A vegan diet has been given a lot of attention these days and more and more people are embracing this way of eating. Mainstream restaurants such as Earls, Joey’s and Boston Pizza and popular fast food chains such as A & W have added a variety of plant-based options to their menu making it much easier for vegans to enjoy a meal out. However, there is a lot of debate between the plant-based and meat-eating communities about if going vegan is the healthiest dietary choice. In this blog, I will answer the question, “Is a vegan diet healthy,” so you can make an informed choice about your health.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is defined by the Vegan Society as, “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
The top three reasons why people choose to embrace a vegan diet are:
According to many surveys, the number one reason many people choose to go vegan is for ethical reasons. Eating a diet rich in animal products means that one is contributing to the suffering, cruel treatment and killing of animals. No matter what marketing propaganda tells us there is no humane way to kill a living being. The sad part is, that due to the high demand of meat, dairy and egg products factory farms have turned raising and killing animals into nothing more that a heartless money-making business that has no regard for the animals or the humans working in the factories. Therefore, choosing to no longer eat animals is most often an ethical choice because of one’s love for animals and the respect of living things. No longer eating animals means one chooses to no longer support this cruel, inhuman and unnecessary business model.
As we have seen in recent media coverage, eating a diet rich in animal-based products is detrimental to the environment. According to many resources, raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water. The high demand for meat, dairy and eggs has resulted in large factory farming and many negative effects in the environment such as climate change, pollution and destruction of rainforests. Therefore, choosing to no longer consume, or use, animal products will reduce this destruction and help preserve the health of the planet.
Many decades of research studying the effects of eating animal-based foods and its effect on health have proven that there are more negative outcomes than positive. Animal-based diets have been shown to increase risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Whereas a diet rich in plant-based foods has been proven to prevent and even reverse such diseases. As a result, many health care professionals are recommending a more plant-rich diet to their clients and many consumers, who desire to have good health, are now choosing to eat less or cut out animal-based foods completely.
Is eating a vegan diet the healthiest choice?
If research has proven that eating a diet rich in plants is the only way to prevent and reverse chronic disease, and the American Dietetic Association agrees that eating a well-balanced vegan diet is the healthier than animal-based diets, then why are so many vegans unhealthy?
This is a great question and one that I get asked a lot!
At a visit to my naturopath, the first time I met her and after she found out I was vegan, she looked at me surprised and said, “I’m surprised you have been vegan for over 10 years. You look so healthy. Most vegans I see are malnourished.” The sad fact is, she is right. Many vegans are not getting the adequate nutrition they need to maintain good health in the long-term and many don’t see the results, such as weight loss and reversal of disease, they desire when making the switch to a vegan diet.
So, again, why is this happening?
Many people who choose to embrace a vegan lifestyle are not seeing the best health results for a variety of different reasons such as:
1) Not eating enough calories.
When choosing to go vegan many people just cut out meat and begin to eat nothing but vegetables, like salads. Yes, eating salads and a variety of greens is good for you but they cannot be the only source of food as they do not have the adequate amount of calories or nutrients for one to live off of.
For example, six ounces of beef contains 500 calories, 26 grams of fat, 52 grams of protein and 0 carbohydrates and fibre. Whereas 3 cups of spinach contains 23 calories, 0.3 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, 3.8 grams of carbohydrates and 2.4 grams of fibre.
If you stop eating beef and replace this with nothing but a simple green salad or spinach leaves that’s a huge difference in calories! It’s no wonder people don’t feel good when they make the switch from eating animals products to eating like a rabbit! They just simply don’t have enough fuel in their body for it to run effectively.
It’s important to eat a variety of foods that provide you with enough calories and nutrients to keep the body functioning at its optimal level.
2) Eating too much processed junk food.
This is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t lose weight or improve their health when they switch to a vegan diet. There are many delicious vegan foods out there such as bread, pasta, fake meats, cakes, cookies, chips and ice cream but these foods are junk food. For any diet to be healthy, junk food cannot be consumed on a regular basis. These foods are only meant to be consumed as occasional treats not a daily indulgence. Just because something is labelled vegan does not mean it is healthy.
What is a whole-food, plant-based diet?
For many years, I said I ate a vegan diet; however, recently I’m not a fan of that term. The reason is that too many people are eating a junk food vegan diet and not taking care of their health in a way that reflects respect and compassion for their body. Don’t get me wrong, I am not always perfect and love nothing more than to indulge in a vegan cupcake, cookie, cinnamon bun or ice cream but this can’t happen on a daily basis if you want to lose weight or achieve optimal health.
The best diet to achieve optimal health and performance and to lose excess body fat is a whole-food plant-based diet. This type of diet includes a variety of foods from these categories:
- Nuts, and
Therefore, to answer the question, is a vegan diet the healthiest choice the answer is no if it is filled with nothing but processed junk food. But if it is rich in whole, plant-based foods, then YES it is the healthiest way to eat.
What to do now…
If you are thinking of making the switch to a vegan, or whole-food plant-based diet and have no idea where to start then I suggest learning as much as you can about the proper nutrients and how many calories you will need to sustain your activity. Trust me, this is not that easy to do on your own. I have studied this information for many years and have done a lot of trial and error to figure this out. I have helped many clients make the switch who have been able to sustain the diet, achieve better health and lose excess body fat.
To achieve your best results and get the results you desire once and for all I encourage you to register for my 12-week health coaching program. Within this program we will not only look at your diet and lifestyle as a whole but get you to the point where making healthy lifestyle choices is no longer a chore but who you are. Once you complete this program you will feel healthier, happier and be well on your way to living your best life.
I hope this information about the difference between a vegan diet and one that’s rich in whole, plant-based foods has given you some insight and inspiration to make the switch to a vegan diet in a healthy way. When you do, you will feel better, have more energy and be able to do the actives you want to do each day.
Research & Resources
I suggest before making any decisions about dietary changes that you do as much research as you can and learn from credible resources. The problem is, that even people who have the credentials often adjust the results of studies to lead the consumer in the direction of their agenda. It’s important to take a look at as much credible research as possible even though this can be very time consuming and frustrating.
Here are three of my favourite resources from people who are well-studied on the topic of whole-food plant-based diets and how these diets are beneficial for the body:
Dr. Greger – NutritionFacts.org
T. Colin Campbell – The China Study
Until next time,
Wishing you healthy abundance.
Rachel Joy Olsen, BSc., MBA
Plant-based nutrition, health & wellness coach