Excerpted from the book Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet* by Jack Norris, RD, and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright ©2011. Despite the popularity of vegan diets that eliminate all high-fat foods, there hasn’t been much research comparing very low-fat vegan diets to those that include some higher-fat plant foods. And there is reason to think that very low-fat vegan diets are not ideal. Eating diets that are too low in fat could be the reason that some people abandon vegan diets and return to eating meat.
Many think of meat as “protein,” forgetting that these foods are also typically high in fat. People who don’t feel well on vegan diets sometimes add meat back to their diet because they’re convinced that they aren’t getting adequate protein—when, in fact, they might have felt better by simply adding more fat to their menu.
Contrary to popular opinion, diets that include fat from plant foods are not linked to heart disease. And the idea that high-fat diets are linked to cancer risk is weak. Most importantly, plant foods that are naturally high in fat are beneficial to health. There is a large body of research showing that nuts protect against heart disease. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. We recommend that all vegans include a serving or two of nuts in their meals every day.
Higher fat foods can also make it easier for vegan children to meet calorie needs. And while it’s somewhat of a paradox, including some of these foods in weight-reduction diets can improve success.
These foods make vegan diets more interesting and easier to plan, which means that they make it more realistic for people to transition to a vegan diet and stick with it for the long-term. From both a practical and a health point of view, it doesn’t make sense to ban high-fat foods from vegan diets. Even oils can play a role in healthy vegan diets.
Virginia Messina, MPH, RD is a dietitian and public health nutritionist specializing in vegan nutrition. She is the author of many books and co-author of Vegan for Life, a comprehensive guide to vegan nutrition. She writes about a variety of issues related to health and animal rights on her blog The Vegan RD.
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