Vegan diets have increased in popularity over the years. They differ from a vegetarian diet in that all animal products – such as dairy and eggs – are eliminated from the diet. The draws of a vegan diet are compelling, especially for those who wish to lose weight. For those conscious of and concerned about animal welfare, it may be an appealing dietary option.
The vegan diet however, is not always a sustainable option. For one, it must be continued in a very precise and controlled manner. Because of the lack of animal products, there is a serious risk of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. The concern here is an amino acid known as homocysteine. Increased levels of homocysteine are a byproduct of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Elevated levels of this compound have been linked to heart disease and increased risk of stroke.
The potential for nutritional deficiencies does not end at Vitamin B12 however. Other essential vitamins and minerals may not be consumed in appropriate quantities without supplementation. These deficiencies will vary between patients and their lifestyles.
Finally, a serious concern is the sustainability of a vegan diet. With relatively limited dietary options, many patients lose their willingness to continue and begin to consume animal products. This can lead to rapid weight gain in some people. The added stress of significant weight loss and regain on the body can alter its delicate balance, causing short and longer term problems.
While we wouldn’t necessarily consider the vegan lifestyle and diet to be extreme, it is not for everyone and should be followed with caution. If you do decide to pursue a vegan diet be sure to be tested for vitamin and mineral deficiencies regularly. Please notify your primary care physician and our office of your choice.