November 1 marks an important holiday in the health world: World Vegan Day 2017.
What is World Vegan Day, you ask? Ever since 1994, the Vegan Society has set aside the first day of November to celebrate the global plant-based eating movement and "highlight how accessible and beneficial a vegan lifestyle can be."
But is a vegan diet really healthy? We asked Alicia Romano, a registered dietitian at Tufts Medical Center, about the health benefits — and potential drawbacks — of an animal-product-free diet.
The benefits of a vegan diet:
1. Vegan diets help you eat more whole foods.
Eliminating meat and dairy will force you to get creative with your produce and whole grain intake, Romano says. "You might be getting in a lot more color and variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that all have their own beneficial properties," she says.
2. You'll slash your saturated fat intake.
Saturated fat — the kind that drives up cholesterol and likely contributes to heart disease — is primarily found in animal products, such as meat and cheese. By going vegan, Romano explains, you'll automatically reduce the amount you eat.
3. Your risk of chronic diseases will go down.
In part because of lower saturated fat levels, "any transition to more plant-based eating is just extremely heart-healthy," Romano says. "There's a really substantial amount of research that correlates more plant-based diets with decreased risk of chronic diseases [such as] heart disease, cancer and diabetes."
4. You might end up cooking more.
"With a vegan diet, it does require a lot more attention to making sure you're getting all the appropriate nutrients that you need," Romano says. While this may be challenging for some people, it also means that you'll likely end up preparing more of your own food — one of the easiest ways to slash unnecessary fat, calories and additives.
5. You'll make the planet healthier.
Research has shown that plant-based diets are better for the environment than meat-based eating plans, since raising animals for food requires large amounts of energy, land and water. By dropping meat, you may be reducing your carbon footprint, too.
The potential drawbacks of a vegan diet:
1. You might lose out on protein and other nutrients.
Many of us get protein, calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins from animal products, so "if we're not paying attention to how to replace those things, we can come up very short from a micronutrient and protein standpoint," Romano cautions. Without animal products, you'll need to load up on plant-based protein such as beans, legumes, whole grains, tofu, nuts and seeds, and look for alternative sources of calcium (such as kale, beans and collard greens), vitamin D (mushrooms) and B vitamins (fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains). Fortified products and supplements can also help.
2. You may be tempted by the health halo.
Remember that vegan snacks and packaged foods aren't automatically healthy; in fact, many pack in added sugars and processed ingredients to replace components like eggs and milk. "Attention should be taken to reading food labels and really understanding the ingredients that are going into any packaged foods," Romano says.