Top Risks Of Vegan Diets
Have you ever wondered if a vegan or plant-based diet would help you manage your weight and resolve any nagging health problems? That’s the promise that is often made around this trend. But, you hear less about the health problems that can occur from a strict plant-based diet that excludes all animal products. This article includes many reasons to dispel the myth that veganism is the healthiest diet and works for everyone.
What Is A Vegan Diet?
If you invite a dinner guest who's a vegan, you'll want to check your menu carefully to make sure it follows two basic rules. Foods from plants are OK, but foods from animals are off-limits, including common ingredients like eggs, cheese, milk, and honey. About 3% of Americans follow a vegan diet.
Their reasons for eating this way vary. Some vegans do it to improve their health. A plant-based diet could lower the risk for certain diseases. Others stay away from meat because they don't want to harm animals or because they want to protect the environment. If you've thought about trying a vegan diet, you might wonder if this way of eating is right for you. Although you can get some real benefits from going meatless, there are a few challenges, too.
What Vegans Eat
If a vegan or plant-based diet does not include any animal products, then what does it include? Vegans eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, soy, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds.
A vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy, though, since it by definition does not exclude a lot of processed foods, sugar, or gluten. Just look at the popularity of fake meats, which are incredibly processed and not necessarily healthy by any stretch of the imagination.
If you are 100% committed to eating a vegan diet but are always feeling tired,
What You Can't Eat
Vegans can't eat any foods made from animals, including:
- Beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat
- Chicken, duck, and other poultry
- Fish or shellfish such as crabs, clams, and mussels
- Cheese, butter
- Milk, cream, ice cream, and other dairy products
- Mayonnaise (because it includes egg yolks)
Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a mental illness whereby extreme dietary restrictions maintain dangerously low body weight. The abnormal eating behaviour central to AN persists despite its adverse effects on daily and social functioning and physical health. AN affects approximately 1–2% of Western populations and has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, this figure approaching 6.0%.
AN tends to be chronic, with less than 50% of individuals who develop the illness making a full recovery. It is suggested that current pharmacological and psychological therapies cannot address the neurobiological factors or mechanisms responsible for illness development and maintenance because it is unclear what these are.
Research Domain Criteria, resulting from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 2008 strategic plan, encourages a Transdiagnostic approach to better understand the audiology of psychiatric illnesses.
Central to this approach is investigating the causes of features common to several disorders rather than the causes of symptoms specific to discrete diagnostic categories. Studying the characteristics that share with other psychiatric disorders can allow new and testable theories of AN audiology to be developed. Potentially causal neural abnormalities that have not previously been considered in audiology models of A can be highlighted using this Transdiagnostic approach.
Compulsivity has been identified as a transdiagnostic trait central to obsessive-compulsive disorders and substance and behavioural addictions. Compulsivity describes a tendency to engage in repetitive and stereotyped acts that have unwanted outcomes and arises from a reduced ability to control inflexible yet maladaptive behaviour. Recently compulsive behaviour has been characterized as an imbalance between the influence of the goal-directed system and the habit system.
The habit system guides behaviour based on past actions due to the formation of stimulus-response (S-R) links, which occur when a response produces a favourable outcome. S-R links strengthen with behavioural repetition, and their establishment allows stimuli to initiate the responses they are paired with automatically, even when these responses are inappropriate.
In contrast, the goal-directed system considers predicted outcomes of various actions and the present value to elicit behaviour tailored to the current situation. It is suggested that compulsive behaviour arises from a failure of the goal-directed system to override the influence of the habit system when the latter produces maladaptive responses.
Although some people may thrive on a vegan or plant-based diet, it should be noted that it is considered an extreme diet because of how many foods it excludes and the potential for nutritional deficiencies. This article includes eight real problems with a plant-based diet, including my experience as a woman whose health declined due to being on a strict vegan diet.
This article includes links to scientific studies whenever possible. However, some of these potential diet dangers are anecdotal and not based on human studies. So, as always, you must consult your healthcare provider to help determine what type of diet is best for you.
Legume Protein Sources Can Increase Risk Of Leaky Gut
Since a vegan diet excludes all forms of animal protein, including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, people following a vegan diet often turn to legumes as a plant-based protein source. Legumes have high levels of ant nutrients, including lections and phytates, which can increase intestinal permeability, also called leaky gut. On the contrary, animal protein sources do not contain anti-nutrients and are among the highest sources of food nutrition for humans.
The risk is that when people remove animal protein from their diet and replace it with higher amounts of legumes, there could be an increased risk of gut inflammation. While there are no direct human studies on this topic, it is a potential risk that you should be aware of.
Soy Protein Sources Can Cause Hormone Disruptions And Higher Heavy Metal Intake
Heavy metal pollution has spread broadly over the globe, perturbing the environment and posing serious health hazards to humans. The root causes of this problem are generally held to be the rapid pace of urbanization, land-use changes, and industrialization, especially in developing countries with extremely high populations, such as India and China.
