Vegan diets – good or bad?
At the end of Veganuary 2020, we look at what a vegan diet means for individuals and for dental care. So, what do you need to know?
Impact of an animal product-free month
According to the charity behind Veganuary,[i] the impact of 350,000 people taking part worldwide for 31 days would:
- Stop 41,200 tonnes of CO2eq entering the atmosphere (equalling 450,000 flights from London to Berlin)
- Prevent 160 tonnes of PO43-eq from entering the waterways (equalling 650 tonnes of sewage)
- Save 2.5 million litres of water
- Spare more than one million animals
Health benefits and consequences
A low-fat vegan diet is high in fibre.[ii] The possible greater ability to lose weight on a vegan diet can benefit those who are overweight, or who wish to improve diabetes management.[iii],[iv] Vegans are also believed to have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure.[v] In addition, some research suggests that a plant-based diet can help to prevent cancer.[vi] One of the latest studies is one by Oxford University that revealed cancer incidence was 19% lower in vegans than meat eaters.[vii]
Despite these possible health benefits, there may be some downsides to be aware of. For example, one study found a higher risk of stroke in vegans compared to meat eaters. However, a larger sample size may be needed to determine a statistically significant difference.[viii] There is also research linking a lack of protein with hair loss, which could be associated with a vegan diet.[ix]
Unfortunately, there is a lot of conflicting evidence about a vegan diet. There are sources claiming that it increases vitamin intake and others saying the opposite. There is also contrasting evidence about whether it leads to increased depression and brain health. If you’re considering a vegan diet, it’s important to balance nutrients through careful planning or supplements.
A vegan diet and dental health
It is just as relevant for you to understand the impact of a vegan diet for your patients. Avoiding dairy and meat is linked with a higher risk of demineralisation and white spots.[x] A deficiency in certain nutrients like vitamin B12 and D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids could also affect oral health.[xi] As such, it’s essential to know if a patient follows a vegan diet. Look to guide them on how to balance nutrition. Good oral hygiene support is also important. Together, these will help to prevent any dental problems from occurring.
[i] Veganuary2020. Blog. Press release. Veganuary 2020 will save CO2eq of 450,000 flights and more than one million animals. [Accessed January 2020]
[ii] Davey GK, Spencer EA, Appleby PN, Allen NE, Knox KH, Key TJ. EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes in a cohort of 33 883 meat-eaters and 31 546 non meat-eaters in the UK. Public Health Nutr. 2003 May;6(3):259-69.
[iv] Mishra S, Xu J, Agarwal U, Gonzales J, Levin S, Barnard ND. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting: the GEICO study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jul;67(7):718-24. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.92. Epub 2013 May 22.
[vii] Key TJ, Appleby PN, Crowe FL, Bradbury KE, Schmidt JA, Travis RC. Cancer in British vegetarians: updated analyses of 4998 incident cancers in a cohort of 32,491 meat eaters, 8612 fish eaters, 18,298 vegetarians, and 2246 vegans.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:378S-85S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071266. Epub 2014 Jun 4.
[viii] Tong TYN, Appleby PN, Bradbury KE, Perez-Cornago A, Travis RC, Clarke R et al. Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford Study BMJ 2019; 366 :l4897
[ix] Guo EL, Katta R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2017;7(1):1–10. Published 2017 Jan 31. doi:10.5826/dpc.0701a01
[xi] Craig WJ. Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, 1 May 2009, Pages 1627S–1633S.