The Vegan Diet
LOTS OF YOGIS EMBRACE veganism— a strictly plant-based diet and lifestyle that excludes the use and consumption of animal products and by-products— not just as a way of eating, but as a complete way of being. For many, the vegan philosophy is considered a practice of ahimsa (non-harming), one of Patanjali’s five yamas—moral and ethical guidelines for following a yogic path, as laid out in the Yoga Sutra. For health, environmental, or ethical reasons, strict vegans don’t buy or use any animal-derived products or substances. This includes dairy, eggs, silk, wool, leather, honey, gelatin, and certain soaps and cosmetics.
A vegan diet has the potential to be exceptionally healthy because when done right, it’s packed with anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, low-calorie plant foods, according to Castle Rock, Colorado–based nutritionist Jen Birge, MS, RDN, who specializes in food sensitivities. Fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, beans, peas, and whole grains are high in fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals—“all micronutrients that help your body run smoothly and reduce inflammation,” says Birge.
By cutting out meat products, including those that are heavily processed and high in saturated fats, research shows that vegans reduce their risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. To this end, vegan diets are associated with lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, healthier bloodsugar levels, and reduced risk of cancer. In fact, a 2013 study published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
found that vegan diets confer lower risk for overall and female-specific cancers than other diets. And an added bonus: New research, published in June in the journal
Maturitas, found that vegan women experience milder menopausal symptoms than meat-eaters.
Vegans should absolutely take a vitamin B12 supplement (which will aid in red blood cell formation and neurological function) because they won’t be eating meat, dairy, or eggs. They should also consider upping omega-3s, since off-limits fish and fish oil are main sources of these essential fatty acids. A 2017 study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
suggests vegans supplement with algal DHA—an omega-3 derived from algae that’s essential for brain and eye function. Walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are also excellent omegarich options, says Birge.
Low iron can also be a concern for some herbivores, because one of the two types (heme) is found only in meat. That said, high iron stores is a known risk factor for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in older adults, so no one should supplement high doses of iron without advice from a health-care provider. Instead, the journal Critical Reviews in Food
Science and Nutrition recommends that vegetarians monitor their iron levels and adjust diets and supplements accordingly.