Colorful vegetables: eggplant, asparagus, tomatoes.

A plant-based diet is increasingly becoming recognized as a healthier alternative to a diet laden with meat. In recent years veganism has become one of the most popular diets, endorsed by many celebrities and members of the medical community. Going vegan has many benefits for us and our environment.

Here are 20 of the most important health benefits of going vegan:

1. Vegans Live Longer

Scientists have been talking for years about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on our atmosphere and planet. Now, more than ever, the need to find solutions for these problems has become urgent.

One of the ways in which we can help is by switching to a plant-based diet. A study conducted by Oxford Martin School concluded that by switching to diets that rely on on vegetables rather than meat, up to 8 million lives could be saved by 2050, and greenhouse gas emission could be reduced by two thirds.

To assess the health and environmental impacts of unbalanced diets, researchers modeled four different dietary scenarios for the year 2050. These included a scenario based on the way we eat today; another scenario based on global dietary guidelines—which include minimum amounts of fruit and vegetables and limits the amount of red meat, sugar, and calories—and a vegan and vegetarian scenario conforming to dietary guidelines.

They found that adopting a vegan diet could reduce the number of annual deaths by 8.1 million per year by 2050. This was greater than a vegetarian diet, which reduced the number of deaths by 7.3 million, and the global dietary guidelines which reduced deaths by 5.1 million annually.

A vegan diet doesn’t only benefit individuals, it also benefits the planet. The study projects that by 2050, following vegan diet guidelines could reduce food related greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.

Bottom Line: A vegan diet helps you live longer and benefits the planet too.

2. Improved Physical Fitness Levels

Many athletes, from tennis players to body builders, are now following a vegan diet to improve their performance. Amongst them is Barnabas du Plessis, world-renowned body builder and former Mr Universe, who insists that his vegan diet has given him more energy, fewer aches, and better health.

In her book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, Julieanna Hever notes that athletes following a plant-based diet recover faster and are able to maximize their training to improve their performance.

These results are borne out by research conducted in amongst Sri Lankan athletes. A study concluded that male and female vegetarian young adults appeared to have higher levels of physical fitness than that of non-vegetarians when assessing endurance and musculoskeletal flexibility.

Bottom Line: A vegan diet contributed to improved fitness levels, energy, and endurance.

3. A Vegan Diet Can Protect Against Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become fragile and brittle, affects a significant percentage of the population over age 50. Worldwide, osteoporosis is estimated to affect 75 million people in Europe, USA, and Japan, causing more than 8.9 million fractures annually.

Many people believe that increasing their intake of dairy products will boost calcium and increase bone strength, but that is not correct. In fact, osteoporosis appears to be more prevalent in developed countries where dairy products are easily available.

Animal protein causes calcium to be leached from bones. This is because animal proteins contain amino acids, which are high in sulfur. The body converts these amino acids into sulfate, which acidifies the blood, and in the process of neutralizing this acid, bone gets dissolved into the bloodstream.

Since meat and eggs contain two to five times more of these amino acids than plant-based foods, their effect on bone density can be quite significant. Instead of increasing one's strength, animal proteins can actually cause an increase in fracture rates.

According to a 1994 report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when animal proteins were eliminated from the diet, calcium losses were cut in half.

One of the arguments people make is that vegans can’t get enough calcium in their diets if they don’t eat dairy products, but this is not true. The calcium absorption from milk is about 32 percent. For vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and turnip greens, that figure is between 40-64 percent.

Replacing animal products with plant foods reduces the amount of calcium lost, which may explain why people who live in countries with more plant-based diets have lower rates of osteoporosis, even when their calcium intake is lower than dairy-consuming countries.

A vegan diet therefore provides an easy way to maintain bone health, because it allows for easy absorption of calcium in low fat foods that are good for the body.

Bottom Line: Vegan diets improve bone strength and lead to a reduction in the risk of osteoporosis.

4. Vegan Diets Promote Weight Loss

Obesity is a growing problem and worldwide obesity numbers have doubled since 1980.

A vegetarian diet tends to be lower in total fat, and vegetarians tend to eat proportionally more polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat compared with non-vegetarians. (Animal products are the major sources of dietary saturated fat).

Low-fat and vegetarian diets have already been proven effective in weight loss. However, a two year study that compared a low fat vegan weight loss plan with one that followed the National Education Control Program (NECP) resulted in a significantly greater weight loss for the vegan group. This was true both at one year and two years.

Another 6-month study conducted in 2013 also proved that a plant based diet led to greater weight loss than omnivorous groups, with vegans showing a greater decrease in fat and saturated fat than the pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous groups.

Bottom line: a vegan diet is low in fat and helps promote weight loss.

5. Veganism Protects Against Cancer

In 2016, The UK Cancer Society released figures showing a 45 percent rise in the number of cases of cancer caused by excess weight in the past two decades.

Since obesity is now a growing worldwide problem, the same is the case in many other countries.

A 2012 analysis of five country studies (UK, Japan, USA, Netherlands, and Germany) examining vegetarian diets and their effects on cancer concluded that vegetarians have substantially lower cancer risks.

Similarly, a European study that examined 500,000 men and women in 10 different countries, concluded that for vegetarians the incidence of all cancers combined is lower than for non-vegetarians.

For women, in particular, following a vegan diet can reduce the risk of breast cancer. A study out of Loma University in the USA, funded by the National Cancer Institute, reported that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Vegan women, for example, had 34 percent lower rates of female-specific cancers such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. This rate was is even more significant when you take into account that it was in comparison to a group of healthy omnivores who ate less meat than the general population.

So why do vegans have such a lowered cancer risk? It all has to do with a growth hormone called IGF-1. This hormone causes cancer cells in the body to grow more rapidly. Animal products increase IGF-1 levels in the body, while a plant-based diet reduces the levels of IGF-1 enough so that the growth of cancer cells is slowed.

