How Healthy Is a Vegan Diet? Should You Go for It?
Does a vegan diet have health benefits?
Does a vegan diet have health benefits?(Photo: iStock)

How Healthy Is a Vegan Diet? Should You Go for It?

Indian cricket captain, Virat Kohli gave up animal protein, eggs and diary products four months ago and turned vegan. His current diet includes vegetables, soya and protein shakes. He feels the change in his diet has helped him improve his game.

Diets modify with time, for better or for worse. Some come and go while others stay on. Vegan diet is one which stuck around. You can’t have meat or milk in it. Or cheese. Or eggs. Or honey. Or gelatin. Basically, anything that comes from an animal source is excluded in a pure vegan diet.

Veganism is, in fact, a lifestyle where one abandons any product, like clothing or accessories, that comes from an animal. It’s against animal cruelty. Coming back to the diet, it is an extreme form of a vegetarian diet.

But how healthy is it? Does it have benefits that a vegetarian diet or a non-vegetarian diet can’t offer? Is it sustainable? Here’s all you need to know.

Too caught up to read? Listen to the story:

Do You Get All Nutrients In a Vegan Diet?

Most vegans adopt the diet for ethical reasons, very few do it for health benefits. But is removing a major food group from your meals healthy?

Anything that comes from an animal is excluded in a pure vegan diet, like meat and dairy products.
Anything that comes from an animal is excluded in a pure vegan diet, like meat and dairy products.
(Photo: iStock)

Also Read : These Yummy Vegan Dishes Will Make You Forget You’re a Carnivore

Vegan diet is not unhealthy per se, but it definitely lacks in some nutrients. You’ve got your micronutrients covered; whole grains, vegetables, fruits, pulses provide antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. But a vegan diet lacks Vitamin B12 and calcium, for which you’ll have to take supplements. And that’s not recommended.
Dr Rupali Datta, Clinical Nutritionist, Fortis Hospital

There are other sources of calcium but you need to include them in your daily diet in adequate quantities to match the recommended intake amount. Dr Datta adds that a balanced diet is the key to eating healthy, whether it’s vegan, vegetarian diet or non-vegetarian.

Lack of protein is also a problem, because there’s only so much daal you’ll eat, says Dr Datta.

Cutting out milk and dairy products removes another source of protein along with calcium.
A vegan diet lacks Vitamin B12 and calcium, for which you’ll have to take supplements.
A vegan diet lacks Vitamin B12 and calcium, for which you’ll have to take supplements.
(Photo: iStock)
There are good quality sources of protein in vegan diet like amaranth. But the quantities in which one would eat it does not satisfy the daily protein requirement. This tends to be a problem in vegetarian diet as well. We don’t eat enough protein sources like pulses.
Dr Rupali Datta

Guidelines say an average woman should have 46g of protein everyday and an average man 56g. There’s no meat, eggs or dairy products to provide the protein.

To compensate there’s soy milk, quinoa, amaranth, pulses etc. But how much of these does one really eat everyday? You need to see whether you’re achieving your daily intake target. This is the problem that arises in a vegan diet.

Much of this, however is relevant for unbalanced vegetarian diet or non-vegetarian diet as well.

Also Read : Hate Eggs? Here Are Other High Protein Breakfast Options For You

Is Vegan Diet Better Than Veg Diet or Non-Veg Diet?

You may have come across studies saying that vegan diet is healthier, prevents cardiovascular diseases, makes you feel more energetic, is good for your gut or some such. It’s better you don’t look at them.

A blanket statement saying one is healthier than the other is wrong.
A blanket statement saying one is healthier than the other is wrong.
(Photo: iStock/Altered by FIT)

We need to realise that most of these studies are from a western perspective, says Dr Datta. In western countries, people are used to eating meat in every meal and tend to not eat enough veggies. So these studies aim to inculcate a habit of eating more vegetables. But it’s in no way a better option.

Including more fresh vegetables and fruits is definitely healthy and has greater benefits than eating meat all day. But that doesn’t mean you avoid meat, it has its own nutritional value. Going to any one extreme is not suggested. It has to be a well-balanced diet.

One extreme is going vegan, another extreme is eating eggs, chicken and mutton for all meals – a blanket statement saying one is healthier than the other is wrong.

There has to be a method to the madness, you can’t go to either extreme. For a pure vegan diet, I won’t say its nutritionally adequate. Is it healthy? I don’t know because it takes away a major food group of dairy and leads to calcium deficiency. But a non-veg diet should include adequate veggies as well.
Dr Rupali Datta

However, if you go vegan for ethical reasons, you’ll have to be very careful to make up for all the nutritional deficiencies the diet has.

Is Avoiding Milk and Dairy Products Healthy?

Milk is full of nutrients, not devoid of benefits at all, says Dr Datta.
Milk is full of nutrients, not devoid of benefits at all, says Dr Datta.
(Photo: iStock)

Several studies also say that going vegan is beneficial because milk and milk products harms your body. Lactose intolerance aside, this is a false claim as well, according to Dr Datta.

There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that milk is bad. Milk is full of nutrients, not devoid of benefits at all. And when you make it into dahi, you get probiotics, that’s all the more beneficial. There are many myths and fallacies attached to milk.
Dr Rupali Datta

Also Read : Hate Milk? Here Are Some Calcium Rich Foods You Can Try

Sometimes, when we’re talking about food, we should look at what our older generations have always been eating, and if it has never harmed them, it should be alright, adds Dr Datta.

Also Read : What’s Really In Your Milk?

All in all, if you are careful about your choice of food, a vegan diet will not be problematic. And the same goes for other diets as well. Remember – balance is the key.

(FIT is now available on Telegram and WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our Telegram and WhatsApp channels.)

Follow our Chew On This section for more stories.

    Also Watch