A new study has evaluated the key health differences between those who follow a vegan diet and those who eat meat. It looked at a number of factors and determined whether vegans really get enough iron, as well as the relative overall health of participants.
Medichecks, a UK private blood test and medical check company, cross-referenced biomarkers for both fully plant-based and omnivorous eaters in order to analyze their relative health. This “Veganalysis” included more than 10,000 Medichecks customers, and marks part one of the company’s Veganuary series.
According to the study, the biomarker ferritin indicates iron content in the blood. In line with some previous studies, vegan Medichecks customers in 2020 had an average of 30 percent less ferritin than those who ate meat.
However, this still places vegans and vegetarians comfortably within a healthy range, indicating that they do, in fact, get enough iron. Similarly, vegan customers had an average of seven percent less B12 than those eating an omnivorous diet, but this also sits well within the healthy range.
Animal-derived foods may provide more readily absorbable iron and B12, but both nutrients are also found in plants, and many other studies indicate that eating a well-balanced diet is the most important way to prevent deficiencies.
“In general, vegans have better nutrient intakes than meat-eaters,” writes nutritionist Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, in a blog post. “Because they’re eating more nutrient-dense plant foods including vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.”
“Whatever your dietary choices, it’s important to get enough essential nutrients. If you’re not able to do that through food, talk with a dietitian about supplement options,” she adds.
Is a vegan diet healthy?
In the new study, the biomarker for liver health was 25-30 percent lower in vegans — indicating good physical condition — which Medicheck hypothesizes may reflect an overall healthier lifestyle. Those following a plant-based diet also displayed 30 percent more folate, which is an essential b vitamin, in their blood than non-vegans.
According to Medicheck, vegans also showed lower non-HDL cholesterol — and overall cholesterol — than meat-eaters, significantly reducing their risk of heart disease and stroke. The study also recorded a reduced blood sugar count in vegan participants, indicating a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, too.
“An important finding from this 2020 study is the effect of a plant-based diet in supporting the body’s ability to control blood glucose levels, because this is a determinant for type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Natasha Fernando, GP and Head of Clinical Excellence at Medichecks, in a statement sent to LIVEKINDLY.
“As published recently in The Lancet, diabetics are 40% more likely to have fatal or critical-care COVID,” she added. “The evidence that switching to plant-based foods can manage or reverse this condition is hugely valuable, particularly as we navigate the peak of this pandemic.”