Is a Vegan Diet Healthy For Long Term? This is not a very straightforward question to answer in one word. So I am going to use a few more than that!
The reason being, there are many versions of a vegan diet, just as there are many versions of a meat-eater’s diet. In short, it is a healthy long-term diet and lifestyle if followed by someone who has done their research and is nutritionally aware.
We are increasin
gly reminded that a diet high in saturated fat is not good for us, and this kind of fat is found primarily in meat and dairy, therefore, it stands to reason that those excluding meat have a lower risk of heart disease. However, that is a very general assumption.
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If a vegan eats a lot of processed food and ready meals and doesn’t vary their food intake from day to day then they are not going to be healthy in the long-term.
Vegans will generally take in more fibre within their diet than those not on a vegan diet. Fibre is important for the smooth transit of food through the intestines. This is important to avoid constipation, bowel disorders, weight gain and even some types of cancer.
Green vegetables are also a great source of iron, calcium and various other minerals and vitamins.
Probably one of the most important vitamins a vegan needs to learn about is B12
It is almost exclusively found in animal products. It is made from anaerobic bacteria in the gut of an animal. Plants do not usually contain B12, sometimes mushrooms grown in certain conditions do. Some vegan foods are fortified with B12, but this is not usually enough as these versions of B12 are of a slightly different make-up and can even block the uptake of B12.
Although B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, certain amounts can be stored for times of need. Those who have recently gone vegan may find it a while before their B12 levels begin to lower.
A lack of B12 is a ticking time-bomb if you fail to supplement this vital vitamin as a vegan.
As well as vegans and vegetarians, the general population (especially the elderly) are finding a deficiency in B12 due to changes in farming methods and the way animals are fed. It is a major player in our energy production along with folic acid. Lacking in this dynamic duo could lead to unexplained tiredness, memory loss, depression, tingling in the extremities (and other such neurological disorders).
B12 is also involved in the synthesis of DNA, red blood cells and the synthesis of the protective myelin sheath around the nerves. The lower B12 limit for blood levels varies even across the UK and even more across the world. However, if you feel that you may have symptoms you should get your levels checked by your GP before supplementing.
There can also be problems with a person’s intrinsic factor which can inhibit absorption, regardless of diet. GPs may prescribe B12 injections every three months in some cases. Supplementation with tablets can be daily, or weekly with a higher amount.
Either way, I would highly recommend vegans supplement. Some neurological damage may be irreversible if left untreated. 1,000ug of sub-lingual methylcobalamin plus the co-factor of folate of 800ug. If taken in tablet form a vegan should be looking to take on 25-100ug per day or 1,000ug twice a week.
Omega-3 levels may be an issue for vegans
Omega-3 is involved in the production of cell membranes and helps to keep the nervous system functioning properly. It can also help to combat inflammation within the body. It is difficult to get DHA and EPA from vegan sources apart from algae.
The best sources of omega-3 for vegans are from walnuts and flax seed – even so, none of these sources are as good as fish source of omega-3. Both walnuts and flaxseed are best kept in the fridge to avoid them spoiling.
Too much omega-6 can block the omega-3 and so looking at ratios of them both is also important. Flaxseed has a high level of omega-3 with a fairly good ratio, as do chia and hemp seeds. Seaweed, spirulina, mungo beans (Urad Dal), French and navy beans are also good sources.
There are vegan sources of omega-3 supplements but most are from fish sources. I would recommend that omega-3 is another essential supplement for a healthy long-term vegan diet.
In Part 2 the article will conclude with further evidence that vegan diets can be healthy long term but only if quality guidelines are adhered to.
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