In a series of experiments where men and women followed a plant-based diet for two weeks, blood tests using cancer cells in petri dishes showed positive results for both sexes. Women were found to have a reduction in the growth of three different types of breast cancer and men had a similar result with prostate cancer cells.

Bottom Line: Several forms of cancer can be prevented or treated by a vegan diet.

6. A Vegan Diet Controls Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

High blood pressure contributes to a person's risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disorders, and other health problems. For many people, the only treatment has been medication, but that means costs and possible side effects.

Studies dating back to the 1920s show that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than omnivores. A recent survey that analyzed data from 7 clinical trials and 32 observational studies concluded that following a vegetarian diet is associated with lower blood pressure. The study further suggests that such diets could be a useful means for reducing blood pressure, without the need for medication. The authors suggested that unlike drugs, a plant-based diet produced weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and controlled blood sugar without side effects and at a lower cost.

Similarly in Japan, a review of 39 studies that included almost 22,000 people found that vegetarians had substantially lower blood pressure than people who ate meat, leading the authors to suggest that following a vegetarian diet could reduce a person's risk of heart attack by nine percent and the risk stroke by 14 percent if sustained over time.

Bottom Line: Hypertension appears to be successfully controlled by a vegan diet.

7. A Vegan Diet Protects Against Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases of our time. In 2012, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and another 2.2 million deaths were attributed to high blood glucose.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that in 2015 seven countries had more than 10 million people with diabetes: China, India, the United States of America, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Mexico, and Indonesia.

Type Two Diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, occurs when the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin but can’t use it well. Insulin allows cells to convert glucose from the food we eat into energy. People with type 2 diabetes make insulin but the cells don’t use it as well as they should. At first the pancreas makes more insulin in an effort to get glucose into the cells, but eventually the sugar ends up in the bloodstream instead.

It has long been accepted that a vegetarian diet can greatly improve blood sugar levels. This is because such diets are usually associated with reduced body weight and reductions in cardiovascular risk factors. Since diabetes often leads to heart problems, this is especially important.

A 2009 study comparing a low fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet concluded that although both diets led to a sustained reduction in weight, a low fat vegan diet appeared to improve glycemia and blood lipids more than the conventional diabetes diet.

Eating a vegan diet is an easy way to improve your blood sugar and keep your risk of adult-onset diabetes to a minimum.

Bottom Line: Vegans have healthier sugar levels and a reduced risk of developing type two diabetes.

8. Vegans Have Reduced Cholesterol

It’s easy to eat your way to high cholesterol, but luckily there’s a way to eat your way out of it too. How? By following a vegan diet.

Cholesterol is an essential fat that the body needs. We get some cholesterol from the food that we eat, and our liver makes some too.

Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood, so proteins have to take it to where it needs to go. These protein carriers are called ‘lipoproteins’. There are two types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells; low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL.

LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it forms part of plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Controlling cholesterol requires 1) reducing foods that raise LDL and 2) increasing foods that reduce LDL. Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol in the digestive system and removes it from the body before it can circulate. Some provide polyunsaturated fats which directly lower LDL, and some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.

A publication by Harvard Medical School recommends adding vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans to our daily diet. The article notes that a largely vegetarian diet noticeably reduces cholesterol and lowers blood pressure, LDL and triglycerides.

Bottom Line: A vegan diet is recommended for lowering, controlling and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

9. A Vegan Diet Can Treat Arthritis

For years people have suspected a link between diet and arthritis, and there have been numerous stories about individuals who changed their diets and alleviated their arthritis symptoms.

Multiple studies have now demonstrated that this, is fact, the case. A 2002 study that looked at the influence of a very low fat vegan diet on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) showed that after only four weeks, almost all measures of RA symptoms had decreased significantly.

The same results were found in a 12-month study that looked at the effects of a gluten-free vegan diet on RA. Researchers concluded that this type of diet had a beneficial effect on the symptoms of RA.

Vegan diets are rich in antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals, and reduce painful symptoms. A diet based on plant foods is also high in polyunsaturated fats and fiber, both of which contribute to our health.

Bottom Line: A diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans which is rich in antioxidants and fiber appears to be helpful in preventing and, in some cases, treating arthritis.

10. Vegans Have Lower BMI

BMI (Body Mass Index) is important because it is widely considered that your chances of living a healthy and long life are linked to having a healthy BMI.

If your BMI is high, you have a greater risk of developing several dangerous diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists a high BMI as a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, bone, and joint problems including osteoarthritis and a number of cancers, including breast, colon, and endometrial cancer.

BMI can be controlled by weight loss and exercise, and research has shown that a vegan diet is the best way to keep BMI at a healthy level.

In a study that compared BMI for individuals following different diets, mean BMI for vegans was lowest, and grew incrementally higher in lacto-ovo vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and non-vegetarians.

Researchers concluded that this difference in BMI indicated a substantial potential for control of obesity by following a vegan diet.

The same results can be seen in a New Zealand study that noted that subjects placed on a whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) showed a greater reduction in BMI than other diets. The study concluded that a WFPB diet led to significant improvements in BMI, cholesterol and other risk factors.

Bottom Line: A vegan diet maintains healthy BMI levels and increases your chance of living a healthy and long life.

COMING SOON: 10 MORE Health Benefits of Going Vegan from Jen Reviews

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About The Author

Jacky Miller's picture

Jacky Miller is a Registered Dietician based in New Zealand. She specializes in chronic conditions and through diet and lifestyle changes helps her patients improve their health, and lead richer, more fulfilling lives. She writes regularly on health related topics for blogs including MindBodyGreen, Jen Reviews, and The Huffington Post. 

Follow Jacky on Twitter and Facebook.


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