In the UK, there are currently 600,000 people following the vegan diet, with an estimated 400,000 more people pledging to take up Veganuary every January. The biggest reason as to why so many people are turning to a vegan diet is for the sake of the environment and health benefits, but is the world’s biggest consumer trend damaging, rather than improving, your health?
There is no dispute that eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains is good for you and reduced the risk of some chronic diseases and illnesses. However, nutritionists and scientists are becoming increasingly concerned with the number of meat substitutes and vegan fast and processed foods that are less healthy than real alternatives. But interestingly, last year shoppers spent £474 million on meat-free products, including ready meals, burgers and sausages which is an increase of 8%. So, is a vegan diet really as healthy as we think?
From burgers and goujons to meatballs and bacon, there are vegan imitation meats almost everywhere. Some have been around for years, with tofu and seitan traditionally used in Chinese cookery and recent choices such as Quorn becoming popular with consumers. Whilst all of these products are good sources of protein and are nutritious in varying degrees, they are not complete sources of protein as they don’t contain all the essential amino acids which our bodies need.
Salt and Sugar Levels
There are other ingredients used in industrially processed vegan foods which are causing concern with nutritionists. In order to make these products taste as close to their non-vegan counterparts as possible, food producers are including a number of additives, such as salt and sugar than the non-vegan equivalents.
A lot of popular meat-free brands which are sold in supermarkets contain surprisingly high levels of salt and the main problem that comes from these foods is that they often use orange or green packaging and use the term ‘plant-based” to make the foods appear healthier than they are. Whilst there are some great vegan alternatives to dairy and meat products, there are a lot of manufacturers who are simply chasing the cash that comes with new vegan products.
Whilst there are many vegan advocates who insist that it is possible to maintain a well-balanced plant-based diet, many nutritionists are concerned that a lot of vegans can’t manage it. Anaemia is a huge health problem for many vegans, as B12 is found naturally in animal products and not often in plant-based foods unless it is fortified. A lot of vegans are also lacking in a number of vitamins, such as vitamin D and calcium, which has led to an increase in the number of vegan probiotics and supplements which are available.
Whilst experts agree that there are some positive health benefits to a vegan diet, especially those that contain a minimal amount of processed foods, just because foods are plant-based doesn’t mean that they are healthy.