Your whole body can benefit from the effects of a vegan diet, but going vegan side effects are a risk if you don’t know the basics. Read this guide before going vegan for life.
Turning vegan for life is a major commitment, and considering the effects of veganism is vital before embarking on this lifestyle change. Plant-based diets have many health benefits, but the side effects of a vegan diet are often a deal-breaker.
Table of contents
- Vegans: what foods can they eat?
- Vegan nutrition: protein, iron, fats
- Soft vegan foods
- Veganism for acne, weight, cancer, gut health
- Do vegans age better?
- Going vegan side effects
- Is vegan or vegetarian better?
☝️DISCLAIMER☝️: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Simply put, vegans don’t eat any product which comes from a living animal, but it goes a little further than that. It is a way of life where individuals exclude all products derived from an organism with a nervous system, and because plants don’t have one, they are fine to eat.
Many people get hung up on the foods they can’t eat when making the switch to veganism, but it’s better to look at the positives and find foods you can incorporate. Many plant-based foods are also prebiotic, providing sustenance for the health-promoting bacteria in your gut.
The team at AtlasBiomed, a specialist at-home microbiome testing company, state that bacteria in the human gut are major players in many health functions, helping to reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy intestinal lining.
It’s a misconception that the vegan diet is composed solely of salad: vegans are not cartoon characters that thrive on carrots and fresh air. The vegan diet is much more diverse than many think, and there is a whole world of plants just waiting to be eaten!
|Vegan-friendly foods||Foods to avoid|
|Plant-based alternatives fortified with essential vitamins and minerals – non-dairy milk alternatives, meat alternatives, cereals||Meat (including red, poultry, game), eggs, seafood, fish|
|Fruit, vegetables, green leafy veg, herbs and spices||Ultra-processed foods, including vegan alternatives|
|Nuts, seeds, plant oils||Goose fat, lard, honey (although this is optional)|
|Bean, legumes, and whole grains||All dairy products including milk (yoghurt, cream, and butter)|
|Vitamins D and B12. Omega-3, iron, calcium, zinc, and protein based on recommendations of a registered nutritionist or dietician||Unnecessary supplements and food substitutions|
The human body needs iron, of which there are two types: one from meat and the other from plants, like spinach and kale. Vegan-friendly plant foods provide a type of iron which is more difficult to absorb. A nifty trick is to consume these foods with sources rich in vitamin C, like lemon juice or bell peppers, to unlock this vital mineral for your body.
Plant foods can support the diversity of bacteria in the gut microbiome and support a healthy colon. A microbiome test like this one here can tell you exactly what’s going on in your gut microbiome with a comprehensive report and weekly food recommendations to enhance your healthy gut bacteria.
There are many reasons why people choose to go vegan, it could be a conscious lifestyle choice related to animal cruelty or environmental issues. Or, it could be because of a life event, like illness, where a plant-based diet may support health and recovery.
Whatever the reason, it is essential to always consult a trained medical professional for advice before making changes to your diet. Factors like medication and illness can interact with dietary changes and have consequences for your health.
Soft vegan foods may be of interest to people who struggle with hard foods because of swallowing problems, dental issues, or cancer treatment (chemotherapy can cause painful sores making it difficult to eat). Mashed and pureed tubers and vegetables, as well as vegan soups, smoothies, and ice lollies, are suitable soft vegan food dishes that can be enjoyed by all.
Scientists may have the facts on the vegan diet, but influencers command bigger audiences. However, the messages they promote on platforms are generally unregulated, so rather than checking out social media, here are a few science-backed vegan facts.
1. Vegan skin problems: acne
Foods with a high glycaemic (GI) index (that release glucose quickly into the bloodstream) are linked to acne, like potatoes and white rice. If you’re going vegan for skin problems, avoid high GI foods by incorporating whole, natural plant foods that are rich in fibre and nutrients instead.
2. Weight loss
Research suggests that following a vegan diet, minus the junk food and processed alternatives, supports weight loss in obese individuals. Eating wholesome plants also improves other factors, like LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood glucose levels that can have a negative impact on your heart health and metabolism.
3. Gut health
Your gut bacteria love plant foods because many contain prebiotic fibres (a source of energy for beneficial microbes). You need to keep these bacteria happy because they perform a variety of functions that are essential for your gut, digestion, and overall body health.
4. Cancer prevention
Studies show that a high-fibre vegan diet is associated with lower risk of some cancers, including colorectal cancer. There are a few reasons for this. Fiber speeds the digestion and removal of stool, and it nourishes the gut microbiome which helps reduce inflammation, a risk factor in cancer.
As you age, your body becomes more susceptible to chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, as well as neurodegenerative illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Eating whole, plant foods can keep your cells functioning normally and reduce the risk of inflammation and ultimately, disease.
There’s no doubt that plant foods are healthier for us. After all, they are natural and contain important nutrients the body needs to thrive. Often referred to as rainbow foods, bright edible plants are full of antioxidants, like polyphenols, that keep your body’s cells healthy.
Polyphenols are plant chemicals that help the body prevent oxidative stress that damages the cells in your body, which can contribute to disease. Here are some examples of the foods which are rich in polyphenols:
- Green tea
Before starting a vegan diet, side effects need to be understood. The human body has adapted to the protein and nutrients found in meat and animal-derived products, so cutting out major food groups, like meat and dairy, can have consequences.
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
A major downside of the vegan diet is the increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, like vitamin B12 that is nearly always obtained from animal-derived products. Therefore, switching and adhering to the diet takes careful planning.
You may need to supplement with vitamins and nutrients you can’t acquire from food, so consult a nutritionist or dietician who can help identify possible deficiencies and build a personalised diet plan for you, because your needs change depending on your age and health.
A poorly balanced vegan diet can leave you hungry after meals. It’s easy to think you’re being healthy by eating fruit and veg, but these don’t fill you up. Solve this by adding in complex carbohydrates and plant proteins like whole grains, brown rice, beans, and pulses to satiate your stomach.
3. Mental Health
Drastic dietary decisions may be spurred on physical appearance and the desire to be “thin”. However, fad diets and restrictive diets, including veganism, are associated with more depression symptoms according to some research.
Veganism is a strong commitment that many people struggle with, even if it’s just for a month. So it’s worth considering less restrictive options, like vegetarianism. That way, you can abstain from meat, but still eat eggs and dairy. The effects of a vegetarian diet are similar to those of the vegan diet.
Alternatively, you might want to consider the flexitarian diet: it focuses heavily on plant-based foods, but you can still consume meat and fish in moderation. However, if you’re still thinking about going off animal-derived products all together, here are our tips on how to go vegan safely:
- Get cooking: If you can’t cook or you lack confidence, make it a goal to learn. Home cooking is an essential part of the healthy vegan lifestyle.
- Cut the junk food: Vegan junk food options are still unhealthy, even if they are vegan. They’re often fried and processed with a lot of additives, sugars, sodium, and preservatives.
- Experiment with plants: Try out plants with new colours and textures to keep your diet varied and exciting.
- Try new things: Have a go at using foods like vegan cheese to add a different flavour and texture to your dishes. If you’re craving your favourite non-vegan meal, veganise it!
- Choose your information: There are many unqualified people giving health advice. Your sources should provide science-backed facts, not opinions and hearsay.
- Ask an expert: Nutritionists and dieticians can help to devise a balanced vegan diet that will be sustainable and provide the health benefits you’re looking for.