Veganism was once viewed as a fringe subculture of radical animal rights advocates, but its popularity has grown exponentially in the past several decades. Today, people choose vegan diets for many reasons, including a love of animals, health benefits, environmental concerns, and religious reasons.
There are now an estimated 79 million vegans worldwide, and their dining options have also expanded with more vegan restaurants and food products available than ever before. While veganism isn’t inherently healthy — Oreos and Swedish Fish are both vegan — it makes it more likely that you’re providing your body with the right nutrients. Eating a healthy and balanced plant-based diet has many health benefits and may play a role in preventing certain diseases. This guide details 45 distinct health benefits of adopting a vegan diet.
Vegan diets provide healthy nutrition in plant-based forms, including grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Eating a well-balanced vegan diet can benefit your health in the following ways.
- Saturated fats. Plant-based diets are low in saturated fats, which contribute to cardiovascular problems and many other health issues. By eating a vegan diet, you can reduce your cholesterol intake and risk of heart disease.
- Carbohydrates. Vegan diets also supply healthy portions of carbohydrates, which give your body the energy necessary to thrive.
- Fiber. Fiber promotes many aspects of digestive health, from cleaning your gastrointestinal tract to stimulating bile acids and lowering serum cholesterol. Dietary fiber provides prebiotics that feed good bacteria, contributing to a healthy gut.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is an essential nutrient that contributes to many bodily processes, such as regulating blood sugar, blood pressure, and muscle and nerve function. It also helps your body produce bones, protein, and DNA. Plant-based diets rich in nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens have ample opportunities for your magnesium intake.
- Potassium. Potassium is an essential mineral that contributes to the body’s fluid balance of water and pH. It also stimulates the kidneys so that it can eliminate toxins and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Vegan diets typically provide more potassium than omnivorous diets.
- Folate. Folate is an essential water-based B vitamin responsible for cell generation and repair, as well as the metabolization of amino acids. Folate is found in vegetables (especially Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and dark leafy greens), beans, nuts, peas, and fruits, all of which are easy to center in a vegan diet.
- Antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that may prevent cellular damage. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants, which lower the risks of several diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cataracts.
- Vitamin C. One specific antioxidant, vitamin C, is derived from citrus fruits and many other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C contributes to immunity, helps the body process iron absorption, and assists in collagen production.
- Phytochemicals. Phytochemicals come in the form of many dark leafy green vegetables. They work with antioxidants in the body to promote protective enzyme production and prevent and heal the body from cancers.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that is plentiful in diets rich in grains, nuts, and dark leafy greens. This potent vitamin contributes to many aspects of health, including benefiting the heart, eyes, skin, and brain. Eating a vitamin E-rich diet may even help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
- Protein. Protein is a crucial component of all diets, but it’s a common misconception that vegans struggle to get enough protein. Plant-based diets combine incomplete proteins — in the forms of beans, nuts, lentils, quinoa, and soy products — to make whole proteins that provide adequate amino acids for vegans.
As plant-based diets have popularized in Western societies, researchers have studied the health benefits of veganism and found many short- to moderate-term benefits of vegan diets over omnivorous or carnivore diets, including the following.
- Cardiovascular health. Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of a vegan diet on our heart health. Diets centered on whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables show lower intermediate risks and disease factors. Plant-based diets also reduce risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
- Lowering cholesterol. Studies have shown that plant-based diets reduce blood lipids (in the form of LDL cholesterol) and lower cardiovascular disease risks. These diets (including vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and Mediterranean dietary patterns) are particularly beneficial for those attempting to manage dyslipidemia.
- Blood pressure management. Plant-based diets help to reduce blood pressure in studies of hypertensive adults. Typical therapies for hypertension include additional exercise and sticking to a healthy diet. In one study, researchers showed a marked improvement in 107 of 192 hypertensive patients when placed on a vegan diet.
- Preventing type 2 diabetes. Recent research shows evidence that plant-based diets effectively reduce key diabetes-related macrovascular and microvascular complications and treat type 2 diabetes.
- Protecting prostate health. Three new studies suggest that a plant-based diet may help protect against prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. Results of these studies showed that those following a plant-based diet were less likely to get prostate cancer, and in those who did, the tumors were less developed than in patients with omnivorous diets.
- Preventing colon cancer. Diets rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics maintain a healthy gut and colon. Studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets are linked to fewer colon cancer diagnoses, meaning they may help to prevent the disease.
- Reducing the risk of breast cancer. In a study looking at almost 4,000 women, researchers determined that consumption of healthy, plant-based diets reduced the risk of breast cancer in participants.
- Protecting eye health. In a 2021 study on age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of blindness, researchers found that those who consume a vegan diet are 32% less likely to develop ARMD. In much the same way, plant-based diets are also protective against cataracts due to their high antioxidant levels.
- Reducing arthritis pain. A recent 2022 study showed that eating a vegan diet can reduce arthritis pain. Participants in the study also experienced weight loss and improved cholesterol levels when they switched to a plant-based diet.
- Protecting bone health. Although no studies show that plant-based diets have detrimental effects on bone health, theoretical findings suggest that vegan diets may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
In addition to improving your health and preventing disease, eating a plant-based diet has many physical benefits, including:
- Reducing premenstrual symptoms. Many women who switch to plant-based diets experience less cramping and PMS symptoms. Studies have shown that following a low-fat, vegetarian diet diminishes dysmenorrhea and premenstrual symptoms, potentially due to dietary influences on estrogen activity.
- Preventing migraines. Switching to a vegan diet may help reduce your symptoms if you suffer from chronic migraines. Case studies have shown that following a plant-based diet high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may help minimize your migraines and lessen their frequency.
