What changes can you expect when you go vegan? A nutritionist at King’s College of London explains that a plant-based diet can have tremendous health benefits, but, as with any diet, it’s important to keep in mind certain key nutrients to avoid harmful deficiencies and side effects. Sophie Medlin provides a run-down of the positives of going plant-based, and what to look out for during the first year of going vegan.
1 Month Vegan
Medlin notes that during the first few weeks of going vegan, people are likely to experience a noticeable energy boost. When people give up animal products, the common practice is to replace those calories with plants. The consumption of more fruit, vegetables, and nuts will flood the body with a significant amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are often missing in animal-based foods – fiber, in particular. This influx of nutrients allows the body to function at its optimal best, become more efficient, and give people a sense of increased energy. These foods may also help regulate bowel function, thanks to ample amounts of fiber, which aids in digestion by keeping waste moving through the system and preventing uncomfortable constipation. During the first week or two, some increased gas may occur as the body adjusts to the additional amounts of fiber, so those unaccustomed to eating large quantities of whole plant-based foods are advised to introduce them gradually.
3-6 Months Vegan
Three to six months into a vegan diet, Medlin says that many will experience clearer skin, which can include drastically reduced (or cured) acne and a “healthy glow.” However, she noted that at this point, some may be heading toward a vitamin D deficiency if they do not get regular sun exposure or they have not been eating fortified foods. Vitamin D is essential in supporting bone health, and it has also been linked to reduced risk for depression and even cancer, though further studies are needed. According to Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University, 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight between 10 am – 3 pm daily is an adequate source, given the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For those sensitive to the sun or who live in cloudier climates, many cereals and plant-milks are fortified, and supplements are also an easy option.
One Year Vegan
A long-term plant-based diet low in salt can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, Medlin states. This is based on a multitude of factors, many of which revolve around what plant-based foods do not contain, such as cholesterol and excess saturated fat.
Around the one-year anniversary mark, Medlin discusses the importance of vitamin B12. It is typically found in animal products, and unlike most vitamins and minerals, vitamin B12 is relatively absent from the plant kingdom. A severe deficiency in this vitamin can lead to breathlessness, exhaustion, decreased memory and tingling in the extremities. However, supplements are readily available and affordable.
As with all diets, balance leads to health. Medlin writes, “Supermarkets and food outlets are making it easier than ever to enjoy a varied and exciting vegan diet and our appetite for meat overall is declining. With the right preparation, a vegan diet can be good for human health.”