A host of studies have revealed the benefits of a vegan diet in terms of kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and adolescent health, building up a solid argument for those unsure of taking up the Veganuary challenge.

For ages, there have been three main factors behind people’s decision to go vegan: the environment, the animals, and health. Lately, consumer focus on the latter has magnified, with post-pandemic attitudes towards wellness and nutrition driving the way people think about food.

With Veganuary fast approaching, if you’re thinking of joining the expected record participation numbers, but are unsure of the real health effects of veganism, there have been a host of studies published earlier this year to guide your thinking. For example, if you’re thinking big picture, a 100,000-person study over 30 years from Harvard University revealed that a plant-forward diet could reduce the risk of death from cancer, heart disease and chronic illnesses by 25%.

There’s also consumer confirmation here, with a 1,000-person YouGov UK poll revealing that 68% of respondents found that their health improved as the result of a vegan diet. Here are some of the studies highlighting the benefits of a plant-based diet to reassure you for Veganuary 2024.

Vegan diets reduce chronic kidney disease risk

Two separate studies from the last few months have found links between veganism and a reduced risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD). In October, research published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases (AJKD) analysed 117,809 people over a decade to determine the effect of plant proteins on CKD. The researchers found 3,745 cases of the condition (3.2% of the total participants), and those with a higher vegan protein intake were found to have a lower risk of developing the disease over a 10-year period

“There has been accumulating evidence that animal protein consumption may have detrimental effects on vascular health, potentially contributing to the development of kidney disease,” lead author Seung Hyeok Han told Health, adding that plant-based proteins offer several advantages over animal-derived foods for the kidneys, including “a lower acid load, reduced saturated fat content, rich fibre content, and antioxidant properties”. “This beneficial association was also evident in individuals with hypertension, diabetes, higher BMI, and higher inflammation level.”

Another study in the AJKD has found similar results. Analysing 2,539 participants with CKD, it found that participants with the highest adherence to “overall” and “healthy” plant-based diets had a 26% and 21% lower risk of all-cause mortality, respectively, with a higher score of an “unhealthy” vegan diet associated with a 14% and 11% higher risk of CKD progression and mortality, respectively.

While nutritional guidance for kidney patients traditionally revolves around limiting protein intake and controlling phosphorus and potassium levels, this study suggested that a plant-based diet could be a viable and beneficial option for them. “These findings challenge some of the status quo in nutritional guidance while offering actionable insights for healthcare professionals and CKD patients, providing a potential avenue for enhancing their well-being – and even their survival,” said lead researcher Dr Casey Rebholz.

Plant-based diets and lower meat consumption can lower diabetes risk

In yet more research published in the AJKD, the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health analysed the health data of 216,695 Americans, with food frequency questionnaires every two to four years, for up to 36 years. In this time, over 22,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that red meat consumption – whether processed or unprocessed – is strongly linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, with people eating the most red meat being 62% more likely to develop the condition compared to those who consume it the least. Plus, each additional daily serving of processed and unprocessed red meat carried a 46% and 24% greater risk, respectively.

The study also found that substituting a daily serving of red meat with a serving of nuts and legumes reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%, while doing so for dairy led to a 22% lower risk.

Another study from MedUni Vienna’s Center for Public Health, published in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism, covered 113,097 participants over an observation period of 12 years. It revealed that a whole-foods plant-based diet could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 24%, even in the presence of genetic predisposition and other risk factors like obesity, advanced age, and low physical activity. Unhealthy vegan diets – those containing a high proportion of sweets, refined grains and sugary drinks – are associated with an increased risk.

The researchers suggest that the reasons for healthy plant-based diets’ anti-diabetic effect go beyond the often-cited lower body fat percentage and waist circumference. “Our study is the first to identify biomarkers of central metabolic processes and organ functions as mediators of the health effects of a plant-based diet,” said lead author Tilman Kühn.

He added: “Our research has now shown that a healthy plant-based diet can improve liver and kidney function and thus reduce the risk of diabetes.”

The effects of a vegan diet on children’s and adolescent health

It’s not all about the adults, now, is it?

A review of 30 dietary studies published between 2000 and 2022 compared the effects of vegan, vegetarian and meat-eating diets on children and teenagers aged two to 18. While energy intakes were largely the same, the study revealed that the average protein intake in vegans (10.9% of the daily energy consumption) and vegetarians (12.5%) was lower compared to meat-eaters (13.8%), but these mostly met and exceeded the lower level if the acceptable macronutrient distribution range for protein (between 10-35% of the energy intake).

In terms of fibre, vegan diets clearly had the highest amount (29.9 g/d vs 15.5 and 14.3 g/d for vegetarians and meat eaters, respectively). Despite this, while children fed a plant-based diet were at risk of getting inadequate fibre, their intake was much more favourable than meat-eating kids.

Meat-eaters also had the highest intake of saturated fats, and lowest intake of polyunsaturated fat – which was the opposite for vegan diets on both fronts. And while the study revealed that vegans were at a higher risk of vitamin B12, zinc and iron deficiencies, natural sources of these nutrients can be found in different plant-based foods.

Meanwhile, meat-eaters were likely at risk of inadequate folate and vitamin E intakes – plant-based foods like nuts, greens and beans are rich in these nutrients.

There’s a lot of information out there about the health benefits of a vegan diet. If you’re sceptical of Veganuary, just look to the millions who have already been following a plant-based diet for years – some even decades. The challenge is there for the taking.

Original source: https://www.greenqueen.com.hk

Going plant-based is good for your health and the health of our planet