Vegans, vegetarians may have higher risk of stroke — but experts argue balance is key


People who have plant-based diets may be more likely to suffer from a stroke.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journey, however, found vegan and vegetarians still had a lower risk of heart disease overall.

“Vegetarian and vegan diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, partly due to perceived health benefits, as well as concerns about the environment and animal welfare,” authors wrote in the study.

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“Evidence suggests that vegetarians might have different disease risks compared with non-vegetarians but data from large scale prospective studies are limited, because few studies have recruited sufficient numbers of vegetarian participants.”

The study looked at data from more than 48,000 people in the U.K. over an 18-year period. And while they tracked participant’s eating habits, they could not directly link their diets with their heart disease or stroke risks, the BBC added.

Participants were asked about their diets, medical history, smoking habits and how much they exercised.

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“Future work should include further measurements of circulating levels of cholesterol subfractions, vitamin B12, amino acids, and fatty acids in the cohort to identify which factors might mediate the observed associations,” authors concluded.

Shahzadi Devje, a registered dietitian and creator of The Desi~licious Den: Dietitian on Demand, told Global News these findings don’t surprise her. But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions so soon.

“Let’s not forget, the science of nutrition can be messy and we must learn to dig for the facts — beyond the headlines,” she said. “Just because one observational study suggests that those on plant-based diets have a risk of stroke, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case.”

Eating a balanced-meal

But Devje says when it comes to changing your diet (or adjusting your current vegan and vegetarian one), it all comes down to balance.

“For newbie vegans, there’s certainly some learning that needs to take place,” she explained. “After all, it’s the strictest form of vegetarianism.”

Devje says, in general, more people are considering plant-based diets. Young people are concerned about the planet, and with more vegan-friendly options on the market, it’s easier for people to access meals and ingredients. But the popularity and arguable trendiness of the diet also means people don’t have access to the best information.

For example, vegan-based recipe accounts on social media are often run by influencers or people without the credentials.

READ MORE: Is access to vegan food a human rights issue? Experts weigh in

“Like with any other diet, there are drawbacks,” Devje said. “It’s important to actively plan your meals, otherwise there’s a chance you’ll lack variety, and increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Not to mention, lack of planning can lead to a greater chance of boredom.”

Vegans and vegetarians need to make sure there is a balance of protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as carbs.

READ MORE: Vegetarian and vegan ‘meats’ are more popular than ever, but are they good for you?

“If you’re following a vegan diet, you may want to be a bit more careful to ensure you don’t miss out on sufficient iron, zinc, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids,” she continued.

“Vegans are at high risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to anemia and nervous system damage. B12 is naturally found in animal foods, and the only reliable sources of B12 for vegans are foods fortified with B12 (for example some plant milks, and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements.”

Starting a new plant-based diet

Below, she shares some tips for people interested in trying a plant-based diet.

Ease into it: A healthy diet is a sustainable diet. “There’s no need to overhaul your diet overnight. Be kind to yourself, and take it slow. That way, it feels enjoyable and not burdensome. Simple steps, such as embracing meatless Mondays or swapping out meat for a vegetarian meal in your week will go a long way in setting you up for success.”

Do the work: To achieve a healthy balanced diet, that’s sustainable requires work. “Take the time to meal plan, explore different foods and build your cooking skills.”

READ MORE: Is it healthy to put children on a vegan or gluten-free diet?

Veganism doesn’t equate to the healthiest diet: “Don’t forget, a plant-based diet is typically rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. But that’s not always the case. If you’re fueling up on mostly refined carbs full of sugar, saturated fat and salt, you’re not doing your health any favours.”

Mix it up: No one food provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. “Eat different types of plant foods (beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds, wholegrain, fruits and vegetables) daily to ensure you don’t miss out on any important nutrients.”

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