Flat lay vegan word with vegetable letters

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VIENNA, Austria — More than half of all vegans consume an unhealthy diet filled with processed meat alternatives, sweets, and snacks, according to a new study. The popularity of processed plant-based alternatives challenges the public perception that veganism is inherently healthy.

Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna (MUV) discovered that vegans tend to exercise more than the average person. However, the experts also identified two types of vegan diets: “convenience” and “health-conscious.”

Convenience vegans, who make up 53 percent of the study participants, consumed more processed fish and meat alternatives, vegan savory snacks, sauces, cakes, sweets, convenience foods, fruit juices, and refined grains. In contrast, the health-conscious group, making up 47 percent, ate more fresh vegetables, fruits, potatoes, whole meal products, vegetable oils and fats, and protein and milk alternatives.

The term “pudding vegetarianism” has been coined to describe those who replace meat with large quantities of sweets and confectionery. Unlike vegetarians, vegans do not eat meat or animal-based by-products.

What’s the difference between vegetarianism and veganism?

Both are dietary and lifestyle choices that focus on reducing or eliminating the consumption of animal products. However, they differ in the extent to which they exclude these products.

A vegetarian diet abstains from consuming meat, poultry, and fish. People choose this diet for various reasons, such as health, environmental, ethical, or religious concerns. There are different types of vegetarians based on which animal-derived products they consume:

  1. Lacto-vegetarians: Consume dairy products but avoid eggs.
  2. Ovo-vegetarians: Consume eggs but avoid dairy products.
  3. Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Consume both dairy products and eggs.
  4. Pescatarians: Consume fish and other seafood but avoid other types of meat.

A vegan diet goes beyond vegetarianism by excluding all animal-derived products, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. Vegans also avoid using products made from animals, such as leather, fur, silk, and wool, as well as products tested on animals. Veganism is often considered a lifestyle choice, rather than just a diet, as it seeks to minimize harm to animals and the environment.

The main difference between vegetarianism and veganism is the extent to which animal products are excluded from the diet and lifestyle. Vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, and fish, while vegans exclude all animal-derived products and by-products.

Plant-based meal, salad, vegetables
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Vegan doesn’t inherently mean healthy

Published in the journal Nutrients, the study aimed to provide a snapshot of contemporary veganism during the surge in ultra-processed meat and dairy alternatives. The researchers examined 516 individuals with an average age of 28 who had been vegan for at least three months at the start of the study.

“Being vegan is not inherently synonymous with being ‘healthy.’ The negative effects of industrially processed foods on health have now been clearly proven in studies,” says study director Professor Maria Wakolbinger in a university release.

“With the main consumption of ready-made food, there is a 29 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality, up to a 51 percent higher risk of overweight or obesity, a 29 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 74 percent higher risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus for people who eat a mixed diet.”

First author Dr. Sandra Haider, MUV, emphasized that a distinction between healthy and unhealthy vegans exists.

“The amount of exercise for vegans is higher overall than that of the average population in Austria. However, as our study showed, the health-conscious group is significantly more active in sports than those who can be assigned to the convenience eating pattern,” Dr. Haider concludes.

Processed foods are often considered unhealthy for several reasons:

  1. High in added sugars: Processed foods frequently contain high levels of added sugars, which can lead to weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease when consumed in excess.
  2. High in unhealthy fats: Many processed foods are high in unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats. These fats can raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  3. High in sodium: Processed foods often have high levels of sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems when consumed in excess.
  4. Low in nutrients: Many processed foods are stripped of their natural nutrients during processing, and while some may be fortified with synthetic nutrients, they are generally lower in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients compared to whole foods.
  5. High in additives and preservatives: Processed foods often contain artificial additives and preservatives to improve taste, texture, and shelf life. Some of these chemicals may have negative health effects, particularly when consumed in large amounts over time.
  6. Low in fiber: Processed foods are often low in dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health and can help prevent conditions like constipation, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
  7. High in calories: Processed foods are often calorie-dense and may contribute to weight gain and obesity when consumed in large quantities.
  8. Impact on gut health: Processed foods may negatively affect gut health by altering the balance of good and bad bacteria, potentially leading to inflammation and other health issues.
  9. Encourages overeating: Processed foods are often engineered to be highly palatable, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.

It’s important to note that not all processed foods are unhealthy, and some can be part of a balanced diet. However, it’s generally recommended to consume more whole, minimally processed foods and limit intake of heavily processed options for better overall health.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

  1. Anand Gandharva says:

    Great article, and very true. It fails to analyse the impact of population pressure driving us away from mindless consuming and ‘domesticating’ other species, as we exceed natural regeneration. Quite aside from inherent cruelty and individual health, evolution asks people to adapt diet and live sustainably. The era of conflicting tribes is over. We fuse the Global Village for public good or become extinct. Stop subsidising environmental destruction. Bad food is just one last hurrah of the old system of milking consumerism. DNA shows all people are related, differences tiny. The solution: charge true costs of bio-health as calculated by McKinsey and analysed by the World Economic Forum, averaging at 7% of global income, but varying with FOOTPRINT and country.