Health Implications of A Vegan Diet

Health Implications of A Vegan Diet

In our previous post, we covered the environmental impact of our diets and the dangers to our world. We also explored why the vegan diet was the most sustainable. But that begs the question, which diet is the healthiest? This age-old dilemma still holds today, though in many ways there seems to be a clear winner emerging. A vegan or at least predominantly plant-based diet has been taking the lead in the battle of diets.  Over the last twenty years, both research and social momentum have begun to propel it into mass awareness and the mainstream. No longer relegated to hippies and environmental activists, the vegan diet has exploded in popularity over the last decade. The latest research shows that there are over 9.6 million vegans in the United States as of 2020 accounting for 3% of the overall population and is rapidly growing [1-3]. This is nearly a 3300% increase from 2004 where there were only 290,000 vegans in the United States. Surveys also show that 40% of people across North America are trying to include more vegan foods in their diet and over 60% of American’s ate more plant-based during the COVID-19 pandemic [4]. This trend has been accompanied by a greater awareness of the environmental implications of our diets, the increased availability of plant-based meats and vegan alternatives at grocery stores and restaurants, the popularization of veganism in movies like The Game Changers, and support from prominent influencers and celebrities. Furthermore, the vegan diet has been backed by an abundance of science showing evidence of significant health benefits from the vegan diet.


Caption: This map shows the concentration of vegans in the United States with the greenest states indicating the highest amounts and the reddest indicating the lowest amounts. Picture credits: citation 1

There are certain nutrients that anyone on a plant-based diet must be aware of which we will cover in a subsequent blog post. For this post, we will cover the health implications and benefits of a vegan diet and the research behind it. For anyone who is new to the topic, a vegan diet is one that does not include products of animal origin. This includes but is not limited to meat, all forms of dairy, eggs, fish, and even things we do not normally consider like honey and sucrose (yes, conventional processed sugar is processed through bone char, which is cattle bones that are heated to 700 degrees Celsius producing a granular substance used in the filtration process of making table sugar) [5]. What does a vegan diet include? Pretty much anything except for those items previously listed: Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, nuts as well as the many things that can be made from these various ingredients such as plant-based meats, vegan cheeses, vegan burgers, vegan milk, vegan yogurts, and more. Then what are the benefits of a plant-based diet for your health? While the benefits are numerous, we will cover some of the biggest ones here.

First and foremost, despite conventional myths, a plant-based diet provides higher levels of crucial nutrients linked to good health and longevity such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E, folate, magnesium, potassium, and polyphenols [6-9]. This provides a range of benefits for your overall health. Higher fiber intakes are associated with lower rates of colon and breast cancers and healthier weight maintenance [10-12]. Antioxidants protect your body from free radical damage from toxins, heavy metals, and environmental toxicities. Polyphenols are fuel for your gut bacteria as well as vital antioxidant producing compounds that nourish your gut and skin health that have been associated with longevity [13].

Another major upside of vegan diets is weight loss and healthy weight maintenance. A vegan diet is one of the most effective diets for weight loss as has been confirmed in multiple randomized controlled trials, the gold standard for research studies [14-19]. Amazingly, the research shows that vegan diets were even more effective for weight loss than calorie-restricted diets even though those on vegan diets were able to eat until they were full [20-21]. Vegans also have lower body mass indexes on average relative to non-vegans. There are several reasons for the weight loss power of vegan diets. First, as mentioned previously, the abundance of fiber in a plant-based diet helps promote satiety (a feeling of fullness) which prevents excess calorie consumption and helps maintain a healthy weight. Furthermore, removing animal products removes excess growth factors that are present in dairy such as IGF-1 which promotes weight gain and accelerates the process of aging [22]. Lastly, plant-based foods are more nourishing to the body and allow you to get the nourishment you need from less.

One of the biggest benefits of a vegan diet is the ability to drastically reduce your risk of the number one cause of death in the US – heart disease, as well as the risk factors that cause it: hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol. Vegan diets improve many of the risk factors that culminate in deadly disease. A vegan diet is associated with a 75% reduced risk of hypertension and up to a 78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes [23-26]. Even more impressive, a study showed that a vegan diet created a greater improvement in blood sugar levels in diabetics than diets from the American Diabetes Association [26]. Vegan diets do not include any animal products, and therefore do not contain any dietary cholesterol which is why it is no surprise that they have been shown to also be very effective at reducing LDL and total cholesterol levels compared to other diets [26-27]. Overall, vegans enjoy a 42% decreased risk of mortality from heart disease according to some studies [23].

