As plant-based diets gain support globally, there has been a lot of information lost between those who promote it and those who resist it. Together with social media’s tendency to condense things into memes and short quotes, it may not always be easy to get a complete picture of what a plant-based diet really entails.
A plant-based diet consists of food that comes solely from plants and is free of animal products such as meat, milk, eggs, or honey.
Experts advise that a vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate and help to prevent chronic diseases. However, someone must plan a vegan diet appropriately to gain the health benefits and avoid nutrient deficiencies. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for preventing and treating certain diseases.
Furthermore, it confirms that plant-based diets are appropriate for all life cycle stages and athletes. In addition, the academy points out that vegans have a lower risk of certain health conditions and chronic diseases.
The British Dietetic Society advises that well-planned plant-based diets can support healthy living at every age and life stage. However, it suggests that there are specific nutrients that vegans must be aware of consuming in sufficient amounts. These include:
- vitamin B12
- omega-3 fatty acids
- vitamin D
People can achieve their recommended intake of some of these nutrients through whole foods and fortified foods.
However, experts advise that vegans can take a supplement to meet daily amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, some manufacturers design multi-nutrient supplements for vegans to ensure they get the correct dosages.
Vegans who are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak to their healthcare provider about taking supplements. If they are deficient in vitamin B12, they may not provide adequate amounts through their milk. They may also need an iron supplement as non-heme iron is less bioavailable than animal sources. They may need other nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, so they should always check with a doctor.
It is important to point out that like any other diet, fresh is best. Eating all manner of processed foods, vegan, plant-based, or otherwise is still going to be unhealthy. So, while there may be a glut of ready-made vegan products, it pays to read the labels! Avoid vegan junk food that is ultra-processed that contain high levels of sugar, fat, or salt.
Foods such as fake meats often contain fillers and additives and are not nutrient-dense. Occasionally eating these foods may not cause a problem, but vegans should avoid relying on them for essential nutrients and should focus on eating mainly whole foods.
In a nutshell….
A well-planned and a well-researched plant-based diet is not only healthy but can aid in weight loss and reduce the risks of hypertension, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. It can also improve gut bacteria and is rich in antioxidants. Through these health benefits, a plant-based diet can also improve mental health.
The main drawback of a vegan or plant-based diet is not planning it properly.
*This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice.