Veganism on the rise

With the United Nations Environment Programme, having recommended a shift to a vegan diet, recent torrent of meat scandals on the news headlines and a rise in number of celebrity vegans, could veganism be soon turning mainstream? Today, among 2.5% of the population in the USA identify themselves as vegans and according to Google trends, this shift is on the increase with more people adapting to a vegan lifestyle. So, what is so appealing about this way of living?

The short answer is this: high levels of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol are generally found in meat diets which are major contributors to increased risk in cancers, coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes whereas in direct contrast, the high quantity of non-nutritive phytochemicals including carotenoids, all have demonstrated to be beneficial in enhancing cell function and protective against cancer, are naturally present in vegan diets.  The high levels of fibre contributes to bowel health and to lower cholesterol levels as LDL receptors are promoted. Whilst an absence of saturated fat from meat benefits the heart in addition to the many other phytochemicals beneficial properties such as antioxidant, antineoplastic (checking maturation and proliferation of malignant cells), anti-inflammatory and/or anti-carcinogenic (reduces the occurrence of cancers) properties.

Whilst high levels of contention exist between authors on the many disparate study results on biochemical effects of varying dietary concentrations, there is evidence pointing to a link in increased breast and colon cancers risk to  the excessive intake of essential amino acids found in meat diets that increase the Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I) activity.  With its naturally reduced dietary protein of less essential amino acids, low-fat vegan diets are shown (in animal studies with soy protein) to correlate with reduction in the IGF-I activity.  Vegan diets seem to be a better answer than meat diets to reducing the risk of developing cancers including prostate cancer risk associated with high IGF-I activity in men due to higher insulin resistance.  All other factors rank equally, with more favourable lipid profiles, lower BMI, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures associated with vegan diets than meat diets, the former is the clear winner in reducing coronary heart disease.

Though having lesser essential amino acids than meat proteins, many plant proteins contain a higher amount of non-essential amino acids than most animal food products, which are beneficial in helping to promote the secretion of glucagon, an essential part of the feedback system together with insulin, that keeps blood glucose at stable levels. In respect to diabetic risk, again,  low-fat vegan nutrition along with exercise,  helps more effectively than the meat diets in diabetic control and to lower blood pressure.

Of course, there are some downsides to a vegan diet such as if substitute nutrients are not taken, there could be a risk of nutritional deficiencies by eliminating animal products. Particular nutrients include vitamins B-12, D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies concluded that vegans have lower protection against hemorrhagic strokes due to a reduction in IGF-I activity, therefore decreasing the structural integrity of cerebral arteries. A reduced growth factor in vegans could be responsible for the increased risk. However, by reducing salt intake and taking other realistic precautions to encourage cerebrovascular health this problem can be faced head-on.

Becoming a vegan is not a light-hearted decision but it could have serious benefits. It’s always best to do some more research and decide for yourself!

Sources:

Vegan proteins may reduce risk of cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease by promoting increased glucagon activity. (Med Hypotheses. 1999)

IGF-I activity may be a key determinant of stroke risk–a cautionary lesson for vegans. (Med Hypotheses. 2003)

A scientific review of the reported effects of vegan nutrition on the occurrence and prevalence of cancer and cardiovascular disease

Oxford Journals.  Life  Sciences. Bioscience Horizons (2010) (2): 197-212. <http://www. http://biohorizons.oxfordjournals.org/content/3/2/197.full>

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One Response to “Veganism on the rise”

  1. Kayra de Freitas April 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    The health benefits definitely do contribute to the factors that make a vegan diet appealing. This is especially true considering a relatively recent shift of the global society to a more health conscious state, for example, ‘fit is the new skinny’. Naturally there are many mistakes made when attempting a vegan diet. For example, considering the high carbohydrate intake usually associated with a vegan diet, those who try the vegan diet for the first time might limit their total caloric intake due to a fear of gaining weight. This is sometimes done out of habit, such as small portion servings or restricted eating and without realising that the calories once occupied by any animal product, be it meat or dairy or any variant, contained a dense calorie structure and needs to be replaced by what could be a big bowl of vegetables or salad. As stated many times in the post, the vegan diet must definitely be low in fat content. Oftentimes the caloric deficit, spoken of above, in conjunction with being too lazy to prepare food causes a person to crave calorie dense food which can result in the vegan diet with the intent of being healthy becoming a junk food vegan diet leaving the person worse off than they were prior to being vegan. Research must be done but one can be assured that if done properly, a vegan diet will turn into the lifestyle filled with energy and passion.

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