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Vegan vs. Vegetarian Diets: Impacts on Health Essay


Vegans and vegetarians are people who do not engage in the consumption of meat. However, vegetarians have the option of consuming animal products like eggs and milk, but this option is not available to vegans; vegetarians tend to avoid the intake of all the animal proteins (Craig 1627). It is assumed that most vegans choose their food due to their religious and political beliefs, while vegetarians act out of choice. In effect, Veganism is a way of life that seeks to eliminate the consumption of animal products. On the other hand, vegetarianism is the practice of diet choices that exclude meat products. Mostly, vegans do not consume anything that is obtained from animals, like milk, eggs, honey, or any other supplements derived from animals. On the other hand, vegetarians tend to exclude meat products like fish and meat from their diet, while some of them take dairy products and eggs.

Over the years, there has been an increase in the popularity of vegetarian diet. Mostly, vegetarian diets are associated with many health benefits due to the high intake of vitamins, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, unsaturated fats, and phytochemicals (Phillips 134).

Most vegan diets have less cholesterol, less saturated fat, and high fiber compared to some vegetarian diets. In effect, these groups of people are normally thinner, have lower serum cholesterol levels, tend to have fewer cases of high blood pressure, and have a reduced risk of getting lifestyle related diseases. While vegetarian diets seem to be the healthy way of living, they increase the number of nutritional deficiencies in the body, as one foregoes the intake of animal products. Of particular concern among the list of micronutrients that such groups of people are likely to be lacking include vitamin B-12, Omega 3 fatty acids, and calcium, among others (Key, Appleby, and Rosell 36). Resultantly, it is imperative that vegans engage in the consumption of supplements to substitute the minimal intake of foods containing these nutrients.

Numerous health effects are related to the intake of vegan diets. Vegans are thinner in nature, have lower levels of cholesterol, and considerably lower levels of blood pressure compared to vegetarians. One study by Marsh, Zeuschner, and Saunders shows that the health benefits were true for all the races that were vegan in nature; they included the whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics (260). The study showed that the cholesterol level of vegans was about 44%, which was a lower level than their omnivore counterparts (Phillips 138). One major cause of cardiovascular disease is obesity. Thus, cardiovascular disease is not prevalent among vegans due to their lower body mass index (BMI). Essentially, a good BMI is an efficient protective factor, as it implies lower blood lipid levels and reduces the potential for heart disease among the vegans.

Further, vegans tend to have a higher intake of vegetables and fruits compared to their omnivore counterparts. Mostly, a high intake of fruits and vegetables tends to increase folic acid, phytochemicals, and antioxidants in the body, all of which are associated with low cholesterol levels. Consequently, a higher intake of fruits and vegetables leads to fewer occurrences of stroke and reduced mortality from stroke and resultant heart disease. Vegans also consume a lot of nuts, whole grains, and soy, which are associated with cardio-protective effects.

An Adventist health study showed that non-vegetarians had a higher risk of both prostate and colorectal cancer compared to their vegetarian counterparts. It is stated that a vegetarian diet offers protective nutritional components for the ailments (Le and Sabaté 2131). Overall, the BMI of vegetarians being lower than that of non-vegetarians acts as a protective factor against the development of cancer as opposed to non-vegetarian populations (Le and Sabaté 2131).

Primarily, vegans tend to consume more vegetables, legumes, tomatoes, fiber, vitamin C, and vegetables compared to their omnivore’s counterparts. All the nutrients derived from the fruits tend to be highly protective against cancer. For instance, the intake of vegetables and fruits is termed protective against mouth, lung, stomach, and esophagus cancers. Further, the frequent consumption of legumes offers a protective lining in the stomach, which guards against prostate and stomach cancer.

Moreover, the consumption of foods rich in flavonoids, phytochemicals, fiber, vitamin C, and fiber offers protection against various forms of cancer, with garlic being associated with protection against colorectal cancer. Despite the benefits of most of the foods that the vegetarian population eats, there has been a slight difference in cancer rates between vegans and non-vegetarians. This could be attributed to poor preparation methods and inadequate intake of vitamin D, which also increases cancer risk among the vegan populations.

