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Life & Style

The vegan diet: healthy or just trendy?

  • By going vegan, you risk become deficient in essential vitamins — for example, nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and iron
Published June 20, 2022

The vegan diet is all the rage right now. Its popularity has grown as it is believed the diet is environmentally-friendly, cruelty-free, and heart-healthy characteristics.

Going vegan can be beneficial for cardiovascular health as it promotes eating less processed, factory-raised meats which may contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Processed meats tend to have more sodium and chemicals. If one is consuming meat, it is important to ensure its quality. One way to ensure this is to opt for desi (organic) chicken over broiler chicken.

Choose desi, pasture-raised eggs over conventional eggs and pick grass-fed red meat over grain-fed red meat. Eating animal products that were raised in their natural state ensures a higher omega-3/omega-6 ratio. A diet that is high in omega-6 has been linked to various potential diseases.

Let us take a deeper dive into the negative implications of going vegan.

The vegan diet excludes all animal-based products such as dairy products, seafood, chicken, red meat, etc.

By going vegan, you risk become deficient in essential vitamins — for example, nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and iron.

If you go vegan, it is highly recommended to supplement your diet with clean vitamin B12 and trying to get daily sun exposure to increase your vitamin D levels.

Vitamin B12 is necessary to form DNA blood cells and without adequate levels of B12, one might suffer from low energy levels. A vitamin D deficiency may lead to major bone dysfunction and low immunity levels.

Additionally, try to consume plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as tukh malanga (basil seeds), chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, etc.

Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for combating inflammation.

Low levels of iron often lead to anemia. Anemia is a state in which you have insufficient hemoglobin levels which can be dangerous because you lack sufficient red blood cells to take adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues.

Its side effects include tiredness, weakness, and fainting. Plant-based sources of iron include pumpkin seeds, raisins, figs, dried apricots, kale, etc.

Zinc deficiencies have been linked to hair fall, loss of appetite, poor immunity, and growth retardation. Plant-based sources of zinc include cashews, oatmeal, sesame seeds, etc.

Another major issue with the vegan diet is that it is low in the essential macronutrient — protein.

Protein is important for bone health and attaining a healthy weight. Protein repairs and builds our bones and muscles. Additionally, protein is required to make hormones and enzymes.

One can get their daily required protein intake from the following plant-based sources: quinoa, tofu, daals (lentils), lobia (beans), etc.

However, an issue with getting your protein requirement from legumes is that they are not complete proteins. This means they do not contain all of the nine essential amino acids that are important to promote muscle protein synthesis post-workout.

Muscle protein synthesis is the metabolic process of the assimilation of amino acids into bound skeletal muscle proteins which is necessary for promoting lean muscle mass and decreasing body fat.

One way to resolve this is to consume the notorious, delicious desi dish: daal-chawaal. By combining lentils or beans with rice you obtain all essential amino acids in your meal.

Vegans may also suffer from a damaged gut and poor sleep quality because their diet lacks glycine.

Glycine is an incredible amino acid that seals the gut lining and improves sleep quality. Without a proper functioning gut, one might face major bloating, constipation, gas, or even diarrhea.

Glycine acts as a neurotransmitter and has a very calming effect on the body, thus, improving sleep quality and decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep.

Plant-based sources of glycine include spinach and cabbage although they are not as high in glycine as animal-based foods it is still an adequate source.

Although there are countless benefits to going vegan there also numerous side-effects unless you properly supplement with your nutrition.

If you do decide to go vegan, be sure to consume the plant-based foods recommended above in order to avoid any nutrient deficiency that may negatively impact your health.

As a reminder, no one diet fits all. One might do extremely well on a vegan diet and another may not.

Several risks apply therefore one should approach it with caution.

The writer is a certified functional nutritionist

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