- Diminished allergies. Individuals with chronic congestion and seasonal allergies may find relief in switching to a vegan diet. There are several reasons for this, including that over two-thirds of the global population has some kind of lactose intolerance which improves when you stop eating milk and dairy products.
- Reduced BMI. Among all dietary styles, vegans often have the lowest BMI. This giant study of 22,434 men and 38,469 women showed that the mean BMI was lowest in vegans, rising incrementally in lacto-ovo vegetarians, pescatarians, semi-vegetarians, and non-vegetarians.
- Losing weight. Over 41% of Americans are currently obese. Studies show that switching to a vegan diet is effective in preventing obesity and treating it by helping you lose weight in a healthy manner and keep it off.
- Improving energy levels. Dragging energy levels can make it challenging to get to the gym. By reducing your consumption of added sugars, dairy products, meats, and fats within a vegan diet, you can experience boosted energy levels.
- Longevity. Vegans live longer than non-vegans. In a six-year study, researchers studying diet and mortality determined that vegetarians (including vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians, pescatarians, and semi-vegetarians) had a 12% lower mortality rate than non-vegetarians.
- Improving breath and body odor. Going vegan can make you smell more attractive. When eliminating sulfur-rich meat and dairy products from your diet, you’ll notice a remarkable improvement in your body and breath odors.
- Healthier hair and nails. Reliance on the nutrients you attain from a healthy and varied vegan diet support stronger and healthier hair and fingernails. Your hair may also become thicker after eliminating meat and dairy.
Eliminating excess in the American diet
The contemporary American diet is overloaded with added fats, sugars, and toxins. By switching to veganism, you'll eliminate many harmful components in your diet.
- Animal proteins. Americans consistently eat more meat than much of the world, particularly red meat. Eliminating red meat and increasing your intake of beans and grains can significantly reduce your mortality rate and contribute to a healthier, slimmer you.
- Milk and dairy products. Scientists estimate that approximately 68% of the global population is lactose intolerant. Yet, dairy products continue to be touted for health due mainly to advertising and financial interests within the food industry. Eliminating animal dairy products may help you overcome food allergies you didn't even know you had.
- Eggs. There is disagreement among scientists about the nutritional value of eggs, which have about 200mg of cholesterol and other nutrients that benefit overall health. However, you can significantly reduce their contribution to cholesterol in the average American diet by switching to veganism.
- Mercury. Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that many fish species carry in high concentrations. Currently, mercury levels in fish are rising, due in part to climate change and environmental issues. Eliminating fish from your diet may lower the levels of mercury in your body, contributing to better health.
- Sugar. You might not know how much sugar is in your processed foods, but we can tell you — it’s a lot. Sugar is slipped into canned soups, deli meats, milk products, and many other foods. By eliminating many of these processed foods and focusing on fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, you will significantly reduce sugar consumption, improving your health. Additionally, many vegans choose not to eat processed sugar because its manufacturing method involves refinement with activated charcoal sometimes derived from animal bones.
Whether you love animals or want to reduce your carbon footprint, there are several socio-economic reasons to transition to a plant-based diet, including:
- Animals and the environment. A love for animals is one of the reasons many people turn to veganism. It takes little more than a brief internet search to know that livestock animals, including egg-laying hens and dairy cows, often live in terrible conditions. Moreover, the resources for producing animal products take a considerable toll on the environment. A one-pound hamburger takes as much water to produce as two months’ worth of showers. By eliminating meat consumption, you're doing the environment a favor.
- Cost. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and international issues like the Russian-Ukrainian War, supply chains have backed up, leading to considerable rises in expenses at the grocery store. All food prices are estimated to rise between 7.5% and 8.5% this year alone, and meat and dairy products are rising higher. Many people have cut back or eliminated meat consumption simply because they can’t afford it.
- Bacteria and disease. Many foods we eat are at risk for contamination by different naturally occurring diseases, including E. coli, salmonella, Mad Cow Disease (BSA), and Avian Influenza. While eliminating meat in your diet will not protect you from all contagious diseases and bacteria, it reduces your risks significantly.
- Food disparity. Research from the United Nations indicates that in 2020, between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger. That number may be even higher with current issues like supply chain delays and rising costs. Eating a vegan diet is more sustainable for the earth and can be easier to attain for those facing food shortages.
- Hormones and antibiotics. Eating animals or animal products treated with antibiotics or hormones can contribute to many health problems. Growth hormones can disrupt human hormone balances, contributing to early adolescent development and potential tumor growth. Antibiotics in animal products can also affect humans, contributing to antibiotic resistance.
If you’ve decided to commit to a vegan diet, the tips below will help you on your journey and offer additional options when you feel stuck.
- Eating raw. Raw diets have grown significantly in popularity recently, with some individuals committing to them long-term. However, according to researchers, eating only uncooked, unprocessed foods can be challenging to do long-term.
- Eating organic. Organic foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy products. These foods provide safer living standards for animals, better soil and water quality, and reduced pollution. They eliminate synthetic pesticides, sewage contamination, and genetic engineering. Many vegans choose to eat only organic foods.
- Fat-free and gluten-free diets. Vegan diets are naturally fat-free for the most part, but there are many resources online for healthy, fat-free vegan recipes and meal ideas. Whether you have celiac disease or other issues processing gluten, many vegans choose to go with gluten-free diets.
- Dining out. Dining out was often a lament for vegan eaters, but in the past several years, more and more vegan-only restaurants have opened their doors with delightful and healthy food options. For tips on ordering in non-vegan restaurants, check out this guide.
- Premade and easy-prep dinners. Premade meals and easy prep-and-eat options have never been more popular, and many companies cater specifically to vegan diets, including Hungryroot, Revive Superfoods, Territory, Sunbasket, and more.
Whether you fully commit to veganism or start with Meatless Mondays, cutting down on meat and dairy intake will improve your health, mind, and wallet.