Rob Hobson April 10, 2019

Vegan diets are soaring in popularity, but are they as healthy as them seem, and does going vegan necessarily help the environment? Healthspan Head of Nutrition Rob Hobson investigates.

Is veganism healthy?

First, the good news. Non-meat-eaters have healthier lifestyles and a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and digestive issues such as constipation. Despite this, a key concern about going vegan remains: the increased risk of deficiencies in essential nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega-3s.

The problem isn’t necessarily going vegan. It’s perfectly possible to meet your nutrient needs on a vegan diet. However, it is vital to plan carefully to ensure you get all the nutrients found in meat, dairy and other animal products when eating exclusively plant-based foods.

Vegan junk food

The popularity of veganism has sparked an increase in ready-made vegan foods. On the plus side, this can help take the pressure off meal planning, but the downside is a boom in vegan junk food – things like vegan kebabs, burgers, pies and even ‘fish and chips’ as well as snacks, which are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats. Even well-established fast food companies are jumping on the bandwagon - witness the Greggs vegan sausage roll. Many vegans do make healthy food choices and by and large may be a healthier bunch than omnivores. But a vegan diet that includes sugar, refined carbohydrates and fried foods has the same potential to cause weight gain and increase the risk of disease as any other unhealthy diet.

Is veganism bad for the environment?

Environmental concerns are another key reason behind an increase in people following vegan diets. Meat production is damaging to the environment, thanks to, for example, the methane gases produced and the use of large amounts of water in the process. There are environmental issues associated with a plant-based diet, too. Filling your shopping basket with out-of-season foods soon racks up the food miles.

Meanwhile, the demand for on-trend plant-based foods such as avocados and quinoa has driven their prices so high that they’ve become unaffordable to people in their country of origin. In fact, avocados use more water to cultivate than any other crop, and deforestation has become commonplace in countries looking to increase their avocado production.

Should you go vegan?

Provided you do it right, going vegan can have health benefits, but it’s not guaranteed. The basic tenets of healthy eating still apply, but the potential to become unhealthy has increased with the rise of vegan convenience foods. The reality is that veganism doesn’t automatically make you environmentally friendly or immune to health concerns, and the importance of making healthy food choices is just as relevant to vegans as it is to omnivores.

For more information on supporting your vegan health, see our vegan advice hub

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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