5 ways a vegan diet affects your body and brain

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Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular in Australia, not only for their health benefits but for the welfare of animals and the planet as well.

The four years to 2016 saw an increase in vegetarianism from 1.7 million to 2.7 million of the population, whilst Australia ranks number one for searching the term “vegan” on Google.

A well-balanced, whole-foods vegan diet inevitably relies more heavily on foods which can contribute to a higher daily intake of certain beneficial nutrients and therefore is associated with a number of health benefits.

Here are 5 ways veganism affects your body and brain.

1. A healthier heart

A vegan diet may help you maintain a healthier heart, primarily due to its higher content of fibre, antioxidants and other plant phytochemicals from fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes. When comparing vegans to vegetarians and the typical western diet, vegans have been found to benefit from a potential 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure and a 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease. A higher intake of soluble fibre has also been found to reduce LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.

2. A better BMI

Vegan diets have a natural tendency to reduce calorie intake, depending on how well balanced the diet is and what the consumer’s diet looked like before. Particularly due to the reduction in saturated fat from animal-based foods. As such, vegans have a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity than non-vegans. Research has even found vegan diets to be more effective for losing weight than other types of diets specifically design for weight loss. It is particularly popular amongst dieters who don’t want to actively focus on cutting calories.

3. Reduced risk of diabetes

Clinical studies have confirmed that a vegan diet tends to reduce blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity and even lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 78%. A whole-foods, plant-based diet has even been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics more than the diets recommended by national diabetes and heart associations. Diabetics who substitute meat for plant protein may also reduce their risk of poor kidney function.

4. Less inflammation

Certain types of animal-based foods can be very inflammatory to the body and so by replacing these with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes that are packed with antioxidants, flavonoids and carotenoids we allow the body to fight and reduce systemic inflammation. This protects tissues from long term oxidative damage which can over time lead to many chronic diseases including arthritis, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and even cancer if not addressed.

5. Improved mood

Few studies have been conducted on the effects of a vegan diet on the brain however there is evidence to suggest that plant-based eating can help to control emotional states including depression, anxiety, fatigue and a sense of wellbeing. This again may be due in part to the benefit of increases levels of antioxidants found in plant-based foods that increase brain health, as well as a reduction in glycotoxins which are found in meat products and cause an increase in oxidative stress and inflammation.

Potential shortfalls

Whilst a plant-based diet has many benefits, as a result of the complete elimination of any animal derived products vegans have a greater challenge in meeting the nutritional adequacy of B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, vitamin D and calcium when compared to other diets. These nutrients are vital for healthy bones, neurological function, energy production, immune health, thyroid function and so much more, therefore it is absolutely imperative that all vegans regularly supplement with those nutrients that they are deficient in. Taking a multi-nutrient blend daily that includes all of the essential nutrients in their most absorbable form is highly recommended to ensure optimal health whilst following a vegan diet.

And although protein is available through a number of different foods within a vegan diet, (peas, lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu and hemp seeds) these plant-protein sources do not all contain the full suite of essential amino acids we require from our diet for the growth, repair and production of all cells in the body. Therefore, supplementing with a clean, complete and highly digestible plant-based protein powder can be an excellent way to ensure that you are getting the right amount of protein in the right balance of amino acids.

Nicola Miethke is a Certified Clinical Naturopath and Nutritionist working in private practice in Sydney having earned herself a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy and an Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine from the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Nicola is passionate about educating and empowering her clients, listeners and readers to make life long changes that can help prevent and manage multiple acute and chronic diseases, as well as improve their quality of life.

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