Benefits of Vegan Diet: How it Will Affect Your Health, the Planet, and More

The benefits of veganism extend far beyond your health.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Nov. 25 2019, Updated 11:34 a.m. ET

vegan diet benefits
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After learning the truth about how eating animal products affects animals, the environment, our health, and more, many people make the compassionate decision to go vegan. Veganism is a way of living that tries to exclude all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals, as defined by the Vegan Society. This predominantly affects diet choices, as vegans eat a plant-based diet free of meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal byproducts; vegans also seek to avoid exploitation of animals in other parts of life, such as clothing, cosmetics, and entertainment. Veganism is not about perfectionism or personal purity, but about saying "no" to animal exploitation whenever possible.

If you're thinking about going vegan, you may be wondering what benefits you'll start seeing as you transition to this benevolent lifestyle. Even though your motivations may be saving animals and lowering your environmental impact, there's a high chance that you will also experience a number of personal health benefits. Not to mention, the knowledge that you're not supporting animal cruelty and that you're eating a low-impact diet may give you an increased peace of mind every time you sit down to eat.

Keep reading to learn about some common benefits of the vegan diet and lifestyle.

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Health Benefits of Vegan Diet or Plant-Based Diet

Eating a plant-based diet can have numerous positive effects on our health, both in the short term and the long term. The American Dietetic Association's official position on the topic is that "well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."

Short-Term Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

As for short-term health benefits, a balanced plant-based diet is generally higher in fiber — that's because most plant foods contain fiber, while meat, dairy, and eggs do not contain any fiber. Fiber is a key component in digestive health, and increasing fiber intake is a great way to keep digestive systems regular and avoid constipation, according to Everyday Health. Eating more fiber can also help you feel full and less sluggish, since fiber-rich plant foods digest quicker than animal products. Plus, the foods that you might eat more of on a vegan diet — such as fruits, vegetables, greens, beans, nuts, and whole grains — are rich in various nutrients.

Additionally, an estimated 65 percent of the world's population is lactose intolerant to a degree. Dairy milk is actually breast milk that cows produce for their babies, and it contains mammalian estrogen — so it's no surprise that milk biologically meant for calves to drink causes issues for so many humans. When phasing dairy out of one's diet, it's common to immediately experience improved digestion, clearer skin, and more balanced energy levels.

Something else you will notice immediately is that you may need to eat slightly larger portions to get full — that's because animal foods are typically more calorically-dense than most plant-based foods. So don't hesitate to pile up your plate or go back for seconds — keep eating until you're full, with no restrictions.

Long-Term Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

In the long term, you can lower your cholesterol as well as your chance of developing serious diseases on a vegan diet. The only products that contain cholesterol are animal products — so on a vegan diet, you are not putting any additional cholesterol into your body. Even a junk food-based vegan diet would be free of cholesterol — decadent foods like potato chips, Oreos, the Beyond Burger, and vegan donuts are all cholesterol-free (though still high in saturated fat, and certainly not health foods). Our bodies produce all the cholesterol we need, so when we consume cholesterol-rich foods (especially meat and eggs), our cholesterol goes up. High cholesterol can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. That's why eating a balanced plant-based diet is so effective in preventing and healing those diseases. 

Additionally, many animal products are carcinogenic or linked to cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there is evidence that red meat and processed meat (such as cured meat, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and corned beef) increases the risk of colorectal cancer. And according to the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at UC San Francisco, eating plant-based is the best diet to lower your cancer risk.

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Benefits of a Vegan Diet for Athletes

Netflix recently dropped a new documentary called The Game Changers, which shows the ways eating a plant-based diet can help elite athletes. The documentary has been changing perceptions regarding the relationship between protein and strength for many viewers, and it's a must-watch for anyone embarking on a vegan lifestyle.

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Benefits of a Vegan Diet for Animals

Annually, between 56 and 70 billion land animals (including cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys) are raised for meat, eggs, and dairy, as per Animal Matters and Sentient Media. Most of those animals live on factory farms — in fact, 99 percent of the animal products we eat in the U.S. comes from factory farms. On top of that, trillions of fish are killed for food each year, according to Fish Count.

