The Healthy Way to Go Vegan
Better Nutrition|May 2021
Whether you already follow a plant-based diet or want to give it a try, here’s how to make this style of eating work for you.
By Lisa Turner

Dozens of studies have borne out the benefits of a plant-based diet. But being vegan is a little more complicated than just kicking milk and meat. If you’re ready to join the ranks of people who eat only plants, read on for pros, cons, and important things to consider:

Vegan Diet Pros

It’s better for your health. Many years of research suggest that the longest-living populations eat less meat, not more. A higher consumption of meat, especially red meat, is linked with a greater risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, neurodegenerative disorders, and all-cause mortality. A plant-based diet, by contrast, is naturally high in protective antioxidants and fiber, and lower in saturated fat. And studies suggest going vegan can significantly increase longevity and quality of life.

But a vegan diet isn’t automatically healthy. Meat and dairy substitutes tend to be high in fat and sodium, and packaged vegan snacks may be loaded with sugar, refined grains, and unhealthy fats. Stick to whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, healthy fats, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and use processed foods as an occasional treat—not the mainstay of your daily diet.

It’s better for the environment. Conventional livestock farming contributes to deforestation, acid rain, water pollution, soil degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions. Also, raising animals for food uses a lot of water.

But a vegan diet isn’t always green. Tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts, are also water-intensive, with one study suggesting that the average almond requires 12 liters of water to produce. Avocados, mangos, and plums also suck up huge quantities of water. Cocoa is a major contributor to tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss. And out-of-season berries, asparagus, and other produce imported by air have a significant carbon footprint. So if sustainability is a driving factor in your shift to veganism, minimize those out-of-season blueberries, high-impact imports, and thirsty tree nuts.

It helps promote weight loss. A vegan diet composed of whole, unprocessed plant foods is naturally lower in calories and can lead to weight loss. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are also lower in fat than animal products, and their high fiber content nourishes beneficial gut bacteria, which have been linked with reductions in body weight and improved body mass composition.

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