What are the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of following a Vegan diet?

What are the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of following a Vegan diet?

December 29, 2017

We’ve already covered certain aspects that may crossover here in our “Vegetarian” blog.  

For many vegans the whole philosophy of veganism goes well beyond simply nutrition.  The vegan society explain

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

However in terms of nutrition a vegan will not eat anything containing an animal product.  So something like margarine made with whey, or gelatin in a sweet would be excluded in a vegan diet.

Vegan food substitutes are on the rise as the vegan movement has increased in popularity, diets though are commonly are made up of legumes, nuts, Soy based products, fruits, leafy greens, vegetables and whole grains.

As a weight loss tool vegans do seem to have a lower body mass Index.  In an older study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999, researchers tracked 45 people: 20 meat-eaters and 25 vegans who'd been following the approach for an average of 12 years. Body mass index was appreciably lower among the vegans, nine of whom had a BMI of below 19, the researchers found; a BMI below 18.5 suggests a person is underweight. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/70/3/516s.abstract

Another study was carried out on more than 60 overweight, postmenopausal women who were split into two groups: 

Half followed a vegan diet, and the other half followed a National Cholesterol Education Program diet (low in fat and dietary cholesterol). 

After a year, vegan dieters lost more weight than did the NCEP group: 10.8 pounds compared with 3.9 pounds. The pattern held up after two years, when the vegans still weighed 6.8 pounds less than they did when the study began, compared with 1.8 pounds for the NCEP group, according to findings published in 2007 in Obesity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17890496

In a study published in 2014 in Nutrition, researchers followed a group of 50 overweight or obese adults for six months. They found that those on a vegan diet lost significantly more weight than those on other plans, including vegetarian, semivegetarian and omnivorous – by about 4.3 percent or an average of 16.5 pounds. The study authors suspect that's because the vegan dieters were focusing on high-fibre foods, which help you feel fuller for longer, and their diets were low in fat and likely had fewer calories.


This recent paper also suggested a reduced incidence from total cancer risk http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447

 It can also be challenging to ensure there are no mineral deficiencies, especially in relevance to high exercisers and athletes

While little data could be found in the sports nutrition literature specifically, it was revealed elsewhere that veganism creates challenges that need to be accounted for when designing a nutritious diet. This included the sufficiency of energy and protein; the adequacy of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin D; and the lack of the long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in most plant-based sources”

The paper further explains:


However, via the strategic management of food and appropriate supplementation, it is the contention of this article that a nutritive vegan diet can be designed to achieve the dietary needs of most athletes satisfactorily. Further, it was suggested here that creatine and β-alanine supplementation might be of particular use to vegan athletes, owing to vegetarian diets promoting lower muscle creatine and lower muscle carnosine levels in consumers

Advantages – People on vegan diets generally weigh less, and the diets (with appropriate caloric deficit) have been seen as a useful way for many people to lose weight.  Some studies have also suggested reduced risk of certain cancers compared to a meat eating diet.  Also certain markers like cholesterol are lower with vegans.

Disadvantages – It’s still a challenge for vegans to avoid animal products, certain parts of the world are more vegan friendly that others where it may be a real challenge to avoid animal products in foods.  
Nutritional challenges can be ensuring the sufficiency of energy and protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin D; and the lack of the long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in most plant-based sources. However these challenges can be met with strategic planning.  Some people have had difficulties though adopting a vegan diet such as thinner hair, hair loss, skin issues and thinner nails.  These are all potential consequences if you do not look after yourself well on a vegan diet.
This diet is of course highly restrictive, but if the philosophy is one that resonates with your ethics and morals, it may be the only option for you.  We lightly discussed the environmental and agricultural challenges in our vegetarian blog, again this may be reason enough for many people to live a vegan lifestyle.   It’s certainly a method that is safe and effective for many people but difficult and problematic for many others.  Only with a trial attempt will you find out for you.
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