Animals on factory farms are treated as commodities instead of sentient creatures — the "farmers" will always put profit ahead of welfare when it comes to the animals.

By going vegan, you can save about 365 animal lives per year, according to the Vegan Calculator. Even if you weren't eating an entire animal a day before going vegan, this statistic still applies, due to the animals that are killed as byproducts of animal agriculture. For example, male calves born in the dairy industry are killed at just a few weeks old for veal, since they cannot produce any milk; similarly, baby male chicks born in the egg industry are killed on their first day of life, since they cannot lay eggs or grow quickly enough to become meat. When cows and egg-laying hens cannot produce milk or eggs anymore, they are slaughtered. Additionally, the commercial fishing industry is responsible for significant "bycatch," which is when animals such as turtles, dolphins, and whales are gathered in trawling nets, as explained by One Green Planet.

By living a vegan lifestyle, you can stop contributing to this cruelty to animals, and have an increased peace of mind every time you sit down to eat.

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Benefits of a Vegan Diet for the Environment

Living a vegan lifestyle can benefit the Earth and lower your environmental impact in so many ways. Globally, animal agriculture accounts for around 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the UN's FAO's report Livestock's Long Shadow. Not to mention, livestock is responsible for 35 to 40 percent of human-caused methane emissions and 65 percent of global human-caused nitrous oxide emissions (two of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet), according to the report. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause the greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the atmosphere, causing global heating, a central component of the climate crisis. 

By going vegan, you can significantly lower your contribution to that, and personally reduce your carbon footprint by more than half. As reported by Vox via a 2014 study, a heavy meat eater has an average carbon footprint of 15.8 pounds of CO2-eq per day, while a vegan has an average carbon footprint of 6.4 pounds of CO2-eq per day. According to the Vegan Calculator, one person eating a vegan diet for just one month can save 33,000 gallons of water, 1,200 pounds of grain, 900 square feet of forest, and 600 pounds of CO2.

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Additionally, according to a University of Oxford study published in 2018, going vegan is one of the best things we can do for the planet, due to the high environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” the study's head researcher Joseph Poore told The Guardian. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

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Benefits of Being Vegan vs. Vegetarian

While a vegan omits all foods of animal origin, a vegetarian only omits meat, and still eats eggs and dairy products. Veganism saves more animals, has a lower environmental impact, and is lower in cholesterol than vegetarianism. Not to mention, veganism extends beyond the kitchen to other walks of life, with most vegans purchasing cruelty-free alternatives to animal-based fabrics (such as leather, fur, and wool), cosmetics (it's easy to find vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics), and more.

So, whether you are considering a veggie-centric lifestyle for your health, the animals, or the environment, veganism will yield more benefits than vegetarianism across the board.

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Benefits of a Raw Vegan Diet

If you're going vegan in hopes of reaping the health benefits of a plant-powered diet, you may have come across raw veganism in your research. A raw vegan diet is rich in fruits and vegetables eaten either raw or cooked below certain temperatures.

As detailed by Healthline, there are many purported benefits to eating a raw vegan diet, but there are also a few potential risks. Generally, raw diets are more appropriate for those living in warmer climates — but no matter where you live, if a raw lifestyle is something you're considering, you should definitely check with your doctor or a certified dietitian who specializes in raw veganism before proceeding.

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How to Go Vegan

If you're interested in living a vegan lifestyle, there are endless resources online that can help you transition in a sustainable way. Of course, Green Matters has a detailed guide on how to go vegan. There's no wrong approach when it comes to transitioning to this compassionate lifestyle, so do your research and go vegan in whatever way that speaks to you, at whatever pace works for you.

For additional support while transitioning to a vegan diet, consider signing up for Vegan 22 (22 days in a Facebook group) or Veganuary (one month of emails). Both free programs offer mentorship, recipes, nutrition advice, and more throughout your first few weeks on a vegan diet. There's nothing to lose!

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