Many have become concerned with how animals are treated in the food industry. Consequently, some have become dedicated to eating a plant-based diet, rather than going vegetarian or vegan. In a 2018 Gallup poll, 5 percent of adults in the US said they stuck to a strictly vegetarian diet. While some vegetarians do include dairy, eggs and other animal-derived ingredients, like honey, in their diets, vegans do not.
“Interest in a way of life in which people eschew not just meat and leather, but all animal products including eggs, wool and silk, is soaring, especially among millennials,” The Economist wrote in their “The World in 2019” report. “Fully a quarter of 25-to 34-year-old Americans say they are vegans or vegetarians.”
Research has shown that having a plant-based diet is more environmentally friendly, and it lowers the carbon footprint. Animals require water and crops to feed on while being raised, and methane gas is created when the meat is digested.
There are also studies that show living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle can improve health. In 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people with these diets had overall lower blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. People who were strictly vegan were found to have more fiber, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium and less saturated fat.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also mentioned some health downsides that can happen with a plant-based diet. When meat and other animal products are taken out of the diet, certain nutrients that the body needs are taken away such as B12, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. While there is some iron in plant foods, it is in lower quantities and not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron, which is found in animals. B12 can be found in the vegetarian diet because it can be consumed in eggs and dairy products, but it is more difficult to consume in the vegan diet. A deficiency in B12 can cause anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite and potentially severe neurological symptoms.
Another issue that can arise in specifically a vegan diet is “overdosing” on soy. Soy is a common substitute in the vegan diet (e.g., soy milk, soy cheese, bacon, protein, tofu, etc.). Soy contains a lot of phytoestrogens, which mimics estrogen and can cause hormonal imbalances. One study showed that infants who consumed soy formula had estrogen levels 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than normal levels in their blood.
As with any lifestyle change, there are pros and cons that should be researched. While above are listed a few from both sides of the issue, there are many more pros and cons to consider before making the switch. Everyone’s gut reacts differently to different foods, so if someone decides to change up their diet it is important to pay attention to how their body responds and do research beforehand. And, it’s always best to pick real food over processed food in any diet.