Living healthily on a vegan diet

A well planned 100% plant based diet is healthy. This is confirmed by a solid body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Not only is a plant based diet as healthy as any diet containing animal products, in many aspects it is more beneficial to human health. Changing your diet could help you live a longer, healthier life, and significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to many of the serious health threats facing Australians today.

Australia's peak health body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, recognises that vegan diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate and are appropriate for individuals of all ages. Alternatives to animal foods, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and tofu, "increase dietary variety and can provide a valuable, affordable source of protein and other nutrients." The Australian Dietary Guidelines state:

"Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle. Those following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can meet nutrient requirements as long as energy needs are met and an appropriate variety of plant foods are eaten throughout the day. Those following a vegan diet should choose foods to ensure adequate intake of iron and zinc and to optimise the absorption and bioavailability of iron, zinc and calcium. Supplementation of vitamin B12 may be required for people with strict vegan dietary patterns." p35

"Nuts and seeds are rich in energy (kilojoules) and nutrients, reflective of their biological role in nourishing plant embryos to develop into plants. In addition to protein and dietary fibre, they contain significant levels of unsaturated fatty acids and are rich in polyphenols, phytosterols and micronutrients including folate, several valuable forms of vitamin E, selenium, magnesium and other minerals. They are nutritious alternatives to meat, fish and eggs, and play an important role in plant-based, vegetarian and vegan meals and diets.

"Legumes/beans, including lentils, tofu and tempeh, provide a valuable and cost-efficient source of protein, iron, some essential fatty acids, soluble and insoluble dietary fibre and micronutrients. They are valuable inclusions in any diet, and are especially useful for people who consume plant-based meals." p49

The Dietitians Association of Australia, representing over 6,400 members in the dietetic profession, states

With planning, those following a vegan diet can cover all their nutrient bases...

The Dietitians Association of Australia highlights four nutrients vegans should be aware of. Iron: "can get enough through plant foods". B12: eat fortified foods or take a supplement. Calcium: select from a range of "good plant sources of calcium". Omega-3 fats: select from plant sources or supplement with "vegan marine omega-3 fat supplements".

Healthdirect, the national, government-funded health information service, has published an article stating that a vegan diet can help reduce the risk of disease. The article says that "Plant-based diets can help reduce your risk of disease and provide you with all the protein, minerals and vitamins your body needs." It continues: "A vegetarian diet based on vegetables, legumes, beans, wholegrains, fruits, nuts and seeds can help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. Dietary fibre in a plant-based diet increases 'good' bacteria in the bowel."

Australia's top health experts agree with those in other parts of the world that well-planned vegan diets are safe and healthy for all age groups. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (USA) has an even clearer message:

"It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease. Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements."

- Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on Vegetarian Diets (2016)

This reflects the Academy's position given in 2003 and again in 2009. This indicates that health experts have acknowledged for many years that vegan diets can be healthy.

In the UK, the NHS statement on vegan diets says "with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs" and gives suggestions on how to eat a healthy vegan diet. The British Dietetic Association says "It is possible to follow a well-planned, plant-based, vegan-friendly diet that supports healthy living in people of all ages" and "a balanced vegan diet can be enjoyed by children and adults, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding."

The Canadian Paediatric Society states that "Well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets with appropriate attention to specific nutrient components can provide a healthy alternative lifestyle at all stages of fetal, infant, child and adolescent growth," while the Dietiticans of Canada says "A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer."

Not only are animal products unnecessary for optimal health, an increasing number of nutritionists and health professionals are acknowledging animal products are harmful to our health (see Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine). This is supported by decades of good research (see Nutrition Facts and Dr McDougall's Health & Medical Centre). A healthy vegan diet helps reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and diabetes, some of Australia's top killers.

The October 2013 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, dedicated to the question "Is a Vegetarian [including vegan] Diet Adequate?", included the following statements:

  • A varied and balanced plant-based diet can provide all of the nutrients needed for good health. (Ref)
  • Most … vegans … meet the RDI (recommended dietary intake) for protein. (Ref)
  • Vegan diets generally contain just as much or more iron than mixed diets containing meat. (Ref)
  • Vegans [have] the lowest BMI [body mass index]. (Ref)
  • Plant-based diets may provide health benefits compared with meat-centred diets, including reduced risks of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. (Ref)

The China Study by Dr T Colin Campbell is one of the most comprehensive studies on nutrition ever done. Campbell provides compelling evidence linking animal products to disease, including cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, etc.

A vegan diet is not a miracle cure for all health issues and it is possible to eat an unhealthy vegan diet, especially if you eat too much processed food and you do not have an adequate intake of Vitamin B12 and other important nutrients. Ensure you stay healthy by eating a wide variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. See our Nutrition section for how you can be a healthy vegan and our Food and cooking section for tips on preparing your own nutritious and delicious meals. Most people have no trouble eating a vegan diet, but if you have any health concerns, see a vegan health practitioner.


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