Is a Vegan Diet Healthy?
In contemporary society, particularly in more progressive areas, choosing veganism as a lifestyle choice is becoming increasingly common. While the decision to apply a vegan philosophy to all aspects of one’s life (including clothing, personal care, and household items) generally stems from ethical considerations, the choice to adopt a vegan diet is often motivated by health concerns. A conscious vegan diet, free of processed foods, provides a plethora of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats, while limiting calories, excess sugar, salt, and harmful fats. It tends to be a particularly nutrient-dense, but not energy-dense, regimen. But is a vegan diet truly healthy? Does it, as some opponents claim, lack nutrients that are essential for body growth and functioning? For the purpose of research, a vegan diet will refer to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, low in processed foods and artificial ingredients, and which rejects all animal products. The “health benefits” explored will refer only to those based on sound nutritional principles, and not to the alleged psychological benefits of eschewing animal products.
In the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives, nutritional scientist Dr. T. Colin Campbell and former surgeon Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn presented their long-term examinations of the theory that a vegan diet may prevent a number of diseases thought to be linked to a Western diet, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and several forms of cancer (Fulkerson). Veganism purportedly accomplishes this both by offering the nutrients and phytonutrients that protect the cells of the body from these diseases, and by rejecting the saturated fat and particular animal proteins (the most significant of which is casein) that promote them. The film presents some degree of scientific support, but these claims are worth investigating in more detail.
The idea that a vegan diet may prevent heart disease is particularly
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