Further, the proteins that are avoided by the vegetarian societies seem to cause serious health consequences to those who consume them. Processed meat and red meat are two protein sources that have increasingly been associated with many cancer problems. Notably, people with a high intake of red meat suffer the greatest risk of developing cancer, with a risk of about 20-60%. Among the prominent types of cancer that these populations are associated with include the cancer of the liver, lung cancer, colorectal, and esophageal cancer. Moreover, eggs intake is seen to lead to a high risk of pancreatic cancer in various populations.

While vegans avoid the consumption of the food purported to cause higher cancer incidences, they engage in the use of high legume amounts. However, while the use of legumes helps in developing a stomach lining that guards against stomach cancer, it also facilitates colon cancer. Nonetheless, the use of soy foods among the vegan populations tends to protect them from prostate cancer.

While the consumption of vegan diets is associated with some benefits, there are also some risks associated with such foods. Primarily, most vegans emphasize on a high intake of vegetables, which are also dominated by fruits. They also include a high intake of cereals, which are both unrefined and refined, as well as legumes. Cereals and legumes tend to release moderate amounts of bio-available protein levels, yet very rich in nutrients like phytate. Nonetheless, vegan diets exclude fish, shellfish, and meat, which are the primary sources of nutrients that one could consume. In effect, the vegan foods are highly devoid of vital nutrients necessary for physiological functions. In effect, both vegetarians and vegans are prone to vitamin B-12 deficiency, iron, zinc, and calcium deficiencies. They also tend to lack vitamins A and D, among other important fatty acids.

It is estimated that about 68.5% of vegetarians and 83% of vegans suffer from the problem of vitamin B-12 deficiency compared to 5% of non-vegetarians (Craig 1630). The purpose of vitamin B-12 is to work in synergy with folate to synthesize DNA and red blood cells.

The two nutrients are also important in the generation of the myelin sheath, which is a protective cover on the nerves that helps in carrying out nerve impulses. In effect, the lack of nutrient implies that vegans and vegetarians may suffer conditions like fatigue, lethargy, weakness, poor memory, anemia, neurological, and psychiatric issues, among others. In fact, a child brought up with this kind of diet tends to face worse struggles, as they hardly acquire the nutrients even when given some animal products to boost their vitamin B-12 levels. In effect, the standard of reasoning, problem-solving capacity, and learning is low among children with vitamin B-12 deficiency.

The level of calcium intake is equal in both vegetarians and omnivores, although it is lowest for vegans. Vegans tend to lack calcium, as they eliminate foods that are rich in calcium from their diet. Further, it is harder for vegans to acquire calcium from plants, as most plant foods contain phytate and oxalate, which tend to inhibit the absorption of the nutrient. This, further, limits the amount of calcium that the body can get from the plant foods. In effect, while the level of calcium is high in plant foods like kale and spinach, the plant calcium is poorly absorbed into the body during digestion (Craig 1633).

Overall, the health benefits of a vegan and vegetarian diets are positive because the diets are largely protective against cancer, among other lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular disease. However, the diets tend to limit the absorption of various other essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin B-12, leading to deficiencies in the nutrients. Therefore, it is imperative that vegans and vegetarians increase their supplement intake of the vital nutrients they do not acquire from both fruits and vegetables.

Works Cited

Craig, Winston J. “Health Effects of Vegan Diets.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89.5 (2009): 1627S-1633S. Print.

Key, Timothy J., Paul N. Appleby, and Magdalena S. Rosell. “Health Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 65.01 (2006): 35-41. Print.

Le, Lap Tai, and Joan Sabaté. “Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts.” Nutrients 6.6 (2014): 2131-2147. Print.

Marsh, Kate, Carol Zeuschner, and Angela Saunders. “Health Implications of a Vegetarian Diet A Review.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 6.3 (2012): 250-267. Print.

Phillips, Frankie. “Vegetarian Nutrition.” Nutrition Bulletin 30.2 (2005): 132-167. Print.

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