The vegan diet has gained momentum in recent years, with more people transitioning to the diet, whether for health or more ethical-based reasons. It’s often characterized as very restrictive, is associated with health benefits but also raises concerns. Controversy regarding the diet exists within the public sphere, with those actively supporting and advocating for it, and others questioning its purpose and proposed benefits, perhaps because of a lack of knowledge about the diet.
The vegan diet is defined as one that includes only plant foods, namely, grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetable fats. It is described as a restrictive diet as it excludes meat, fish, and its products which are abundant sources of protein, essential vitamins, and minerals.
Nutrients of particular concern in a vegan diet include protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, riboflavin, zinc, iron, fiber, as well as fat and essential fatty acids.
It’s evident that vegetarians have lower levels of total zinc and plasma zinc concentrations, although most often in acceptable ranges. This is due to lower zinc intake and absorption. However, it is observed that over time, there is an adaptation by decreased zinc excretion when dietary zinc is low.
Although on average, iron intake appears at or above the RDA recommended daily levels, due to the lower absorbability of non-heme iron, vegetarians have lower iron stores. A higher percentage of individuals have stores below the normal range. It’s well known that low levels of iron cause iron deficiency anemia. But the studies have stated that “Vegans/vegetarians have no higher rates of anemia than those seen, in the general population.” This could be because, absorption of non-heme iron is greatly enhanced by vitamin C and other organic acids found in vegetables and fruits, both significant components of vegetarian and vegan diets.
However, lower levels of iron are detected in vegans, which may be explained by the composition of the vegan diet. Once again, increased levels of phytates in vegan diets decrease the absorption of minerals, such as iron. Studies have suggested adaptive regulatory response in vegans which allows for increased absorption of iron. That is, for vegans, ascorbic acid and other dietary factors can promote iron absorption even in the presence of phytates, increasing the once lower levels of iron in vegetarians and vegans.
Fat and essential fatty acids
It’s ideal to obtain about 25 – 30% of energy in the regular diet from fat, including both fats and essential fatty acids. Here, the particular concern is long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, namely docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). While vegan diet fats rely on nuts, seeds, avocado, soy products, and vegetables to meet their energy and nutrient needs, they lack in DHA and EPA. While the linolenic acid found in seeds can be converted to EPA and DHA, its efficiency of conversion is reduced in diets high in the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, of which vegan diets seem to have a high amount.
Thus intake of essential fatty acids should be taken into greater consideration in the vegan diet, as they are essential to cardiovascular health, and brain and eye functions. Lowering the amount of omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, will increase the efficiency of conversion of linolenic acid to both DHA and EPA
Currently, there are no known risks for diets low in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, although an increase in such to obtain a more desirable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial.
Overall, the key to a nutritionally sound vegan diet is variety. A healthy and varied vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes in the right proportion and portion. Nutrients intake discussed above, are the specific nutrients of concern in vegan diets. Greater attention to the intake of these nutrients should be given, therefore guidance of a certified nutritionist is needed to understand where your diet might be lacking, and how to overcome it in the right way. Well-Planned vegan diets are regarded as appropriate for all stages of life, including infancy and pregnancy,
Vegan diets have been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and ischemic heart disease. It tends to be lower in some micronutrients thus, as, with a poorly-planned diet of any other variation, an unbalanced vegan diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies that nullify any beneficial effects and may cause serious health issues.
The Food Safety and Standards (Vegan Foods) Regulations, 2022 has been notified and came in force w.e.f its publication in the official Gazette. As per sub-regulation 5 of FSS (Vegan Foods) Regulations 2022, Food Authority will specify a guidelines and application for submission by the Food Business Operator for approval of vegan logo. If the product is approved, the Food Business Operator can submit this approval to the Licensing Authority for endorsement of the vegan logo on the product applied.
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Last Modified : 9/14/2023
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