Published on September 12th, 2018 | by Dr. Doug Pucci0
Facts to Consider Before Going Vegan
by Doug Pucci
The debate over whether a vegan diet is healthier than a diet that includes animal products has been going on for decades. Both sides have presented opposing information, which is confusing for anyone trying to decide which side of the argument makes more sense.
Doctors are seeing an increasing number of young vegans that experience a range of health problems; from hormonal imbalances caused by incredibly low cholesterol to anxiety stemming from poor blood sugar management. Doctors don’t challenge their choice to be vegan, as most adopt a vegan lifestyle for completely understandable reasons, whether religious or over animal welfare, environmental or health concerns. They work with them to restore good health within their chosen dietary parameters.
When trying to decide whether to go vegan like approximately 2 million other Americans have, there’s more to consider than how to get enough protein through non-meat sources. First, it’s important to understand the known health concerns associated with any dietary shift before embarking upon it.
Vegan is different from vegetarian in that a vegan diet not only eliminates all meats and fish, it also excludes any and all products from meat or fish sources, such as dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.), eggs, gelatin and so on. While plant-based diets are generally associated with lower cholesterol, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure and the like, these health benefits are achieved only through appropriately planned diets, according to the American Dietetic Association.
One of the pitfalls people may find on a vegan diet is not getting enough of the important nutrients that are provided by animal products. Protein, of course, is one of the primary deficiencies vegans can face if they don’t have a complete understanding of the difference between plant and animal proteins, as well as their body’s protein requirements. Because plant proteins are different than animal proteins, vegans may need to take in more grams of plant protein than would be required from animal proteins. Also, it’s important to get plant proteins from a variety of sources, such as nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, lentils and more.
Because the heme iron in animal products is better absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron in plant sources, a sufficient amount of vitamin C needs to be included in the vegan diet, which increases absorption of non-heme iron. On the other hand, consideration should be given to the fact that phytic acid in the same plant protein sources, such as lentils, whole grains, nuts and beans can inhibit non-heme iron absorption.
Another important nutrient found mainly in animal and dairy products is vitamin B12, which helps regulate the nervous system. Deficiencies in this vital vitamin can cause health problems that range from fatigue and immune system disorders to pernicious anemia and neurological issues. Vegans need to make sure they choose foods fortified with vitamin B12 and/or take B12 supplements. Always check with a functional medicine doctor to make sure any supplements are are pure and of the right amount.
Omega-3 fatty acid, derived mainly from fish and eggs, is an important nutrient in many ways, including controlling blood pressure and contributing to heart health. If a diet is missing or low in Omega-3s, we may experience symptoms like fatigue, poor concentration, dryness of hair, nails, eyes and skin, sleep problems, moodiness, irritability, joint discomfort, lower energy and others. A high-quality Omega-3 supplement, as well as including flaxseed and walnuts, in our diet is important to avoid these issues, as well as other long-range health problems.
Sometimes people following what they consider to be a healthy diet forget that they also need to be vigilant about the amount of added refined sugars they ingest. Vegan snacks and desserts, especially if they’re processed, may fit within the scope of a vegan diet, but if consumed too frequently, they can still cause health problems. Similarly, soda may be vegan, but it’s an unhealthy beverage choice for anyone and should be avoided.