The number of people who eat vegetarian or vegan food has increased significantly in recent years. Many people state that they have chosen these diets because they are doing something for the environment or because they want to be healthier. But what are the actual health benefits?
Both vegan and vegetarian diets can be healthy if they are balanced and provide important nutrients. For example, it can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as explained in an article by the Cleveland Clinic (USA). However, there are some differences between the two diets.
Suitable for long-term nutrition
A vegetarian diet avoids meat but includes other animal products such as dairy and eggs. A vegan diet, on the other hand, excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and usually also honey and other animal ingredients in processed foods.
As stated on the website of the Competence Center for Nutrition (KErn) of the Bavarian State Ministry for Nutrition, Agriculture and Forestry (StMELF), the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) considers a vegetarian diet suitable as permanent nutrition.
A vegan diet is more difficult to implement because certain nutrients can easily be neglected. However, with sufficient knowledge, it is also feasible and can be healthy for adults with the appropriate intake of critical micronutrients.
For example, study results show that even with a vegan diet, the supply of the main nutrients and most vitamins and minerals was sufficient for the majority of the study participants, reports the DGE.
The health impact of either diet depends on factors such as food choices, portion sizes, and nutrient intake.
Both diets can provide all the necessary nutrients if planned well. However, vegans need to be extra careful to get enough vitamin B12, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, as these nutrients are more common in animal foods.
Dietary supplements may be recommended for certain nutrients. According to an article in the Österreichische Ärztezeitung (ÖÄZ), a supplement with vitamin B12 is necessary for a vegan diet, since this cannot be supplied sufficiently through vegan foods.
However, it is generally advised to only take dietary supplements after consulting a doctor.
Both diets can meet protein needs, but vegans may need to combine plant-based protein sources to ensure they are getting all the essential amino acids. Plant-based protein sources include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Both vegetarian and vegan diets can be high in fiber, which is beneficial for digestion, heart health, and weight management.
In numerous studies, some of which are large-scale, it has been convincingly proven that a well-balanced vegetarian diet can contribute to a lower incidence of so-called lifestyle diseases.
According to scientific studies, it leads to a lower number of cases of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and cancer.
Vegans are also less likely to develop such diseases, which can be attributed to the consumption of meat, among other things.
A study by the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda (USA) identified nine diseases that are associated with meat consumption: cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, infections, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease and chronic liver disease.
Both diets are generally considered more environmentally friendly than those that rely heavily on animal products, with veganism potentially having a lower carbon footprint due to the absence of all animal products.
Both diets address animal welfare concerns, but veganism takes a stronger stance by avoiding all forms of animal exploitation.
selection and planning
Ultimately, the health effects of a vegan or vegetarian diet depend on individual food choices and diet planning. It’s important to focus on a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, limit processed foods, and make informed choices based on personal health goals and values. (ad)