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Is a vegan diet healthy?

Is a vegan diet the key to better health and a slimmer waistline? Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat meat or fish, but unlike vegetarians, they also forgo other animal products, such as dairy, eggs and honey.  While going vegan has some health benefits, it is important to do so safely.

The health benefits of a vegan diet

"Some studies have shown a plant-based diet can help with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the prevention of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes," says Sally Brozek, MS, RD, LD, CDE, a registered dietitian at Piedmont Diabetes Resource Center.

Vegan diet and weight loss

While following a vegan diet can have health benefits, it is not a guaranteed way to lose weight or achieve optimal health.

"A vegan diet doesn't mean low-calorie," says Brozek. "French fries and potato chips are 'animal-free,' but they still contain a lot of calories."

If you decide to go vegan, even for only a few days a week, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods, like vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruit and legumes.

How can vegans get enough protein?

"If you are eating a diet rich in plant proteins, like legumes (beans and peas), nuts and nut butters, certain grains, soy yogurt and the like, you are probably doing fine," she says. "If you exclude the protein-rich plant foods, however, you could be at risk for not getting enough protein."

Brozek also dispels the belief about complete proteins.

"In the 'old days,' it was thought we needed to complement proteins in each meal so we got all of our amino acids or complete proteins," she explains. "Now we realize it is more important to eat a variety of foods and sources of protein in the same day or every couple of days, rather than in every meal."

Is a vegan diet right for you?

"It's hard to say one diet will work for everyone since we are all individuals, and have different nutrition needs and goals," says Brozek. "It is fair to say most people can safely follow some form of vegetarian, plant-based style of eating."

Before starting a vegan or vegetarian diet, talk to your physician to see if it is right for you.

For more nutrition tips, click here

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