What happens to your body when you turn vegan

We asked a nutritionist

Are you environmentally friendly? Ethically concerned? Religiously committed? For a bunch of different motives, vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. Vegans now number over half a million in Britain, three times more than in 2006, according to VeganSociety.com.

Unlike vegetarians, vegans don’t touch anything animal. This means no dairy, no honey, no eggs. But as environmentally friendly as these diets may be, they may also be risky, especially if the vegan isn’t well informed.

“Vegan diets may lead to micronutrient deficiencies,” said nutritionist Dr. Combet, lecturer at the School of Medicine at University of Glasgow. “The difficulty for people switching from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one is finding the correct supplements. And making sure to take them all the time.”

Dr. Combet explained that while vegetarians can acquire all the components they need through their diet, vegans are entirely dependent on supplements for certain nutrients and vitamins.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.27.27 AM

Here are some things you may experience or want to know when turning vegan.

You may be tired, moody, and confused

Vitamin B12, necessary for the formation of myelin sheath around nerve cells in the brain, is typically found in meat, eggs, and dairy products – basically anything a vegan won’t eat. And this is a major concern because B12 deficiency can cause a type of anaemia that prevents red cells from forming properly. As a result, vegans who don’t take enough B12 supplements can experience extreme tiredness and muscle weakness, as well as psychological problems such as depression, confusion, and memory loss.

By passing on foods such as oysters, red meat, or eggs, deficiencies in zinc, iron, iodine, protein, and Omega-3 may also occur – all of which have direct impacts on mood stabilisation and the brain.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.28.20 AM

You may lose weight

Though this is proof of correlation, not causation, vegans tend to have lower Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) than non-vegans. According to nutritionists, this is because vegans are usually older, more mature, more knowledgeable about their diet, and more health conscious. But this isn’t always the case.

“Though most vegans are more health conscious, they may also adopt unhealthy lifestyles and diets to compensate for their limited choice of food. Eating more chips, bread, and fries than they usually would is the typical example,” said Dr. Combet.

If you’re pregnant, be careful

Pregnant women who jump into veganism without really thinking it through may not personally experience dramatic changes, but their fetus definitely will. Iodine (nutrient most commonly found in oysters, fish, and dairy products) is essential to the formation of the brain, the lack of which will lead to mental retardation. In the formative stages of pregnancy, iodine is essential to ensure the baby’s mental health.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.29.22 AM

Since iodized salt is difficult to find in the UK, the most available alternative is seaweed, although some nutritionist question the toxicity of seaweed iodine.

Supplements may be expensive and food hard to find

Be ready to spend more time at the grocery store and to keep in touch with your pharmacist. Scouting for vegan ingredients is undoubtedly more tedious than purchasing omnivorous ones, and finding supplements may just be another hassle.

The cost of supplements, in addition to buying regular meals, may be a financial burden, and may have to be repurchased every few weeks: Vitamin B12 supplements may cost up to £13; iron, £7; zinc, £10; iodine, £10; and so on and so worth.

“A lot of these supplements can’t actually be found in the UK,” added Dr. Combet, which further adds to the logistical difficulty of turning vegan.

So, overall, are some diets healthier than others?

“It’s perfectly possible to be healthy as an omnivore or a vegetarian,” wrote nutritionist Dr. Jo Travers, from The London Nutritionist. “I would say that in terms of the environment, a vegetarian or vegan diet is better and as a nation we do eat more meat than is necessary for health.”