Veganism does have its benefits, but you should know how to make up for the shortfall in certain nutrients.
Is eating an egg a day really as bad as smoking five cigarettes a day?
Or does eating a serving of processed meat a day increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 51 per cent?
These claims, disputed and debunked by experts as distorted science, were made on recent Netflix documentary What The Health, which allegedly explored the links between the consumption of animal products and disease.
While it has made waves for all the wrong reasons, the show – which premiered in March this year – is also attracting a new crowd to veganism, a diet founded not just on a moral basis, but also on the lifestyle’s perceived health benefits.
Espoused by celebrities like Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lopez, it is fast catching on here.
Last year, Singapore came in second on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ list of the Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Cities in Asia for its “roaring vegan scene”.
Veganism comes under the umbrella term of vegetarianism, which generally refers to a meat-free diet.
Such diets can have health benefits as they tend to be low in saturated fat – linked to raised cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease – and higher in fibre and vitamin C, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB).
The caveat? Your diet still has to be balanced.
“Alarm bells should ring if you eat the same thing day after day, or if you snack a lot on processed food like chips and cookies to fill you up,” said HPB.
This is because any commercially-made vegan food that is highly processed can also contain high amounts of fat, nutritionist Fiona Chia explained.
“If not taken in moderation, it may lead to an excessive intake of calories,” said the founder of nutrition consultancy Health Can Be Fun.
Her point is illustrated in a recent study by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which said that while eating a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, not all vegetarian or vegan foods are beneficial for health.
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the study looked at the relationship between plant-based diets of varying quality and the risk of developing coronary heart disease among more than 200,000 health professionals.
Those on a plant-based diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, had a substantially lower risk of heart disease than those whose diet included less healthy foods like refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Cutting meat out does not necessarily lead to a healthier diet if what is left in are unhealthy foods such as potatoes, fruit juices or sweets.
This is because a meat-free diet can be lacking in nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamins B12 and B6, which are important for energy metabolism and iron synthesis, said Ms Chia.
Vitamin B12, found naturally in food from animal sources, is required for proper red blood cell formation and for the development of the nervous system.
The HPB recommends that vegans get enough B12 on a regular basis, either by taking a B12 supplement daily or eating B12-fortified food two to three times a day.
Vegans can also look out for complementary proteins, such as eating beans with grains, to make up for the lack of certain nutrients, said Ms Chia.
“Tofu is a good ingredient to have as it is high in protein and low in fat,” she said.
Those who are keen to go vegan should consult a dietitian to make sure you are consuming the right food for adequate nutrition and good health, said the HPB.
A version of this story first appeared in The New Paper on October 9, 2017, with the headline ‘Go vegan? There’s more than meats the eye’.