Since the industrial revolution and economic globalization, the diversity of environmental contaminants has increased exponentially, with countless anthropogenic sources. Therefore, the diverse and emerging food security issues have become a global concern, particularly their inextricable association with human health.
Several hazardous heavy metals and metalloids (e.g., As, BP, Cd, and Hg) are non-essential to metabolic and other biological functions. Those metals are deleterious in various respects. Therefore, they have been included in the top 20 list of dangerous substances by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Certain heavy metals, such as Cu, Fe, Zn (and even Cr(III)), are essential components of metabolic processes, including cytochromes and enzymes, inextricably linked to the metabolic functioning of biota Nickel is an integral component of urease. However, it can cause human health risks at excessive levels. Thus, soil–food crop/vegetable systems provide a classic example of a biotic-biotic interaction in the environment.
Food security is a high-priority issue for sustainable global development both quantitatively and qualitatively. In recent decades, adverse effects of unexpected contaminants on crop quality have threatened both food security and human health. Heavy metals and metalloids (e.g., Hg, As, Pb, Cd, and Cr) can disturb human Meta bulimics, contributing to morbidity and mortality.
Therefore, this review focuses on and describes heavy metal contamination in soil–food crop subsystems concerning human health risks. It also explores the possible geographical pathways of heavy metals in such subsystems. An in-depth discussion is further offered on physiological/molecular translocation mechanisms involved in the uptake of metallic contaminants inside food crops.
Finally, management strategies are proposed to regain sustainability in soil–food subsystems. Again, due to excluding all forms of animal protein, many vegans turn to soy as a protein source. While unprocessed forms of soy may be okay for some people, processed forms of soy are commonly found in a vegan diet, including tofu, soy milk, and soy-based processed foods sold as meat substitutes.
Processed soy foods are no better for human health than any other highly processed foods, but with the added risk of hormone interference due to phytoestrogens found in all forms of soy. Soy has also been a contributor to the intake of the toxic metal cadmium in vegans and vegetarians.
Low Energy & Weight Problems
It becomes difficult to track our calories when we switch from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet. It is because plant-based foods are not as rich in calories as animal-based foods. Hence, if you are eating smaller portions as you did in your earlier lifestyle, it will surely bring down your energy levels drastically.
You must ensure that you are consuming a proper 2000 calories diet even while eating a plant-based diet. By not having enough nutrition, you risk health problems and increase your chances to abandon your diet and go back to old ways.
Weight gain and fatigue are common issues that almost everyone grapples with. They are natural consequences of dealing with everyday stressors and a lack of sleep, but unexplained weight gain and fatigue can sometimes be symptoms of an underlying condition.
However, they are nonspecific symptoms, and many diseases could manifest these symptoms, so it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. If you are eating a healthy diet and sleeping well but experiencing weight gain and fatigue, talk to your doctor to find out what may be happening.
Risk Of Anemia Due To A Lack Of Heme Iron
Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia — a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body's tissues.
As the name implies, iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. Without enough iron, your body can't produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (hemoglobin). As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath.
You can usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplementation. Sometimes additional tests or treatments for iron deficiency anemia are necessary, especially if your doctor suspects that you're bleeding internally. Iron-deficient anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency globally, and both vegans and vegetarians are at higher risk of this condition.
While plant foods contain iron, it is called non-heme iron, and it is much less absorbable by the body. Iron-deficient anemia can lead to serious symptoms, including fatigue. Women of childbearing age should know how a vegan or vegetarian diet can quickly lead to anemia. While iron supplements can be taken to help reverse or prevent anemia, most women dislike taking iron supplements because of potential negative side effects, including constipation.
Increased Risk Of Depression With Low Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake
Without a food source of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oils and increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from foods like nuts, vegans might be at higher risk from depression. Algae-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are an option, but they can be expensive and hard to find.
And, since many vegan diets may include a higher than average intake of nuts, the balance of fatty acids in the body can still get off-balance. Nutrition plays a key role in brain development, mental health, and psychiatric disorders.
The role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in physical health is well established, and their role in mental health is becoming increasingly evident. Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in a wide range of physiological functions related to neurogenesis, neurotransmission, and neuroinflammation; therefore, they play fundamental roles in the development, functioning, and ageing of the brain.
In humans, dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with an increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism. In particular, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid has been linked to the maintenance of mental health, and their deficits have been implicated in the pathophysiology of mental disorders.
This may be mediated by the modulation of inflammatory processes and their direct effects on neuronal membrane fluidity and receptor function. However, randomized clinical trials investigating the therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acids have yielded inconclusive results, thereby limiting the use of these nutrients in psychiatric practice.
High-quality clinical trials should be conducted to examine the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing and treating mental disorders. The undesirable side effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation should also be considered. These effects may become apparent after many years of administration, and therefore, they may not be detected in most cases.
