Vegan diets offer a buffet of food for thought. Health and lifestyle choices weigh heavily into the discussion of pros and cons. Studies cite numerous health benefits associated with plant-based diets. As with any diet, however, education is required to ensure you get a proper balance of nutrients. Vegans are a minority in America, and a family's attitudes can determine just how positive an experience it is.
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Social Benefits of Veganism
Harmony with nature and respect for animals are two core vegan values. Like vegetarians in general, vegans focus on a plant-based diet. But vegans take this a bit further and shun all animal products like eggs, dairy, leather and fur. Compassion for animals and concern for the environment are among the reasons vegans give for their lifestyle choice. Supporting sustainable agriculture, reducing the carbon footprint associated with meat-producing operations and opposition to the inhumane treatment of livestock are among the social benefits sought through this lifestyle.
Concerns for Vegans
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that properly planned vegan diets are nutritionally wholesome and can help prevent chronic diseases. While experts agree such diets can be healthy, the key term is "well-planned." A 2009 article published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" observed that vegan diets pose a risk for micronutrient deficiencies. Vegans in particular need to be conscious of vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and zinc. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these nutrients can be sourced without the use of meat, but it requires careful planning, and supplementation may be necessary.
Great Potential for Health Benefits
The benefits of a vegan diet are demonstrable. The "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" reported that even compared to other vegetarians, vegans tend to be thinner and have lower total blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Consuming larger volumes of fruits and vegetables, vegans receive greater amounts of the antioxidants and phytochemicals associated with good cardiovascular health and reduced risk for cancers. Many researchers conclude that with proper planning, all of your dietary requirements can be achieved while avoiding the higher fat and cholesterol associated with meat.
Vegans Are a Minority
Only 5 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegetarian and only 2.5 percent as vegan, according to a 2012 Gallup Poll. Being a minority, a vegan voice might not be welcome at every dinner table. Meat remains the largest segment of U.S. agriculture, generating 92.3 billion pounds in 2011, because it is a staple in the average American diet. How supportive your family is of a move away from meat may determine whether the experience is positive or negative. The implications on your relationships and social life should also be considered when weighing pros and cons of a vegan diet.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- The Vegan Society: Why Vegan?
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: American Dietetic Association Position Statement on Vegetarian Diets
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Health Effects of Vegan Diets
- Gallup: In U.S., 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians
- American Meat Institute: The United States Meat Industry at a Glance
- National Restaurant Association: What's Hot in 2014 Culinary Forecast