The Vegan Diet
Vegan and Vegetarian diets have gained popularity as a food trend, however, the practice of consuming a predominantly plant-based diet has been prevalent for centuries. The term “vegan” was first introduced in 1944. A vegan diet consists of eliminating all animal-derived products, not just food. Many vegans also choose to incorporate this lifestyle choice into their clothing, household items, and personal care items. The main motivations for adopting a vegan diet are perceived health benefits and advocacy for animal rights.
So you want to learn about the Vegan Diet? We’re here to help. We bring together the best scientific research to give you easy to understand information. You don’t need a PhD to understand this stuff.
We’re here to answer all your questions about the diet so you can decide if it’s right for you. And we want to make sure you have all the tools to go vegan the “right” way.
This article is long and detailed, so feel free to use our table of contents to jump around.
Table of Contents
While more restrictive than other diets, veganism can provide numerous health benefits when implemented correctly. The science shows that a well-planned and balanced plant-based diet can lead to improved health outcomes, including a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. It’s also useful for achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Vegan Diet Difficulty
Availability of ingredients: Grocery stores generally have plenty of options for vegan foods. Restaurants tend to have more limited options.
Complexity of preparation: Most vegan dishes are simple in nature, and, therefore easier to prepare than many other diets. However, it may require some meal planning.
Restrictions: Veganism is considerably more strict than some diets. It restricts wide categories of foods that are common to a western diet.
Cultural prevalence: Veganism is becoming more prevalent in western and American cultures but isn’t as common as other diets.
Vegan Diet Overview
Are you considering a vegan diet? Or, maybe you’re already on one and looking for more information to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need? No matter where you are with your health goals, this guide will give you with a total understanding of vegan diets, including their benefits and risks.
Definition of a Vegan Diet
A vegan diet is a plant-based eating pattern that excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Instead of animal products, people center their meals around plant based foods including: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The difficulty level of maintaining vegan diets will vary by person. Some may find it easy and sustainable, while others may find it challenging. We rate the diet as fairly difficult to sustain – it’s quite restrictive, but that is offset by the simplicity of many of the meals you will make.
Benefits and Potential Risks
Many health benefits are linked to a vegan diet. Studies have shown that veganism can lower your risk of heart disease, get you to a healthier body weight, and improve bone health.
However, it is important to note that poorly planned vegan diets tend to nutrient deficiencies and other health risks. Check out our risk section below for all the details.
What Happens to your Body When you go Vegan?
Thinking of making the jump to a vegan diet, you’re not alone.
In your first few weeks, you may feel especially tired without meat. Vegans often have a hard time getting enough vitamin B12 and iron, which helps make red blood cells and transport oxygen throughout the body, but it’s nothing a supplement or handful of nuts can’t fix.
You may also discover that foods don’t taste the way they used to. That’s because your zinc levels have taken a hit affecting your overall sense of taste and smell.
On the plus side, expect to lose some weight right away after switching. New vegans lost an average of 10 pounds over a 10 month period. Plus a 2009 study found that average BMI was lower for vegans than all other diets.
Another benefit that you may experience is a healthy decrease in cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease risk. In 1999, a study showed that vegans were 24% less likely to have clogged arteries from saturated fat and cholesterol. While your arteries are better off, your bones may not be. If you’re like most Americans who get their daily calcium from dairy products, you may see a dip in calcium levels, but you can combat this by simply boosting your intake of kale, broccoli, and other leafy greens.
Plus, cutting out dairy might make you more regular. 60% of humans don’t have the enzyme to properly digest lactose in dairy. The result is cramping, bloating, and even diarrhea. Swapping dairy with high fiber veggies will make bathroom trips a lot more productive.
Understanding Vegan Diets
What is a Vegan Diet
Veganism is a plant-based diet that is completely plant based. This means vegans don’t consume any sort of animal products at all. In addition to meat, poultry, and fish, vegans also avoid dairy products, eggs, honey, and more.
There are several reasons why someone would want to go vegan. The primary reasons are for the health benefits, for environmental reasons, and for animal rights.
What is the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian Diets?
The main difference between vegan and vegetarian dishes is that vegan foods completely exclude animal products such as dairy, eggs, and honey. You can think of the vegan diet as a more restrictive version of vegetarianism. This is one of the factors that goes into the difficulty score we assign the diet at the begining of this article.
Although the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate Diagram was designed as a set of guidelines for a healthy lifestyle more generally, veganism can certainly work within the template.