Risk Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Since vitamin B12 is only available in animal foods, vegans are at a much higher risk of developing a deficiency in this vital nutrient. In fact, most nutrition professionals agree that those on a vegan or vegetarian diet must supplement with a high-quality vitamin B12 supplement to avoid irreversible health conditions that can result from deficiency.
Clinical deficiency can cause anemia or nervous system damage. Most vegans consume enough B12 to avoid clinical deficiency. Two subgroups of vegans are at particular risk of B12 deficiency: long-term vegans who avoid common fortified foods (such as raw food vegans or macrobiotic vegans) and breastfed infants of vegan mothers whose own intake of B12 is low.
In adults, typical deficiency symptoms include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes. Often these symptoms develop gradually over several months to a year before being recognized as B12 deficiency, and they are usually reversible on administration of B12.
There is, however, no entirely consistent and reliable set of symptoms, and there are cases of permanent damage in adults from B12 deficiency. If you suspect a problem, get a skilled diagnosis from a medical practitioner, as these symptoms can also be caused by problems other than B12 deficiency.
Infants typically show a more rapid onset of symptoms than adults. B12 deficiency may lead to loss of energy and appetite and failure to thrive. If left untreated, it can lead to coma or death. Again there is no entirely consistent pattern of symptoms. Infants are more vulnerable to permanent damage than adults. Some make a full recovery, but others show retarded development.
The risk to these groups alone is reason enough to call on all vegans to give a consistent message about the importance of B12 and set a positive example. Every case of B12 deficiency in a vegan infant or an ill-informed adult is a tragedy and brings veganism into disrepute.
It should also be noted that many people have a genetic variation known as MTHFR that can impact how B vitamins are absorbed. In this case, even certain B vitamin supplementation might not be enough to prevent a deficiency.
Inhibition Of Zinc Absorption On Vegan And Vegetarian Diets
Similar to vitamin B12, vegan and vegetarian diets can result in low zinc status. It is theorized that the problem, in this case, is that higher consumption of plant foods containing phytic acid may inhibit the ability of the body to absorb zinc. Because of this potential issue with zinc absorption, nutrition professionals often recommend that vegans and vegetarians increase their intake of zinc up to 50% of the recommended daily allowance to ensure adequate levels.
Risk Of Consuming Too Much Carbohydrate
Carbohydrate nutrients include digestible forms, or sugars and starches, and indigestible fiber. Your digestive system breaks down the digestible carbohydrate into glucose, which travels in your blood to reach all your cells. Although glucose is an essential energy source, the amount in your blood and how quickly its level rises after you consume carbohydrates are important factors that impact your health.
Vegan diets are generally lower in protein and can cause blood sugar swings in certain individuals. There is also the risk of over-consuming carbohydrates on a vegan diet, especially since legumes are often consumed as a protein source but are very high in carbohydrates.
Vegans may also replace the calories from protein sources with refined carbohydrates, including bread, crackers, and cookies. Over-consuming carbohydrates can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, blood sugar dysregulation, and other troublesome symptoms.
Eating a diet that includes moderate to higher protein levels has been shown to have a positive effect on satiety and weight management. It can be harder to find quality protein sources on a vegan diet that aren’t also carbohydrate sources (like beans) or are soy-based.
Risk Of Disordered Eating
Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder that is defined by an over-fixation of healthy eating patterns. It can result in over-restriction, obsession, and other serious eating disorders. Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviours that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, AN, bulimia nervosa, or BN, are diagnosed according to specific and narrow criteria. This excludes a majority of people suffering from disordered eating.
Many individuals with disordered eating symptoms are diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS. However, similar to AN or BN, EDNOS has specific criteria that must be met for the patient to receive this diagnosis, which is also narrowing.
Disordered Eating vs Eating Disorder
The most significant difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is whether or not a person's symptoms and experiences align with the criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association. The term “disordered eating” is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis.
Thus, while many people who have disordered eating patterns may fit the criteria for EDNOS, it also is possible to have disordered eating patterns that do not fit within the current confines of an eating disorder diagnosis. Still, eating concerns falling short of a diagnosis deserve attention and treatment as they may turn into more problematic eating disorders and put individuals at risk of serious health problems.
A vegetarian diet is a boon to health. It can help a person to have a lower cholesterol level, lower weight, lower blood pressure, and a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. It also helps in preventing deadly chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. It may also help in prolonging longevity. However, if the diet is not planned properly, it may be a bane to the health.
Hence, more studies should be conducted to prove the beneficial effects of the vegetarian diet. In my opinion, I would suggest everyone consider a vegetarian diet as an option to the adjuvant therapy if some are at a borderline of developing any of the diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, kidney stones, hyperlipidemia, and cataracts or is suffering from depression.
I trust you enjoyed reading the article on the Top Risks Of Vegan Diets. Please stay tuned. There are more blog posts to come very shortly.
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It is so easy to cook your own vegan food, and you feel more energetic and lighter as a result. Here are some links to some of my favourite articles: