Vegan diets and health
By Pam Dyson, Research Dietitian, University of Oxford, Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM), Churchill Hospital, Oxford:
“Vegan diets are completely plant-based and contain only plants including grains, fruit, vegetables, pulses and legumes, seeds and nuts. All food derived from animal sources, including meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs are avoided. Studies have shown that vegetarians (including vegans) have lower rates of overweight and obesity and are at lower risk of type 2 diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, diverticular disease and eye cataract than meat-eaters, although there is little difference in the rates of risk of death, stroke and cancer. However, most of these studies include both vegetarians and vegans and there are few data available for vegans alone.
“For people already diagnosed with diabetes, a review of six studies (five of which involved vegan diets) reported improved glycaemic control in those adopting vegan diets when compared with conventional diabetes diets. The available evidence suggests that there are health benefits associated with vegan diets for both those at risk of and those with diagnosed type 2 diabetes.
“The question is – should everyone adopt a vegan diet? Although some concern has been expressed about the nutritional adequacy of vegan diets and particularly about low intakes of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, well-balanced vegan diets are attainable. However, the way individuals choose to eat depends on many factors other than health, including food preferences, budget, past experiences of diets and cultural and social norms. For some, vegan diets will fit easily into their lifestyle, but for others they may well be as step too far.
"Generally, plant-based diets are recommended for health and most authorities agree that a reduction in meat and meat products can only benefit health, so even those who cannot do without meat have the potential to improve health by reducing the amount that they eat.”
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