Veganism is one of the most controversial and debated subjects in the nutrition industry today. A vegan diet contains only plants and foods made from plants. Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs (sometimes even honey)!
Three main reasons for veganism are perceived health benefits, to protest animal cruelty, and environmentalism.
The latter is indisputable – a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. Animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water pollution, and air pollution. Worldwide, meat and dairy production uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while providing just 18% of calories and 37% of protein.
When it comes to animal cruelty, it is true that animals are held in terrible conditions in most industrial farms. However, purchasing from organic or free range farms is a less drastic way of making sure that the animals you are eating didn’t suffer to become your food. There are also those who morally cannot accept to eat animals, and if this is your case veganism is the clear option.
The health aspect is where things get tricky.
Evidence from multiple studies show that relatively abundant intakes of vegetables and fruits help prevent chronic disease (such as type-2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease) and lower mortality risk. Therefore, it is understandable to see the numerous benefits of a vegan diet. However, it is impossible to cover all essential nutrients on a vegan diet without careful supplementation. The most commonly cited nutritional shortcomings among vegans are omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, iron and zinc. It is also more difficult to consume the necessary proteins, but even if you do manage to consume non-vegan levels of protein, they would be of lower quality. Protein deficiency can cause fatigue, hair loss and swelling.
Veganism requires focus, balance and, from what we understand, a clear motivation.