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The pros and cons of being vegan

Updated 9 January, 2018

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.

Basket of vegetables

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


Bowl of salad

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


Chips

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


Man looking at menu

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 white sugar and give it it’s bright colour

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

Topics: Diet & Nutrition