You would think an ultra-marathon runner like Scott Jurek would eat everything in sight.
After all, the dude holds multiple records for chasing down the finish line of some of the toughest 100-mile mountain races in the world. But when he’s racing, he just cruises right past the aid stations stocked with potato chips, cookies, and other high-calorie foods.
Instead of gorging on the race-day food to get enough calories to go the distance, Jurek packs along his own creations made in the kitchen to fuels up on the trail.
Because he lives by a strict vegan diet.
Going vegan is a growing trend in the United States. At a time when nearly 70 percent of all Americans are overweight or obese and eat piles of fast food loaded with fat and cholesterol, others have adopted a vegan diet. A strict vegan diet is based on eating only plant-based foods. That means vegans eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. And they don’t eat any meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy products.
If you’re a vegan, or you’re thinking about making the jump to eating this way, consider the pros and cons of this plant-based diet.
The REAL Pros of a Strict Vegan Diet
Here are some of the major health benefits of following a vegan diet:
Lower Risk for Heart Disease
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. About 600,000 people die every year from heart attacks. And it’s often linked to high cholesterol levels built up in the arteries that block the flow of blood to the heart. Cholesterol is ubiquitous in the typical American diet. But if you’re a vegan, plant-based foods contain zero cholesterol, and greatly reduce your risk for heart disease.
Lowers Risk for Type 2 diabetes
About 26 million adults in the United States have type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. It’s a condition that limits the body’s ability to turn sugar into energy. And it can lead to serious health problems like poor circulation, blindness, kidney damage, and death. Another 76 million people are prediabetic, and one of the factors for this health problem is the typical American diet that includes French fries, hamburgers, sugar-sweetened drinks and snacks. And a recent Harvard study found that eating meat increases the risk for type 2 diabetes. Going vegan, has the opposite effect and helps control blood sugar levels.
Lowers Risk for Certain Types of Cancer
Studies by the World Cancer Research Fund and the Harvard School of Public Health have found that meat-eaters are more likely to develop cancer than vegans. Researchers estimate that vegans are 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters. Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If your diet is based on eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, you’re eating healthier than most of America. Most vegetarians report feeling better, being sick less often, and having more energy than people who do eat meat products. And they live longer too. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that vegans live 4 to 7 years longer than traditional meat eaters.
The REAL Cons of a Strict Vegan Diet
Here are some of the challenges of following a vegan diet:
Consuming Enough Calories
The average adult needs to consume about 1,800 to 2,300 calories per day for best health, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Eating fewer calories than that can aid in weight loss, and that can certainly be accomplished with a vegan diet. But it can be challenging to eat enough food and calories in a day on a vegan diet to supply your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs for best health. It’s possible, but takes more time to buy enough food, prepare, it and eat it, compared to options available to meat eaters.
Dealing With Nutritional Deficiencies
The typical American diet that includes meat and other animal-based products contains ample amounts of protein, iron, vitamin B-12, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and other essential vitamins and nutrients. But if you’re a vegan, you need to be mindful of potential nutritional deficiencies in your diet. If you don’t adjust your diet, or take the appropriate supplements, you make be at risk for a variety of health problems like osteoporosis and loss of lean muscle tissue.
Not Suitable for Some People
If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, a vegan diet may not be the best eating plan for you or your baby. Expecting mothers need higher amounts of protein and iron, commonly found in red meat, to aid in the development of the fetus and support lactation. And if you’re at risk for osteoporosis, you need adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet to strengthen your bones. It’s still possible to follow a vegan diet, even if you do have certain medical needs, can be a challenge for some people.
To Be or Not to Be a Vegan
Scientific research suggests that there are many important health benefits to following a vegan diet. But there are some downsides to the vegan lifestyle that require more time, effort, and education that anyone considering a strictly plant-based diet should think about.