, especially when rich in high-quality whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are found to be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular outcomes.
DOES A VEGAN DIET CONTRIBUTE TO DIABETES MELLITUS?
Refined grains are implicated in weight gain and insulin resistance.
Vegan diets tend to be lower in saturated fat, higher in fiber, fruit, vegetables, and other protective substances like phytochemicals and antioxidants as a result, they fit well with dietary guidelines for people with diabetes.
Plant-based diets tend to be low in saturated fat, advanced glycation end products, nitrosamines, and heme iron dietary elements that have been associated with insulin resistance in metabolic studies.
Consuming foods that have a high glycemic index (how quickly the body converts carbs into energy) are thought to be associated with greater insulin resistance and a greater risk factor for diabetes. Fiber-rich plant-based diets are characterized by a low glycemic index.
Green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, fruits like apples, grapes, and blueberries have been linked to lower diabetes rates.
Plant-based foods are high in magnesium, all of which have been shown to promote insulin sensitivity.
Fiber, which is found in plant foods, modulates postprandial glucose response, and is fermented by intestinal bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, which improve the glucose response and insulin sensitivity.
DOES A VEGAN DIET DEPRIVE YOU OF CERTAIN NUTRIENTS?
Though the bioavailability of certain nutrients like vitamin A, iron, and zinc is lower in plant-based foods than in animal foods, these nutrients can be obtained in the recommended amounts in a well- planned and well-balanced vegan diet that include a wide variety of plant foods.
Consumption of omega 3 fatty acids by vegans is facilitated by consuming plant foods with relatively high levels of omega 3, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp, walnuts, olive oil, canola oil, blackcurrant seed oil, seaweed, and algae.
Since vitamin B12 and vitamin D are naturally found in foods of animal origin, the only reliable source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D for vegans is to consume foods fortified with this nutrient or rather take supplements.