Lastly, vegan diets can help you live the longest and healthiest life. A study performed on 73,308 participants in the 7th-day Adventist community showed that those who ate a vegan diet had lower all-cause mortality than both non-vegetarians and vegetarians [28]. While the vegetarians did have lower mortality than the non-vegetarians, the vegans had even further reduced mortality rates. The potential reasons for this are manyfold. Higher intakes of antioxidants, polyphenols, and nutrients may play a role. Reduced mortality for heart disease and other associated comorbidities such as Alzheimer’s disease also increases the average vegan’s lifespan. Other speculative causes include reduced growth factors, reduced exposure to processed meats and toxic advanced glycation end products, improved mitochondrial function, decreased inflammation, and more.

While these are only some of the many benefits of vegan diets that have been explored, what they reveal is eye-opening. Whether it is improving heart health, losing weight, living longer, getting more nutrition, or simply feeling better every day, you can benefit by including more plant-based foods in your diet. In the next blog post, we will explore myths and truths behind specific nutrients to pay attention to when creating a well-rounded vegan diet.


  • Davey GK, Spencer EA, Appleby PN, Allen NE, Knox KH, Key TJ. EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes in a cohort of 33 883 meat-eaters and 31 546 non meat-eaters in the UK. Public Health Nutr. 2003;6(3):259-269. doi:10.1079/PHN2002430
  • Turner-McGrievy GM, Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Lanou AJ. Effects of a low-fat vegan diet and a Step II diet on macro- and micronutrient intakes in overweight postmenopausal women. Nutrition. 2004;20(9):738-746. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2004.05.005
  • Turner-McGrievy GM, Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, Gloede L, Green AA. Changes in nutrient intake and dietary quality among participants with type 2 diabetes following a low-fat vegan diet or a conventional diabetes diet for 22 weeks. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(10):1636-1645. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.07.015
  • Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner MD, Chi CS, Ornish D. A very-low-fat vegan diet increases intake of protective dietary factors and decreases intake of pathogenic dietary factors. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(2):347-356. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2007.10.044
  • Burkholder-Cooley N, Rajaram S, Haddad E, Fraser GE, Jaceldo-Siegl K. Comparison of polyphenol intakes according to distinct dietary patterns and food sources in the Adventist Health Study-2 cohort. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(12):2162-2169. doi:10.1017/S0007114516001331
  • Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wingard EE, Wilcox S, Frongillo EA. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: a randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutrition. 2015;31(2):350-358. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.09.002
  • Mishra S, Xu J, Agarwal U, Gonzales J, Levin S, Barnard ND. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting: the GEICO study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(7):718-724. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.92
  • Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wingard EE, Billings DL. Low glycemic index vegan or low-calorie weight loss diets for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled feasibility study. Nutr Res. 2014;34(6):552-558. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.04.011
  • Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Turner-McGrievy G, Lanou AJ, Glass J. The effects of a low-fat, plant-based dietary intervention on body weight, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity. Am J Med. 2005;118(9):991-997. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.03.039
  • Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wingard EE, Billings DL. Low glycemic index vegan or low-calorie weight loss diets for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled feasibility study. Nutr Res. 2014;34(6):552-558. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.04.011
  • Lee YM, Kim SA, Lee IK, et al. Effect of a Brown Rice Based Vegan Diet and Conventional Diabetic Diet on Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A 12-Week Randomized Clinical Trial. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0155918. Published 2016 Jun 2. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155918
  • Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(8):1777-1783. doi:10.2337/dc06-0606
  • Turner-McGrievy, G. M., Davidson, C. R., Wingard, E. E., & Billings, D. L. (2014). Low glycemic index vegan or low-calorie weight loss diets for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled feasibility study. Nutrition research (New York, N.Y.), 34(6), 552–558.
  • Bartke A, Chandrashekar V, Dominici F, et al. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and aging: controversies and new insights. Biogerontology. 2003;4(1):1-8. doi:10.1023/a:1022448532248
  • Le LT, Sabaté J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 2014;6(6):2131-2147. Published 2014 May 27. doi:10.3390/nu6062131
  • Gojda J, Patková J, Jaček M, et al. Higher insulin sensitivity in vegans is not associated with higher mitochondrial density. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(12):1310-1315. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.202
  • Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(5):791-796. doi:10.2337/dc08-1886
  • Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(8):1777-1783. doi:10.2337/dc06-0606
  • Wang F, Zheng J, Yang B, Jiang J, Fu Y, Li D. Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4(10):e002408. Published 2015 Oct 27. doi:10.1161/JAHA.115.002408
  • Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabaté J, et al. Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(13):1230-1238. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6473

1 comment

  • Jason Adams

    This is such a great article. Very eye-opening. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published