Science has long touted the inflammation-fighting benefits of a healthy diet: one low in solid fats and added sugars, and high in fruits, veggies, lean protein (such as omega-3-rich salmon) and whole grains. It’s a long-standing belief among many that avoiding animal products altogether makes for a healthier diet.
As a result, people with arthritis are often tempted to go vegetarian or vegan (avoiding any food that comes from an animal, including eggs and milk) in the hope that doing so will help them avoid painful flares.
But a number of people with arthritis, in their quest to avoid foods that could trigger flares, have gone vegan – avoiding not just unhealthy red meat, but any product that comes from an animal, from milk to eggs.
Unless you have severe food allergies, however, there’s no medical reason to go vegan. One study shows that vegans – as well as vegetarians, who eat milk and eggs but not animals or fish – are falling short on critical nutrients. According to the study, vegetarians and especially vegans have low blood levels of vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids, which are associated with a number of cardiovascular risk factors. Vegans may also have higher levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been linked to heart disease, and lower levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, known to protect the heart.
Still, there are some benefits to going meat-free. Vegans and vegetarians are less likely than meat eaters to be overweight or obese, and they tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, explains study author Duo Li, PhD, professor of nutrition at Zhejiang University in China. If you’re considering a vegan or vegetarian diet, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about ways to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.