As a vegan Registered Dietitian I often write about vegan nutrition and the importance of living a balanced vegan lifestyle. However, being healthy goes beyond just a focus on meeting nutrient needs.
There are noted health benefits and some health risks of a vegan diet. Most of the risks are likely mitigated with proper nutrition and ensuring nutrient needs are being met either through food or the necessary supplements.
Vegan health goes beyond the basics of vegan nutrition and examines:
Health Impact of a Vegan Diet
Vegan diets are often associated with many health benefits. Vegetarian, and more generally plant-based, diets are also often associated with positive long-term health.
This doesn’t mean that all vegans will be healthy or disease free. Vegans can get sick just like anyone else. It also doesn’t mean that a vegan diet is a guaranteed way to prevent or manage any medical condition (despite the many claims of this).
Click on the different conditions below to learn more about the research behind a vegan diet and these different health conditions.
Transitioning to Veganism with Pre-existing Conditions
There are many reasons to transition to a vegan diet. In my opinion, truly being vegan involves an ethical commitment to reducing harm to animals. But many people use the term vegan to describe their dietary choices (although “plant-based” may be a more appropriate term for those without an ethical commitment).
Since the term vegan is often associated simply with dietary choices, it is also used to promote a diet that is said to prevent, manage, and in some cases reverse, various diseases. Therefore, there are people with health and medical conditions transitioning to a vegan diet for health reasons.
On the other hand, veganism is a diverse movement and anyone could chose to follow this lifestyle. This means that there are people interested in, or already following, a vegan diet with any number of health or medical conditions.
It’s advisable to always speak with your primary health care provider (doctor/ physician) before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle. This is a good rule for everyone but, in particular, it’s important for someone with a current or past history of health or medical conditions.
Working with a Registered Dietitian is also a fantastic way to ensure your transition to veganism will be appropriate for your unique health situation.
Managing Health Conditions as a Vegan
As noted above, anyone can chose to live a vegan lifestyle or transition to a vegan diet. In addition, vegans can develop health or medical conditions after transitioning (even if they’ve been following a vegan diet for years).
This is a good place to say that vegans get sick too. Sometimes, in the promotion of veganism, people overstate the benefits of a vegan lifestyle and sometimes play down any potential harms. This is why it’s so important to check the sources of the information you consume and ensure it is coming from a high quality and qualified source.
I’ve seen many vegans blaming themselves for getting ill (even for things like a cold/flu/viral infections) and feeling as if it could be prevented if they just “ate better”. While a balanced diet that meets nutrient needs is important, it’s no guarantee. Find an eating pattern that works for you; and one you can maintain long term while enjoying life.
If you need help managing a new or existing health or medical condition as a vegan, work with your doctor and a Registered Dietitian.
Summary: Vegan Health
There are health benefits to vegan diets as well as vegetarian and plant-based eating patterns. However, vegans may have pre-existing health conditions and/or develop health or medical conditions as a vegan.
It is possible to transition to a vegan diet with pre-existing health or medical conditions after consulting with your doctor. Similarly, if health or medical conditions arise as a vegan, speaking with a doctor is a needed first step for deciding on a care plan. In both cases, working with a Registered Dietitian, who has expertise in nutrition and health, is an excellent choice.
Don’t see a condition listed on this page but want to learn more about the research on that condition and a vegan diet? You can send me a request I may be able to write about it! I won’t make any guarantees about if or when I may be able to write anything. But, I’d love to know about what you are interested in learning about!