Whatever your reason for choosing a vegan diet, it’s important to know exactly what your decision can do to your body. While you’re likely to notice many positive changes, it’s also important to be aware of the risks.
To help you get the most out of being vegan, our expert nutritionists have looked at the pros and cons you need to know about.
Pros of a vegan diet
If you’ve adopted a vegan diet, you’ve probably done so for either nutritional or ethical reasons, or both. Let’s take a look at some of the best reasons to go vegan.
Your diet will be lower in saturated fat
The lack of meat or dairy in your diet makes it easier to consume less saturated fat. This will improve your health in a number of ways.
It’ll help you lose weight, reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower your blood pressure, which protects you against heart disease. There’s also evidence to suggest that going vegan can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
You’ll enjoy a wide range of nutrients
Enjoying a plant-based diet means you’re potentially more likely to eat a wider variety of fruit and vegetables. These are rich in antioxidants that help protect your body against diseases, as well as a range of nutrients, such as:
|Nutrient||Which vegan foods will you find it in?|
|Beta carotene (which your body converts into Vitamin A)||Yellow, red and green vegetables, yellow fruit|
|Vitamin B1||Fresh fruit, dried fruit, peas|
|Vitamin B6||Vegetables, soya beans, potatoes, peanuts|
|Folic acid||Spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, chickpeas|
|Vitamin C||Citrus fruit, strawberries, blackcurrants, peppers, broccoli|
|Vitamin E||Nuts and seeds|
|Vitamin K||Leafy greens, vegetable oil, cereal|
|Calcium||Leafy greens (except spinach), soya beans, tofu, nuts|
|Iron||Dried fruit, pulses, beans, nuts, whole grains, leafy greens|
|Potassium||Bananas, parsnips, nuts, seeds, pulses|
Other important nutrients, such as Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, can be found in specially fortified foods, such as cereals and vegan milk.
Your digestion will improve
We’re meant to eat at least 30g of fibre a week, but a lot of people in the UK don’t get enough. That’s because fibre is only found in plant-based foods. If your diet contains a lot of meat and dairy, you’re less likely to get what you need.
It follows that when your diet is 100% plant-based, it becomes easier to get enough fibre. Achieving this will improve your digestive health.
You’ll get soluble fibre from fruit, root vegetables and grains. This makes your poo softer and easier to pass. Then there’s insoluble fibre, which is found in bran, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and helps food move through your digestive system easily.
A further benefit of fibre is that it fills you up, so you’ll be less likely to need a snack between meals. This is very helpful if weight loss is your aim.
Ethics and environment
While not a nutritional factor, the moral aspect is certainly important for many vegans.
Some people are simply happier in the knowledge that no animal has suffered in the preparation of their meal. Others point to factors such as environmentally-friendly farming practices to support their decision.
Cons of a vegan diet
Any diet that restricts a large group of foods must be approached carefully. Vegans face a number of everyday problems that can have a negative impact on their health and stop them enjoying their food.
A vegan diet isn’t automatically healthy
Becoming vegan doesn’t necessarily mean your diet will be healthy. It will only work if you make the correct choices.
For example, chips are vegan, but you don’t need us to tell you that basing your diet around them could have bad long-term health consequences. Whether you eat animal products or not, it’s still important to eat a balanced diet containing a full range of nutrients.
You might miss out on important nutrients
There are certain nutrients that are found in larger quantities in meat and dairy. Protein is linked to meat and fish, iron is associated with red meat and fish is well known as a great source of omega-3.
While we’ve already seen that you can get these nutrients from plant-based sources, they’re present in smaller amounts here. It can take a lot of careful planning to ensure your nutritional needs are met and avoid health problems.
A vegan diet isn’t always easy to follow
Getting the full benefits of a vegan diet can be a challenge. Any controlled meal plan needs variety to keep it interesting, otherwise you might find yourself falling into bad habits.
You need to keep an eye on all your food labels too, as it’s not always obvious if your food contains animal products. While the inclusion of egg or dairy is always highlighted, certain ingredients don’t come with a special warning and it may not be clear that they’re unsuitable for vegans, such as:
|Ingredient||What is it made from?||Where will you find it?|
|Rennet||Calf stomach lining||Cheese (which is, of course, unsuitable for vegans anyway)|
|Pork gelatin||Boiled ligaments, skin and tendons||Chewing gum, sweets|
|Isinglass||Fish bladders||Beer and wine (although many breweries, including Guinness, have removed it from their brewing process)|
|Carmine food colouring||Crushed beetles||Any food that has been dyed red|
|L. Cysteine||A protein derived from duck feathers||Used to give bread or dough its texture|
|Bone char||Charred animal bones||Used to filter sugar. While most UK sugars are vegan, a small minority still use bone char, so it's best to check manufacturer websites to be certain|
Then there’s the issue of dining out. While the options for vegans are certainly getting better, when you’re out in a group, you may find that the menu doesn’t offer you a great deal of choice.
Vegan swaps for a healthy diet
If you’re looking for ways to enjoy a healthy vegan diet, our nutritionists have prepared a list of food swaps you can try. You’ll find meat substitutes that provide a great source of vegan protein, as well as vegan dairy substitutes and ways to get enough iron and omega-3.Explore our vegan food swaps