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6 Science-Based Health Benefits of Eating Vegan

Healthy Brunette Eating a SaladVegan diets are
known to help people lose weight.

However, they also offer an array of additional health
benefits.

For starters, a vegan diet may help you maintain a healthy
heart.

What’s more, this diet may offer some protection against type 2
diabetes and certain cancers.

Here are 6 science-based benefits of vegan diets.

1. A Vegan Diet Is Richer in Certain Nutrients

If you switch to a vegan
diet
from a typical Western diet, you’ll eliminate meat and
animal products.

This will inevitably lead you to rely more heavily on other
foods. In the case of a whole-foods vegan diet, replacements
take the form of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas,
nuts and seeds.

Since these foods make up a larger proportion of a vegan diet
than a typical Western diet, they can contribute to a higher
daily intake of certain beneficial nutrients.

For instance, several studies have reported that vegan diets
tend to provide more fiber, antioxidants and beneficial plant
compounds. They also appear to be richer in potassium,
magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E (1, 2, 3, 4).

However, not all vegan diets are created equal.

For instance, poorly planned vegan diets may provide
insufficient amounts of essential fatty acids, vitamin B12,
iron, calcium, iodine or zinc (5).

That’s why it’s important to stay away from nutrient-poor,
fast-food vegan options. Instead, base your diet around
nutrient-rich whole plants and fortified foods. You may also
want to consider
supplements
like vitamin B12.

Bottom Line: Whole-food vegan diets are
generally higher in certain nutrients. However, make sure you
get all the nutrients your body needs.

2. It Can Help You Lose Excess Weight

Apples, Grapes, a Fork and a Knife on Scales

An increasing number of people are turning to plant-based diets
in the hope of shedding excess weight.

This is perhaps for good
reason
.

Many observational studies show that vegans tend to be thinner
and have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than non-vegans
(6, 7).

In addition, several randomized controlled studies — the gold
standard in scientific research — report that vegan diets are
more effective for weight loss than the diets they are compared
to (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).

In one study, a vegan diet helped participants lose 9.3 lbs
(4.2 kg) more than a control diet over an 18-week study period
(9).

Interestingly, participants on the vegan diet lost more weight
than those who followed calorie-restricted diets, even when the
vegan groups were allowed to eat until they felt full (10, 11).

What’s more, a recent small study comparing the weight loss
effects of five different diets concluded that vegetarian
and vegan diets
were just as well-accepted as
semi-vegetarian and standard Western diets (17).

Even when they weren’t following their diets perfectly, the
vegetarian and vegan groups still lost slightly more weight
than those on a standard Western diet.

Bottom Line: Vegan diets have a natural
tendency to reduce your calorie intake. This makes them
effective at promoting weight loss without the need to
actively focus on cutting calories.

3. It Appears to Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Improve Kidney
Function

Plate of Raw Fruits and Vegetables

Going vegan may also have benefits for type 2 diabetes and
declining kidney function.

Indeed, vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels, higher

insulin sensitivity
and up to a 50–78% lower risk of
developing type 2 diabetes (7, 18, 19, 20, 21).

Studies even report that vegan diets lower blood sugar levels
in diabetics more than the diets from the American Diabetes
Association (ADA), American Heart Association (AHA) and
National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) (10, 12, 13, 22).

In one study, 43% of participants following a vegan diet were
able to reduce their dosage of blood-sugar-lowering medication,
compared to only 26% in the group that followed an
ADA-recommended diet (22).

Other studies report that diabetics who substitute meat for

plant protein
may reduce their risk of poor kidney function
(23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).

What’s more, several studies report that a vegan diet may be
able to provide complete relief of systemic distal polyneuropathy symptoms — a condition in diabetics
that causes sharp, burning pain (29, 30).

Bottom Line: Vegan diets may reduce the risk
of developing type 2 diabetes. They are also particularly
effective at reducing blood sugar levels and may help prevent
further medical issues from developing.

4. A Vegan Diet May Protect Against Certain Cancers

Bowl of Bean Salad

According to the World Health Organization, about one-third of
all cancers can be prevented by factors within your control,
including diet.

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For instance, eating legumes regularly may reduce your risk of
colorectal cancer by about 9–18% (31).

Research also suggests that eating at least seven portions of
fresh fruits and vegetables per day may lower your risk of
dying from cancer by up to 15% (32).

Vegans generally eat considerably more legumes, fruit and
vegetables than non-vegans. This may explain why a recent
review of 96 studies found that vegans may benefit from a 15%
lower risk of developing or dying from cancer (7).

What’s more, vegan diets generally contain more soy products,
which may offer some protection against breast cancer (33, 34, 35).

Avoiding certain animal products may also help reduce the risk
of prostate, breast and colon cancers.

That may be because vegan diets are devoid of smoked or

processed meats
and meats cooked at high temperatures,
which are thought to promote certain types of cancers (36, 37, 38, 39).

Vegans also avoid dairy products, which some studies show may
slightly increase the risk of prostate
cancer
(40).

On the other hand, there is also evidence that dairy may help
reduce the risk of other cancers, such as colorectal cancer.
Therefore, it’s likely that avoiding dairy is not the factor
that lowers vegans’ overall risk of cancer (41).

It’s important to note that these studies are observational in
nature. They make it impossible to pinpoint the exact reason
why vegans have a lower risk of cancer.

However, until researchers know more, it seems wise to focus on
increasing the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes
you eat each day while limiting your consumption of processed,
smoked and overcooked meat.

Bottom Line: Certain aspects of the vegan
diet may offer protection against prostate, breast and colon
cancers.

5. It’s Linked to a Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Bowl of Oatmeal with Fresh Berries

Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and fiber is linked to
a lower risk of heart disease (32, 42, 43, 44, 45).

All of these are generally eaten in large amounts in
well-planned vegan diets.

Observational studies comparing vegans to vegetarians and the
general population report that vegans may benefit from up to a
75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure (20).

Vegans may also have up to a 42% lower risk of dying from heart
disease (20).

What’s more, several randomized controlled studies report that
vegan diets are much more effective at reducing
blood sugar
, LDL cholesterol and total
cholesterol levels
than the diets they are compared to
(7, 9, 10, 12, 46).

This may be particularly beneficial to heart health since
reducing high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
levels may reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 46%
(47).

Compared to the general population, vegans also tend to consume
more whole grains and nuts, both of which are good for your
heart (48, 49).

Bottom Line: Vegan diets may benefit heart
health by significantly reducing the risk factors that
contribute to heart disease.

6. A Vegan Diet Can Reduce Pain from Arthritis

Cilantro and Rice Salad

A few studies have reported that a vegan diet has positive
effects in people with different types of arthritis.

One study randomly assigned 40 arthritic participants to either
continue eating their omnivorous diet or switch to a
whole-food, plant-based vegan diet for 6 weeks.

Those on the vegan diet reported higher energy levels and
better general functioning than those who didn’t change their
diet (50).

Two other studies investigated the effects of a probiotic-rich,
raw food vegan diet on symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Both reported that participants in the vegan group experienced
a greater improvement in symptoms such as pain, joint swelling
and morning stiffness than those who continued their omnivorous
diet (51, 52).

Bottom Line: Vegan diets based on
probiotic-rich whole foods can significantly decrease
symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Take Home Message

Vegan diets may provide an array of health benefits.

For the most part, the exact reasons why these benefits occur
are not fully known.

That said, until further research emerges, it can only benefit
you to increase the amount of nutrient-rich, whole plant foods
in your diet.

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