Should You Go Vegan?

So you’ve decided to go vegan…

It seems like every day I get an email, a call or patient question about going vegan. In addition to philosophical/religious reasons and benefits to health, concerns about an impure food supply have spawned a surge in going vegan.

A vegan diet can be a healthy and nutritious diet. Benefits to health can include lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower blood sugar and a lower risk of diabetes. Some studies have also showed a reduced likelihood of cancer in vegans. Vegan diets also tend to include a higher intake of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

However, there can be pitfalls to a poorly planned vegan diet such as:

1. Weight gain! It seems to be counter-intuitive but a poorly planned vegan diet can result in weight gain. While vegans in general tend to have lower weight, some who switch to a vegan diet can gain weight. Eliminating highly satiating protein can leave you wanting for more and often that protein is replaced with processed carbs full of sugar fat and calories. Poor food choices and a harder time feeling full can pack in the pounds.

2. Vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is the most common and likely deficiency. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products including milk, eggs, fish, meat and poultry. B12 is essential to create red blood cells, for proper neurological function and DNA creation and repair. Signs of deficiency can include anemia, fatigue, nerve problems including tingling and weakness as well as mood changes and cognitive and behavioral changes. While some foods are fortified with vitamin B12 vegans usually require supplementation to prevent deficiency. Other vitamin deficiencies such as vitamin D deficiency are common too.

3. Minerals deficiencies. Certain minerals including calcium and iron can become deficient in vegans. Calcium is important for muscle contraction including the very important heart muscle. Vegan sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale as well as cruciferous veggies such as broccoli. Almonds and sesame seeds contain calcium as do some milk and yogurt alternatives, which are fortified with calcium. Iron is important for development of red blood cells. Without iron people can become anemic which can result in pale skin, fatigue and shortness of breath. Leafy greens are also a good source of iron, in addition to legumes. Many grains and cereals are fortified with iron.

4. Macronutrient deficiencies. Protein intake is important for muscle repair and maintenance. While the recommended intake is roughly 1/3rd of overall intake, dieters require more…much more, otherwise they will experience muscle loss while dieting. Beans, legumes and tofu have the highest protein content in a vegan diet followed by nuts and vegetables, which have minuscule amounts. Varying the types of food eaten allows for a more complete protein consumption.

A thoughtful diet, which includes supplementation, can prevent nutrient deficiencies. A thorough assessment including blood work can help determine if unknown deficiencies exist and how best to manage them. Have questions? Contact us!

Dr. Adrienne Youdim

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