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Back To Blog > 15 Things to Consider Before Making the Switch to a Plant Based Diet


This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

Vegan diets appear to be growing in popularity, with a recent report commissioned by the Vegan Society suggesting a 400% increase in the number of vegans in the UK since 2014 (Vegan Society, 2019). This post provides 15 things that you should consider before making the change to a plant-based diet (or if you have already made the switch!)

  1. What is known is that a poorly designed vegan diet can lead to an inadequate supply of essential nutrients and malnutrition, with protein, omega-3, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and iodine, considered to be the nutrients most at risk of underconsumption (Rogerson, 2017).
  2. Plant-based sources of a number of micronutrients (chemicals required in trace amounts for the normal growth and development of living organisms) are less bioavailable than animal-based ones; non-haem iron (essential component of red blood cells) and zinc (essential for a healthy immune system) requirements for vegans might be up to 1.8 times greater than omnivores (Trumbo et al., 2001), and plant-based sources of calcium can be bound to anti-nutrients (plant compounds that reduce the absorption of nutrients from the digestive system) which limits its consumption.
  3. Supplementation with vitamin B12 is a necessity for vegans (Lederer et al., 2019), as this is absent from most plant-based foods (Vitamin B12 is needed for nerve tissue health, brain function, and the production of red blood cells).
  4. Consuming vitamin C along with iron-containing foods is a prudent recommendation for vegans, and choosing calcium-fortified foods such as plant based milk and calcium-set tofu can help vegans achieve sufficient amounts of calcium without having to consume lots of oxalate-containing vegetables (Rogerson, 2017)
  5. The health benefits of a vegan diet are likely to be underpinned by the nutritional quality of minimally processed foods (processed foods include unhealthy levels of added sugar, sodium and fat, associated with serious health issues like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes) and the diet’s tendency to promote a low saturated fat and high fibre intake. Indeed, a recent study comparing omnivores, vegetarians and vegan runners demonstrated that vegans consumed more fibre and carbohydrate and less fat and protein (Nebl et al., 2019)
  6. Vegan diets are associated with a lower body weight and reduced BMI (Spencer et al., 2003), perhaps due to the reduced energy density (amount of energy/calories per gram of food), higher fibre and lower fat intakes typical of these types of diets. A lower body weight and reduced BMI can reduce the risks of some serious health problems like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  7. In endurance athletes, a higher VO2 max relative to bodyweight could lead to performance advantages, leading to a leaner physique and lower BMI which could be helpful for some power to weight type events (Knechtle, 2014)
  8. It has been reported that vegan diets can reduce plasma lipids, which in turn reduces blood viscosity (Wang et al., 2015), and might improve muscle blood flow during physical activity.
  9. A diet based on vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole-grain cereals rich in micronutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants can be beneficial if carefully planned. It has been reported that vegetarians and vegans consume greater amount of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and other antioxidants compared to omnivores (Kahleova et al., 2011)
  10. Vegan diets have been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein and reduced symptoms of arthritis (McDougall et al., 2002), suggesting that the diet could possess anti-inflammatory benefits
  11. Emerging evidence indicates that a lower-fat vegan diet promotes a diverse gut microbiome that is distinct from an omnivorous diet (Tomova et al., 2019), and that this could result in lower levels of inflammation and overall improved health (Glick-Bower & Yeh, 2014)
  12. A recent study investigated the health status of endurance runners, and compared omnivorous, vegetarian and vegan groups, and found that the vegan group possessed lower BMI, healthier attitudes toward food choices and reported the lowest prevalence of allergies (Wirnitzer et al,. 2019)
  13. It has been reported that vegans consume less energy than omnivores (Clarys et al., 2014), perhaps due to the high amounts of fibre typical of a vegan diet (Slaven & Green, 2007). As such, controlling fibre intake might be a sensible strategy to reduce satiety (the feeling of fullness and the suppression of hunger) associated with high fibre intakes.
  14. Vegetarian and vegan diets have been shown to reduce muscle creatine stores, and recent evidence highlights that taking creatine increases muscle creatine store in vegan consumers markedly (Lukaszuk et al., 2005). As creatine can improve athletic performance, this could present an important sporting performance advantage.
  15. Vegan diets are typically low in saturated fats and vegetarian diets have been shown to improve arterial health and vascular function when compared to meat-based diets (Miller et al., 2009)

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace and exercise physiology, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References

  • Clarys, P. et al. (2014). Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients, 6(3), 1318-1332.
  • Glick-Bauer, M. & Yeh, M.C. (2014). The health advantage of a vegan diet: exploring the gut microbiota connection. Nutrients, 6(II), 4822-4838.
  • Kahleova, H. et al. (20 I I). Vegetarian diet improves insulin resistance and oxidative stress markers more than conventional diet in subjects with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetic Medicine, 28(5), 549-559.
  • Knechtle, B. (2014). Relationship of anthropometric and training characteristics with race performance in endurance and ultra-endurance athletes. Asian journal of sports medicine, 5(2), 73-90.
  • Lederer, A.K. et al. (2019). Vitamin B12 status upon short-term intervention with a vegan diet - a randomized controlled trial in healthy participants. Nutrients, 11(11),2815.
  • Lukaszuk, J.M. et al. (2005). Effect of a defined lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet and oral creatine monohydrate supplementation on plasma creatine concentration. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(4), 735-740.
  • McDougall, J. et al. (2002). Effects of a very low-fat, vegan diet in subjects with rheumatoid arthritis. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 8(I), 71-75.
  • Miller, M. et al. (2009). Comparative effects of three popular diets on lipids, endothelial function, and C-reactive protein during weight maintenance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, I 09(4), 713-717.
  • Nebl, J. et al. (2019). Exercise capacity of vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarian and omnivorous recreational runners. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 16(1), 23.
  • Nebl, J. et al. (2019). Microoutrient status of recreational runners with vegetarian or non-vegetarian dietary patterns. Nutrients, 11 (5), 1146.
  • Ranchordas, M.K. & Rogerson, D. (2020). Plan based diets and Athletic Performance. The Sport and Exercise Scientist, pp.22–23.
  • Rogerson, D. (2017). Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercises. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 36
  • Slavin, J. & Green, H. (2007). Dietary fibre and satiety. Nutritional Bulletin, 32, 32-42
  • Spencer, E.A. et al. (2003) Diet and body mass index in 38 000 EPIC-Oxford meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. International Journal of Obesity, 27(6), 728-734
  • Tomova, A. et al. (2019). The effect of vegetarian and vegan diets on gut microbiota. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6, 47
  • Trumbo, P. et al. (2001). Dietary reference intakes: vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 101(2), 294-301
  • Wang, F. et al. (2015) Effects of vegetarian diets on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Heart Association, 4(10), e002408
  • Wirnitzer, K. et al. (2019). Health Status of Female and Male Vegetarian and Vegan Endurance Runners Compared to Omnivores – Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2). Nutrients, 11(1), 29
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