Is Vegan Really Healthier?

Written by Kim Hall RDN CD

salad bar of vegetables
Is going vegan really healthier?

My husband has been a bigger guy since I've known him. Broad shoulders and strong as an ox.

He's been with me my whole journey though college and into my dietetic internship. Along the way he has absorbed some things I've learned and is willing to eat a greater variety of foods now. His favorite foods are still wings and pork (in nearly any form) but every now and then, he’ll eat some brussels sprouts or celery sticks with them.

I'll occasionally joke with him about his less nutritious food choices (I’m talking about you Little Debbie), but generally I try to stay out of work mode with him unless he specifically asks my opinion on something. Typically, when these conversations come up, he is feeling bogged down by his weight and a little insecure.

Several months ago, he asked me about a vegan diet and if it was healthier. He said a guy at work was vegan and was eating a large amount of fruit at work. Apparently, the guy had lost some weight with the switch to a vegan diet and felt great. This piqued my husband’s interest, wondering if his body would change in the same way if he went vegan.

Over the years, we have had several conversations about how my husband could improve his nutrition - drink less beer/alcohol, get less gas station foods, drink less soda, etc. But switching to a vegan diet is much harsher.

I explained to my husband that it could be effective for him because the changes that he would make would drastically decrease his calorie intakes, but Frito’s and Oreo’s are also vegan. It is not just tofu and spinach.

Also, cutting out meat, eggs, and dairy for someone who consistently asks me to make some sort of meat on days when I plan for a vegetarian dinner, might not be setting himself up for success.

My husband eventually realized he was not into the restrictive nature of a vegan diet and he was surprised to learn that just because a food is considered vegan does not necessarily mean it is healthy.

Display of a variety of foods in small dishes
It's ok to crave variety and fun with food

There are many diets out there that market themselves as quick fixes for weight. Keto (formerly known as Atkins), Paleo, Auto-Immune Paleo, Vegan, Pescatarian, Fruitatarian (yes, it’s a thing), South Beach Diet, Whole 30, Raw food, Alkaline, Blood-type, the list goes on and on. The list of companies that market themselves as providing supplements for weight loss/health are innumerable.

So how do you cut through all the noise? How do you find legitimate nutrition information?

First things first. Quick weight-loss is unlikely to last. Often the diets that provide the fastest weight loss are the most restrictive. That is not sustainable for real-life or your whole life to keep the results. Not to mention, restrictive diets often cut out traditionally healthy foods such as fruits and whole grains which often contain essential nutrients for optimal health.

Your body needs variety. It craves variety and fun with food. This is what causes the binge-restrict or diet cycle. After a limited amount of time, you ditch the diet and go back to eating the things you enjoy (because you're hungry and bored with spinach salads). You gain a few pounds and here you are, back to square one, except now you feel so much guilt. You feel like a failure.

The cultural focus on thin = health causes significant damage to your mental health while increasing the profits of an industry that cares nothing about people's well-being.

No drastic, restrictive dietary changes in the name of weight loss will support long-term health and we have an increasing amount of scientific evidence to support this.

If you want to support your overall health, do it on your own terms, not because some celebrity is saying it will make you skinny, healthier, or younger. Skinny is not the new healthy. Just ask any number of people in recovery from an eating disorder. Being hyper-focused on thinness, beauty ideals, and health can be very unhealthy mentally and physically.

All this to say, I'm not here to shame on the people that follow a vegan diet and do it well - especially for religious, ethical, or environmental reasons. If eating that way causes no additional mental or physical harm to their bodies or their relationship with food, that's amazing.

The bottom line, what works for one person doesn't mean it will work for all people. If you're interested in making some changes to your food intake, consider visiting with a nutrition counselor to help you map out what changes you can make in your everyday life to feel healthier without jumping on the latest diet lifestyle-wellness bandwagon.

Kim Hall RDN CD was a dietetic intern at Alpine Nutrition in the spring of 2020. If you'd like more tips on how to make small to your eating habits without going on the latest fad diet, subscribe to the Alpine Nutrition Newsletter to get monthly tips, resources, and recipes that will support your health at any weight.