A vegan diet has gained a lot of popularity over the years, but is it worth the hype? It’s estimated that 6% of the U.S. population identifies as a vegan. A vegan diet might not be suitable for everyone but incorporating more plant-based options in your diet may provide positive effects on your overall health and your menopausal symptoms.
So, you may be wondering what the benefits of a vegan diet are. Let’s explore how a vegan diet may improve your health.
A vegan diet has been shown to help:
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Maintain healthy weight
- Reduce blood pressure
Vegan diets are high in nutrients and low in saturated fats. They include a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts which provide various nutrients, minerals, healthy fats, fiber, and protein. A longitudinal study linked a higher intake of plant-based foods and a lower intake of animal foods with a reduced risk of heart disease and death in adults.
A vegan diet and menopause
Hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, low libido, and weight gain are among the symptoms affecting women going through perimenopause and menopause. A vegan diet may help to ease some of these menopause symptoms. A recent 12-week study found that a plant-based diet that includes a daily serving of whole soybeans helped to reduce moderate-to-severe hot flashes in menopausal women by 84 percent.
A vegan diet may also help you lose some of the menopausal weight gain and keep it off. While the average woman will gain approximately 5 pounds as a result of menopause, some may gain more. A Physicians Committee study tested a plant-based diet in a group of 64 women. At the start of the study, all the women were moderately or severely overweight. The women excluded animal products and kept oils to a minimum. They lost about a pound per week, without calorie counting or exercise. After two years, they maintained the weight loss. A vegan diet may help you lose weight and keep it off because it is high in fiber which helps keep you feeling full.
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds and are most notably found in soy products. They have a similar chemical structure to our own body’s estrogen. During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate. Phytoestrogens may act more like estrogen in postmenopausal women where estrogen levels are lower.
How to incorporate a vegan diet
It is important to remember that small changes make a big impact. You do not have to commit to fully vegan diet right away- or a vegan diet at all. Think about incorporating Meatless Monday into your routine or simply choose to have vegan friendly snacks at lunch time!
If you are curious about a vegan diet, follow our vegan guide to ensure you are still following a balanced diet:
Protein becomes the number one concern for people interested in a vegan diet; however, it is possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet. The average woman should be eating about 46 grams of protein a day.
- Tofu is the most popular option for protein. Tofu has 22 grams of protein per 1 cup and is a healthy alternative to meat. A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s Journal examined data from more than 200,000 people and found those who ate at least one serving of tofu a week had an 18% lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those who ate tofu less than once a month.
- Tempeh is another popular option. Tempeh is easily found in your local supermarket and contains 33 grams of protein per cup. Tempeh comes from soybeans like tofu; but rather than coagulating soy milk like tofu, tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans. This means that tempeh is less processed than tofu and usually contains more nutrients like protein and fiber.
- Spinach is a highly nutrient-dense leafy green. Not only are you getting folate, but you are also getting vitamin A, K, and vitamin C. It is also a good source of magnesium, iron, potassium, and a decent source of calcium. 1 cup of cooked spinach contains 5 grams of protein.
- Black beans contain 15 grams of protein per 1 cup. They are packed with fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and a range of phytonutrients. Black beans also make great burgers!
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Postmenopausal women may have trouble getting enough calcium because the body absorbs and retains less calcium after menopause. Introducing a dietary supplement may help combat this, but there are plenty of calcium-rich vegan food options available.
- Kale is nutrient-dense and packed with vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. It is also a good source of fiber and contains roughly 179 mg of calcium per 1 cup.
- Oranges are known to be great sources of vitamin C and potassium, but 1 orange contains about 55 mg of calcium.
- Fortified vegan milk can contain about 300 mg of calcium per serving.
Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, and it may be difficult for vegans to meet the daily requirement. There are only a few reliable sources of vitamin B12 for vegans:
- Fortified foods like plant-based milk, meat alternatives, and nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast comes from the same type of yeast that’s used to make bread (saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast), but it’s no longer alive. It is often described as having a cheesy, nutty, and savory flavor.
Not all nutritional yeast is created equal. Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast contains 15mcg of vitamin B12 for 2 tablespoons which is higher than the recommended daily amount of 2.4 micrograms.
When left untreated, a vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness, intestinal problems, nerve damage, and mood disturbances.
Cons to a vegan diet
Not all vegan and plant-based diets are the same. The rise of meat alternatives like frozen vegan burgers, bacon and sausage, and chicken products have proposed the question: are fake meats healthy?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines processed food as one that has undergone any changes to its natural state. The food may include the addition of other ingredients such as preservatives, flavors, nutrients, and other food additives or substances approved for use in food products, such as salt, sugars, and fats.
Meat alternatives are great in moderation, but highly processed foods should not be consumed in large quantities regardless of diet. Heavily processed foods often include unhealthy levels of added sugar, sodium, and fat. Processed food also includes artificial ingredients, and these artificial ingredients are what help fake meat feel, taste, and look like the real deal.
Like any diet, balance and moderation is everything. And just because it’s vegan, does not mean it’s healthier! The vegan diet offers many health benefits, and even making small changes can lead to positive improvements in overall health.