Veganism – does it really have health benefits?

Veganism has become hugely popular in recent times. More than half a million people in UK are now opting for a plant-based, vegan diet.

But what benefits does a vegan diet have for your health? We’ve sat down with our GMC registered GP Dr Tang to discuss the benefits and drawbacks to veganism.

Dr Tang please can you tell us some of the health benefits associated with veganism?

“Vegan diets tend to include a lot more fruit and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins and minerals and high in fibre. Eating more fruit and vegetables can decrease the risk of diseases such as bowel cancer.

“Vegans also tend to eat more wholegrains, soy and nuts, all of which can help to protect your heart. Avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat, such as red meat and cheese, a vegan diet can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.

“More often than not, vegan diets are usually lower in calories because of the lack of meat and dairy products. Therefore, a vegan diet can be a good way to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Having a healthy weight decreases your chances of diseases linked with being overweight, such as diabetes and heart disease.”

Are there any potential health risks of going vegan?

“There can be a risk of nutritional deficiencies within a vegan diet, including a lack of calcium (from diary) and vitamins B12 and D.

“This doesn’t mean that veganism isn’t something worth trying, you should just take extra care to plan and balance your diet and may need take nutritional supplements.

“All of us need a variety of sources of protein in our diet to get the right mix of amino acids, which help to build and repair cells in our bodies. Meat and dairy products offer an easy way to achieve this, while vegans need to plan more carefully to get the balance right.”

Please can you give us some examples of protein sources for vegans?

Good sources of protein for vegans can include pulses and beans, cereals, soya products and nuts and seeds.

“Whether you’re vegan or not, it’s important to follow the recommended healthy eating guidance for everyone, which includes aiming for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as well as balancing this with other important food groups like protein, fats and carbohydrates.”

To summarise Dr Tang said: “Many of us could benefit from eating more fruit and vegetables, and less meat and dairy. If you’re inspired to eat a more plant-based diet, there are lots of easy ways that you could try it out such as trying to have a vegan diet for just one day a week to begin with, limit your intake of red meat to once or twice a week and lastly replace animal protein with non-meat protein like chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.”

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