It is becoming more popular these days for people looking for the healthiest diet to consider veganism. But is a vegan diet the healthiest diet? Here are a couple of things we know for sure: First, when you eat more nutritious foods like vegetables, beans, fruits, raw nuts, and seeds, these have amazing effects in the body to reduce the risk of both heart disease and most cancers. Second, research has shown that as animal products increase in a population’s diet, the risk of both heart disease and cancer increase.
The main thing that makes a vegan diet more healthful compared to more omnivorous ways of eating is that someone following a vegan diet is more likely to be eating more high-nutrient produce, containing protective fibers and antioxidant nutrients. And this means that the diet will naturally be lower in saturated fat, which is a known risk factor for both heart disease and cancer.
Did you know that fruits and vegetables are the two nutritious foods with the highest link with longevity in humans? If fact, the National Cancer Institute has shown this in many different studies. Here are the main findings:
- Vegetables and fruits are very protective against all types of cancers if eaten in large enough quantities.
- Raw vegetables are the heavy hitters because they have the most powerful anti-cancer properties of all foods.
- Beans, in general, provide additional anti-cancer benefits against reproductive cancers, like breast and prostate cancer.
Pretty great, right? Now people often ask me whether it is absolutely necessary to follow a vegan diet to get these health benefits. If this you, here’s some good news. Did you know that following a strict vegan diet is not as important as eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables? In fact, a vegan whose diet is mainly garbage foods like refined grains, processed health food store products, white rice, and pasta will be worse off health wise than a person who eats a little turkey, chicken, fish, or eggs but consumes large volumes of fruits, vegetables, and beans! It appears to be that the combination of very little or no animal products with a much higher consumption of fresh produce that is the crucial factor of why a plant-based diet is healthier.
Research has confirmed this and shows that those who avoid meat and dairy have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. And indeed, multiple studies have shown that plant-based eaters tend to live longer than non-plant–based eaters. But a closer look at the data from various studies revealed that those who weren’t as strict with avoiding animal products fared nearly as well as the plant-based eaters as long as they consumed high volumes of a variety of unrefined plant foods! So, great news if you want to move to a more plant-based diet but, want the option to incorporate some animal products.
But, say you want to follow a vegan diet, what about protein? Can you get enough eating vegan? You betcha! It is a myth that a vegan diet is automatically low in protein and even calcium, and getting enough calcium is a particular concern, especially, for women over 50. Because, if vegans eat a variety (and the key is variety!) of plant proteins, their intake of protein and calcium should be as good as that of a person who eats foods containing animal protein. It’s the mixture of proteins from grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables that provides a complement of the amino acids the body needs so that deficits in one food are made up by another.
And not all types of plant foods need to be eaten at the same meal because the amino acids consumed are combined in the body’s protein pool. So no worries about mixing or matching amino acids to form complete protein at each meal because your body will do that all on its own from what you consume during a day. But watch out! Be sure to design your vegan diet carefully to include foods like nuts, seeds, green vegetables, beans, and whole grains. This helps guard against levels of calcium, protein, and other nutrients like iron, zinc from getting low.
So you can choose to be on a healthy vegan diet with careful planning or you can choose to eat a not so strict plant-based diet. Either way you go, planning is the key to making sure you eat the most nutritious foods to help you on the road to excellent health and disease protection. To your good health!