Is it healthier to swap to a vegan diet?

In the past 3 years, there have been conflicting messages in the media; with some articles claiming that plant-based diets are healthier than diets containing meat; and others claiming that diets containing meat are healthier than plant-based diets. What does research say?

There is evidence suggesting that a plant-based diet can support healthy living for all ages. Plant-based diets are linked to health benefits such as:

  1. Reduced risk of heart disease
  2. Reduced risk of strokes
  3. Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It has been identified that plant-based diets can improve health by lower blood pressure, and blood cholesterol and promote a healthy body weight. These health benefits derive from the main characteristics of a healthy plant-based diet.

We know that the average fibre intake of an adult in the UK is 18g per day (!!) whilst research has identified that people following a healthy plant-based diet can achieve 37g of daily fibre intake.

This suggests that people following a plant-based diet are more likely to achieve the recommended daily fibre intake compared to those who are not following a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are also lower in saturated fats compared to diets containing meat.

However, any diet that does not contain whole food groups may contribute to certain nutrient deficiencies. People who follow a plant-based diet are prone to nutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin B12, Omega 3 and zinc. This is because some of these nutrients are more easily found in animal products.

It is encouraged to carefully plan meals and ensure that they contain whole grains, fruits and vegetables. To further minimise the risk of nutrient deficiencies opt for fortified foods. These are foods with added vitamins and minerals that are not naturally found in the products. It is also encouraged to plan regular blood tests with your GP to identify any deficiencies so that you get medical advice on the required dietary supplements.

This does not mean you need to cut all animal products from your diet

Similar to a plant-based diet, a healthy balanced diet containing meat can minimise the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. However, there are some adjustments that are required.

  1. Choose whole-grains, higher fibre starchy foods if possible such as brown rice, wholemeal pasta or yam.
  2. Choose lean meat options such as chicken, turkey and source locally
  3. Aim for at least 5 varied fruits and vegetables a day.
  4. Aim for at least 1 meat free dinner a week, replacing the meat with beans, pulses or eggs

To conclude, both diets can support a healthy lifestyle if planned properly and if appropriate adjustments are made.

Michelle Ndemera-Student dietitian from the Coventry takes us through a quick over view of the evidence and how you can follow a vegan diet in a healthy way