Is veganism healthy?

The Plant Based Scout

“Is veganism healthy?” One of the most common questions put to me as a plant-based food scout for Soil to Soul.

Those who abstain from the use of animal products contribute significantly to the well-being of the environment and have little to suffer with regard to ethical conflict. Where personal well-being is concerned, however, it is incredibly important to remember that not all vegan foods are automatically healthy. A vegan diet can be as unhealthy as any other when it is based on processed foods, fat and sugar-rich products with not enough fruit and veg. The same rules apply here as for all living beings: this primarily means avoiding the consumption of processed foods with their typical high levels of fat and sugar. Vegan nutrition from the freezer and ready-made meals aisles is a no-go unless the circumstances are exceptional. Nobody should fall for the buzzword "vegan" thinking that these processed foods are healthier than others! It is much more important to aim for as high a proportion of unprocessed, fresh foods as possible on the plate, such as fruit and vegetables, fibre-rich wholegrain products, protein-rich legumes, nuts and seeds.

Vegan is not necessarily healthy
Most quick-to-prepare products (high processed foods) that you buy in practical plastic packaging with trendy logos on them contain emulsifiers, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. Featured on the image in this article, Omnipork is a product that contains dextrose, methyl cellulose and maltodextrin. Ingredients like these are found in many processed foods, and, vegan or not, they have a negative long-term impact on your health. The three most common groups of additives are emulsifiers, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, as well as trans fats. Emulsifiers are used in industrially produced foods to improve texture and extend shelf life, but they can cause digestive problems. Studies suggest that emulsifiers can cause inflammation in the intestines, which has been linked to disturbances in intestinal flora and an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats are found in many industrially produced baked goods, snacks, and processed foods. These fats are formed when vegetable oils are partially or fully hydrogenated to improve their shelf life and stability. Trans fats are known to increase LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) while decreasing HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). This increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. In addition, trans fats can promote inflammation in the body and increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and certain cancers. The way out involves planning, but is all the more enjoyable and mindful for it: a conscious decision to eat natural, unprocessed foods and to prepare fresh and homemade meals at home using high-quality vegetable oils can help.

… but health and a vegan diet do of course go together
So a vegan diet does not automatically protect against the diseases of civilization that affect the general population. However, a renunciation of animal products and a focus on natural plant foods certainly leads to a higher intake of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. According to numerous studies, a balanced vegan diet reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It is also likely to contribute to a healthier body weight and reduce the risk of obesity. By the way – it is sensible even for those who do not eat a vegan diet not to eat meat every day. The digestion of meat leads to the build-up of undesirable breakdown products in the intestine, which can have an unfavourable effect on the body in the long run. There is nothing here that speaks against a "cucina povera", the same that maintained our great-grandparents. In those days, meat or fish was on the table no more than once or twice a week, and nobody ever complained. This amount of meat and fish is in line with the Planetary Health Diet, which states how everyone in the world could eat in a sustainable and healthy way. A strict, plant-based diet could result in deficiency symptoms: Vitamin B12 must be supplemented because this vitamin is found in plant-based diets, but it is not bioavailable to the body.

Those who aspire to the vegan diet should not be afraid to seek nutritional advice or acquire a lot of know-how themselves. An individual consultation or deep examination of the topic helps to create a balanced nutrition plan and identify possible B12 deficiencies. Ultimately, the health of a good diet, whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, depends on careful planning and implementation. There are many health benefits to a plant-based diet, but it's especially important to eat as natural as possible and to consciously address nutrients to avoid potential deficiencies.