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With a huge movement towards veganism, especially among students, Tom Foster weighs up the costs and benefits of veganism on your health. 

There is a running joke that you never have to ask whether someone is vegan, they will just tell you. Vegans are often seen as the weirder gone a little too far cousin of vegetarianism. However, whilst it is easy to ridicule vegans as hippies who would have us survive on nothing but tofu and good energy, science may be on their side.

A number of studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan people do live longer and healthier than their meat-eating counterparts, such as lowering metabolic risk factors (triglycerides, glucose, blood pressure, and waist circumference) among men in their sixties. As well as this vegans are far more likely to reach the recommended 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, have lower rates of obesity and reduced risk of colorectal and prostate cancer.

A vegan bento box

What about all the essential nutrients that animal products supply us with? Our vegans missing out on both the good taste and goodness of meat? Vegans are indeed missing out but they can cater their diet to ensure they are getting those nutrients. Vegan food may never replicate the taste of a bacon sarnie, but with the right mix of nuts, seeds and vegetables you are not missing the nutrients you need.

The irony of the argument from meat eaters that not eating animal products will starve them of essential nutrients, is that only about one third of us eat five portions of veg or fruit a day

The irony of the argument from meat eaters that not eating animal products will starve them of essential nutrients, is that only about one third of us eat five portions of veg or fruit a day. The nutrients argument also ties in with the idea that not eating meat will make you weaker. Try telling that to Patrik Baboumian, one of Germany’s strongest men and Torre Washington, a vegan bodybuilder.

Have vegans ‘Got Milk?’ though? Yes, they do, well a fortified plant milk that claims to have as much calcium as dairy milk, and calcium-set tofu. So, is it true that vegans do actually live longer, are stronger and generally morally superior to us meat eaters?

Not quite, veganism is not the cure for all it seems to be. Vegan diets can be deficient in vitamin B12, iron, A and D. Vitamin K2, to strengthen bones, is not found in plants (apart from Natto, a fermented soybean product, something quite hard to find at your local supermarket) instead it is found within pastured egg yolks, milk and cheese. Whilst B12 deficiency is a problem for many people in vegans it is particularly evident with 83% of vegans displaying a B12 deficient, compared to just 5% of omnivores.

Vegetarian/vegan diet consistently is associated with reduced risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity

Furthermore, a Senior Research Fellows of Public Health, at the University of Sydney crunched some of the data concerning vegans and vegetarians living longer. They found that when comparing the risk of early death for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, while controlling for a range of other factors, there was no statistical difference.

Yet whilst longevity of life may not be aided by a vegan diet exclusively, it was found that a vegetarian/vegan diet consistently is associated with reduced risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The study found that vegetarians and vegans often were healthier on average due to health-conscious factor. Simply, if you are vegetarian and vegan you will be more likely to be health-conscious this falls into a lifestyle external factor rather than a dietary one. The focus on eating right and exercise sways the data in favour of vegans living longer.

Thus, veganism is not the holy grail for how we should all live, but neither is it a fad. The science is there and it promoting a healthier lifestyle is clear. However, some nutrients need to be gained using supplements. Ultimately, the same old mantra still holds strive for a healthy diet and do plenty of exercise, and this can be gained either by being an omnivore or a herbivore.


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