Switching to a plant-based diet may help reduce the risk of some chronic illnesses. Ballarat Naturopath Jasmine Satchell explains the benefits of switching to a vegan diet. But also, how to transition to a plant-based diet safely.
Benefits of a vegan diet
A plant-based diet may reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. Vegan diets are typically low in saturated fat which means that fatty deposits do not build up in the arteries. In fact, some studies show that following a plant-based diet for 5 years can even reverse plaque buildup in the arteries by as much as 7.9%.
People who follow a plant-based diet may also reduce their risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Legumes, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts, and seeds are more prevalent in whole-food vegan diets. These foods are known to be protective against diabetes. In addition, people who follow a plant-based diet eliminate foods that worsen insulin resistance, such as processed and unprocessed red-meat.
Vegan diets can also help to improve liver function, therefore reducing the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). People who follow a plant-based diet have a higher intake of antioxidants and gut microbiota, which in turn improves liver enzymes.
Plant-based diets may also alleviate age-related cognitive decline (ARCD). ARCD is characterised by slowness in thinking, reduced attention span, decreased ability to multi-task, and difficulty in retaining information or finding words. There are a growing number of studies that suggest people who adhere to a diet of plant-based foods may reduce their risk of cognitive decline.
Chronic musculoskeletal and osteoarthritis pain may also be better managed with a vegan diet. People who follow a vegan diet typically eat more anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils and healthy fats. These foods can reduce inflammation and pain, and may also result in weight loss. Excess weight can exacerbate musculoskeletal and osteoarthritis pain. By contrast, foods such as red meat, sugar, fat, salt, caffeine and dairy can increase inflammation, and therefore pain.
The downside of a vegan diet
Some people who follow a plant-based diet are at risk of becoming deficient in some nutrients. Vegans are at risk of being low in iron, omega 3, iodine, vitamin D, calcium, zinc and Vitamin B12. Some people who follow a plant based diet may also lack complete proteins.
People who predominantly follow a plant-based diet should monitor for symptoms of nutrient deficiencies such as:
Lethargy or low energy (low iron and/or protein)
Shortness of breath (low iron)
Pale appearance (iron)
Low immunity (zinc)
White spots on nails (Vitamin D)
Dry skin (Omega 3)
Inflammation (Omega 3)
Osteoporosis (Calcium, Vitamin D
However, by working with a naturopath, dietician, or qualified nutritionist, most people can source nutrients from plant-based sources.
How to transition to a plant-based diet
Because switching to a plant-based diet can result in a decrease in some vitamins and minerals, it is important to do it slowly and under the guidance of a health practitioner.
When transitioning to a plant-based diet (either predominantly or entirely) a naturopath, dietician, or nutritionist can teach you about the best food choices to negate possible nutrient deficiencies. Your practitioner may also be able to arrange testing to ascertain your nutrient status.
It would also be advisable to start with a few days per week where animal products are eliminated and then, if the lifestyle suits you, you can transition to an entirely vegan diet.
Jasmine Setchell is a practicing Naturopath at Go Vita Ballarat. She has worked in the health industry for 27 years, and in private practice for over 20 years. Jasmine has a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Naturopathy), Advanced Diploma Herbal Medicine, Advanced Diploma Nutritional Medicine, and Certificate 4 Aromatherapy. She specialises in wholistic patient-centred health care, with special areas of interest including cardiovascular, reproductive, autoimmune and gut health. In her spare time, Jasmine is Mother to a 21-year-old daughter, an avid gardener and cook.