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Health Benefits of a Vegetarian vs Vegan Diet

Published : Thursday March 10, 2016 | Posted in : General Health

There are plenty of reasons to go veggie or even vegan. Animal and environmental reasons aside, it's healthier to eat more vegetables, fruits, pulses and nuts.

It's an emotive subject, but let's take a look at the health benefits of vegetarian versus vegan diets.

What's The Difference?

Vegetarians don't eat meat, including fish, whereas vegans don't eat any animal-derived products. That means no dairy, eggs, honey or gelatine.

An estimated 2% of the UK population is vegetarian with vegans making up less than 1%. It's gaining momentum though through initiatives like Veganuary where individuals adopt vegan eating principles for the month of January.

Here are the health benefits of vegan versus vegetarian.

Vitamin Intake

The vegetarian diet has plenty of opportunity to stock up on vitamins as they're found in fruit, veggies and dairy, but vegans may lack certain vitamins like B12 which can lead to anaemia. According to the NHS Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources like eggs and dairy, so sources for vegans are limited and a supplement is required.

Vegetarian diet wins because B12 sources are available 'in diet'.

Calcium Intake

Calcium is found in milk, cheese and eggs, so vegetarians are able to get plenty of calcium. Vegans can find calcium in soy and rice milks plus fortified products and dried fruits. However, a study by the EPIC Oxford found 75% of participant vegans got less than their recommended amount of calcium and had a higher number of fractures.

  • Perhaps a vegetarian diet has the upper health hand here?
  • Protein and Iron

    Vegetarians and vegans can find themselves deficient in protein and iron if they don't eat enough dark greens, beans, lentils, nuts or fortified cereals. That's because the most readily absorbable forms are found in animal products.

    Vegetarians can eat protein in cheese and eggs, but vegans need to keep the bean and green levels high and take supplements if necessary.

    Some experts say that due to their knowledge of protein and iron, and the fact that many take supplements, vegans and vegetarians can have higher levels of iron than a standard meat eater.

  • A tie because most protein and iron is found in meat which both diets exclude.
  • Fat Intake

    Health is one of the reasons why people go veggie or vegan. Fat levels can be much lower in animal-free diets.

    Cholesterol levels are a health risk for many who eat badly and don't exercise. Vegans don't consume any cholesterol, so are at less risk than vegetarians who eat eggs and cheese. However some cholesterol has been found to help cells function properly.

    Cheese is fatty as is full-fat butter and milk. Vegetarians who base their meals around dairy will find they put on weight.

  • Vegan wins
  • Allergies

    Vegetarians may suffer dairy or shellfish allergies but vegans are free from those worries. Both diets may suffer from wheat intolerance though.

  • Vegan wins
  • Conclusion

    It looks as though we have a tie! Vegans consume less fat which leads to heart disease and obesity but vegetarians find sources of calcium, iron and protein more easily.

    Studies show that poor meal preparation is a leading cause of nutritional deficiencies in veggie and vegan diets, not necessarily the lack of animal products. It goes without saying that your food choices are your own, but whatever diet you choose to follow both vegetarian and vegan routes are healthy if you pay attention to what you eat.


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