Answers to 6 of Your Most Embarrassing Questions About Vegan Health
Does soy cause men to “grow breasts”? Will I gain weight on a vegan diet? There are several (slightly embarrassing) health questions we get all the time. With all the conflicting information out there, we asked registered dietitian Julieanna Hever to give us her take:
1. Does eating meat really cause erectile dysfunction?
Meat, along with all other animal products, is a major source of artery-clogging, oxidizing compounds, such as saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, heme iron, and TMAO. When arteries are constricted by oxidized plaque, blood flow is impeded. This can lead to erectile dysfunction as well as heart attacks, strokes, chronic kidney disease, and more. Remember that our bodies have one contiguous vascular system.
2. Doesn’t soy cause men to grow breasts?
Interestingly, people are more often concerned about the phytoestrogens found in soy foods (and other plant foods, such as flaxseeds and berries) than the stronger hormones found in animal products. Estradiol, the form of estrogen found in animals, including humans, is approximately 10,000 times more potent than phytoestrogens.
Further, plant phytoestrogens seem to have a protective effect against breast and prostate cancer and certain other conditions. Gynecomastia, or increased breast tissue in males, is linked to hormonal imbalances, which may be caused by hormonal changes in puberty or during other life stages. But a link between gynecomastia and soy intake has not been established.
3. Will I have excess gas if I go vegan? Will I go to the bathroom more often?
One of the hallmark benefits of transitioning to a plant-based diet is the desperately needed increase in fiber intake. Fiber is found exclusively in plants. This does, however, lend itself to some uncomfortable (and possibly embarrassing) side effects, such as gas and a change in bowel movements.
The good news, however, is that this is temporary and you can adjust to this new nutritional onslaught with consistency and time.
4. Does going vegan cause infertility?
Concerns about fertility on a vegan diet are usually aimed at soy foods. But studies show no effects of soy foods—even in high amounts—on sperm and semen quality or on fertility. Instead, there are factors associated with greater fertility that are substantiated, such as maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.
5. I have IBS/colitis/Crohn’s, but I want to go vegan. Help!
Of course, it is always crucial to consult with your physician if you have any health issues. There is growing evidence, however, that a vegan diet is ideal to reduce risk of and to treat these gastrointestinal diseases. Plants are the exclusive source of fiber, a critical nutrient not only for gastrointestinal health but also for immune function and overall health.
Also, animal products have been associated with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, which includes both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), while plant-based diets have been associated with decreased risk for IBD. They are also considered an effective treatment once a person is diagnosed. Along with the fiber, the plethora of powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds found in plants may explain the advantages.
6. Will a vegan diet make my hair fall out?
The most common reasons that hair falls out include significant weight loss, certain medications or medical conditions, and hormonal changes. Besides severe malnutrition, as with eating disorders, the effects of nutrition on hair loss are not well understood. Nutrients that have been (inconclusively) associated with hair health include zinc, iron, biotin, and protein, especially the amino acid lysine. Interestingly, there is also evidence that excessive nutrient intake, which occurs from too much supplementation, is also linked to hair loss.
In order to achieve nutrient adequacy with a vegan diet, be sure to emphasize legumes (approximately a cup to a cup and a half of beans, lentils, peas, and soy foods); leafy green vegetables (at least three servings, where one serving is one cup raw or a half cup cooked), other vegetables, fruits, and one to two ounces of nuts and seeds every day.
Want more? Click here for nine things every new vegan needs to know.