The vegan lifestyle can be quite healthy if the diet is composed of fresh, organic foods. This takes some planning. Vegans also need to avoid heavily processed vegan foods that give the false impression of providing balanced nutrition when they do not.
Studies that compare a balanced vegan diet with that of vegetarians, and omnivores suggests that vegans frequently have less body fat, lower serum cholesterol, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes than those on other diets. In addition, vegans may have a reduced risk of heart disease.
Unfortunately, many vegans may not be getting all the nutrition they need. For example, research on a vegan diet show that many vegans may have inadequate levels of iodine in their diets and that can have serious consequences.
Iodine is crucial for many biological functions including metabolism, growth and development. A deficiency in iodine can lead to thyroid cancer, goiters, thyroid nodules, headaches and menstrual problems.
Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to an iodine deficiency. Pregnant women who do not get enough iodine in their diets may give birth to children with significantly lower intelligence than women who do get enough.
A vegetarian or omnivore receives much of their iodine from animal foods such as fish, milk, and some cheeses such as mozzarella; sources not available on a strictly vegan diet.
Lesser sources of iodine that will provide some protection as well as other vital nutrients include lima beans, walnuts, almonds, brown rice, rye, and wheat.
Vegans who are deficient in other nutrients like vitamins A and D, selenium and zinc may have problems absorbing adequate levels of iodine as well. Too much iodine is toxic. Taking supplements like potassium iodine, may create a surplus of iodine. Other micronutrients that are often deficient in poorly balanced vegan diets include B-12, D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium.
Heavily processed vegan foods give the impression of being healthier because they contain no animal products, but they are often loaded with excess amounts of sodium, xanthan gum, artificial flavorings and coloring agents. Furthermore they may be low in nutrients. Avoiding these processed foods in favor of fresh, organic ingredients will help vegans avoid malnutrition.
Sources and Further reading
1. Winston, Craig J. Health Effects of Vegan Diets American Society for Nutrition First published March 11, 2009, doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.2009.26736N Am J Clin Nutr May 2009 vol. 89 no. 5 1627S-1633S Accessed online June 26 2011 academic.oup.com/
2. Vegan Health homepage Accessed June 26th 2011 veganhealth.org/
3. Mayo Clinic Accessed June 27th 2011 mayoclinic.com/health/vegetarian
6. Vegans may be at risk for low iodine: study Accessed online June 26, 2011 ods.od.nih.gov/