What really happens to your body when you go vegan?

Vegans experience a range of physical and emotional changesAustralia is the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world, with an increasing number of people embracing plant-based nutrition.

With thousands of Aussies taking part in Veganuary,World Vegan Month and related events, it’s helpful to understand the changes our bodies undergo when we adopt a plant-based diet.

“A well-planned, balanced vegan diet can offer adequate nutrition”, explains Accredited Practising Dietitian, Julie Masci from New Life Nutrition.

“However, vegans need to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to plan a well-balanced diet, to ensure all macro and micro nutrient requirements are being met”.

We’ve listed the physical changes you may experience ‘going vegan’, including the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the unexpected!

The ‘good’ 

  • Your weight stabilises.

New research suggests that plant-based nutrition may be one of the most effective ways to lose weight, with vegans and vegetarians generally maintaining a lower BMI.

Ultimately a plant-based diet rich fruit and vegetables will be lower in fat, high in fibre and leave you feeling fuller for longer.

  • Your risk of heart disease reduces.

With a vegan diet low in saturated fat, you may be less susceptible to cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and coronary artery conditions.

In fact, Harvard Health reports that “nowadays, plant-based eating is recognised as not only nutritionally sufficient, but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses”.

  • Your cholesterol and blood pressure decreases.

With a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and nuts; a vegan diet can effectively lower your cholesterol.

Vegans also have less risk of hypertension, with recent studies showing that a plant-based diet can safely reduce your blood pressure.

  • Your skin may improve!

Whilst the relationship between acne and diet is often debated, anecdotal evidence suggests that plant-based foods may actually improve the health and appearance of your skin.

Celebrities like Natalie Portman credit their glowing skin to a vegan diet, with the actress recounting, “I cut out dairy and eggs, and I never had a breakout after.”

  • Your taste buds explode!

Some medical experts claim that a plant-based diet can help your taste buds recognise salt, sugar and fat – meaning vegans are more likely to make healthier choices.

“We may actually be able to taste fat – just like we taste sweet, sour, and salty”, reports American physician, Dr Michael Greger.

“The longer we eat healthier foods, the better they taste”.

The ‘bad’

Whilst the benefits of a plant-based diet are well documented, there are some notes you should be aware of to maintain your health and wellbeing as a vegan.

  • You’ll need to supplement B12 and iron.

Cutting out red meat means that you’ll need to consume vegan-friendly sources of B12 and iron – to avoid symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and dizziness.

Linseeds, nuts, spinach and nutritional yeast can offer some alternatives; or else speak with an accredited dietitian about a suitable daily supplement.

  • You’ll need an alternative calcium source.

Eliminating dairy from your diet means you’ll need to seek alternative sources of calcium, which is important for strong bone health.

Plant-based milks that are fortified with calcium can offer one alternative; along with seeds, nuts, tofu and even seaweed.

  • You’ll need to pay attention to omega-3.

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can have a range of implications for your neurological health, and are typically derived from fish and eggs.

As a vegan, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your omega-3 intake, which can be sought from alternative sources such as flaxseeds, walnuts and even brussel sprouts.

The ‘unexpected’

  • You’ll visit the bathroom more often!

Vegans naturally have a much higher fibre intake, and an abundance of fruit and vegetables can kick-start the digestive system.

For this reason, it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms like increased gas and bloating when you first ‘go vegan’.

You may need a few extra bathroom visits in the short-term, however your body will gradually adjust to this uptake in fibre!

  • People will question your protein intake.

If there’s one long-standing joke between vegans, is that’s nobody seems to know where our protein comes from!

The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages vegans and vegetarians to consume a variety of plant-based proteins; including grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Food Protein per 100 g
Pumpkin seeds (dried, uncooked) 30.2
Lentils (red, split, uncooked) 24.6
Black beans (uncooked) 21.6
Almonds (raw) 21.2
Tempeh 20.3
Tofu (calcium set) 17.3
Oats (rolled) 16.9
Quinoa (uncooked) 14.1
  • You may even feel happier!

Studies have linked plant-based diets with ‘healthy mood states‘, and certain individuals have even claimed that veganism is ‘the key to happiness‘.

Many vegans derive a genuine sense of contentment knowing that their decisions benefit their health, the environment and our animal friends on a daily basis.

“There has definitely been a rise in the number of people choosing a plant-based diet in Australia”, concludes Julie Masci.

“Australians need to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to plan a well-balanced vegan diet to ensure all macro and micro nutrient requirements are being met”.

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