Foods to Avoid and Include in a Vegan Diet
When following a vegan diet, avoiding all animal products and opt for plant-based alternatives is essential.
This includes avoiding:
As with any restrictive diet, you should mix up the types of foods you consume. This will ensure you get a healthy mix of nutrients, as well as a good mix of fats, proteins, and carbs. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables are staples.
Importance of Fortifying Foods for Essential Nutrients
One risk of a vegan diet is the potential for nutrient deficiencies. This is true for essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
To prevent these deficiencies, vegans should consider fortifying their diets with fortified foods or supplements and pay close attention to nutrition labels. Additionally, incorporating fermented plant foods, such as nutritional yeast, can help boost vitamin B12 intake.
Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet
A. Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is highly correlated with meat consumption. By switching to a vegan diet, one can lower the risk of heart disease in a major way. Plant products eliminates many of the unhealthy elements that lead to cardiovascular problems. Generally, vegans consume less saturated fat and more fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which can help reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and blood pressure levels.
In addition, a plant-based diet is often lower in cholesterol and rich in magnesium, potassium, and other nutrients that support heart health.
B. Better Weight Management
Many people who switch to vegan diets notice early weight loss. Vegetables and plant products tend to have much lower calories than meat products (of course this isn’t always true, nuts are often high calorie, and sugar is vegan). However, a well balanced vegan diet is typically lower calorie and higher in fiber than a balanced diet that includes animal products.
More About Fiber
Fiber is a great tool for losing weight. It helps you feel fuller after a meal, and has no net calories.
Additionally, plant-based diets can help reduce inflammation, which has been linked to obesity and other health problems.
C. Improved Bone Health
Contrary to popular belief, a well-planned vegan diet can support healthy bones. This is because vegans often consume more calcium, magnesium, and other important nutrients for bone health.
What’s more, veganism can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. This condition can lead to fragile bones and fractures, as it eliminates many of the unhealthy factors that contribute to this disease, such as high protein intake, high salt consumption, and excessive alcohol consumption.
D. Better Blood Sugar Control
Studies have shown that following a vegan diet can help improve blood sugar control, an important factor in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Vegan foods are often low in calories and high in fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of insulin resistance. Additionally, a plant-based diet can improve the function of beta cells in the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin, and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Risks of a Vegan Diet
Vegan Foods Lack Some Nutrients
Plant-based diets offer health benefits, but they may lead to nutrient deficiencies without careful planning. For example, a recent survey indicates that 28% of vegans and 13% of vegetarians have at least one deficiency due to the limited presence of nutrients such as vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, calcium, selenium, iron, and zinc.
What this means is that jumping on a vegan diet without proper planning can have serious consequences. In extreme cases, anemia, osteoporosis, and nerve damage can occur.
One of our nutritional consultants put it very well:
Getting the Nutrients You Need
Luckily, overcoming this risk isn’t too difficult. It simply requires that people consider how they are going to get a complete mix of vitamins and nutrients. Fortified foods are a great option. Dietary supplements can also go a long way towards preventing any negative side effects.
Vegans should consider taking a daily multivitamin that contains vitamin B12 and a calcium supplement to help prevent deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is essential for proper nerve function and is found almost exclusively in animal products. Calcium is vital for strong bones and is found in dairy products and leafy greens.
The Belief that Vegan Food is Always Healthy
Many people assume that just because something is vegan, that means it must be healthy. The reality is that vegan foods can be highly processed and unhealthy.
There is something that we refer to as a “junk food vegan diet.” This is a diet that consists of mainly processed plant-based foods. There are plenty of vegan junk food items including processed snacks, sugary desserts, or fried foods like french fries and potato chips. Of course, people can gain weight and hurt their health while still being on a vegan diet.
Getting Started with the Vegan Diet
Getting started with a vegan diet can seem daunting, but with the right resources and approach, it can be a positive and fulfilling change. Here are some steps you can take to get started:
Educate yourself: Read books, articles, and watch documentaries on the benefits of a vegan diet and the challenges you may face. Understanding the reasons behind your decision to go vegan will help you stick to it.
Plan your meals: Make a list of your favorite plant-based foods and create a meal plan for the week. You can also try new vegan recipes to keep your diet interesting.
Stock up on essentials: Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with staple vegan items such as grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. You may also want to consider adding plant-based protein sources like tofu, tempeh, or seitan.
Gradually transition: Gradually reducing your intake of animal products can make the transition easier and more sustainable. Try cutting back on meat and dairy, and replacing them with plant-based alternatives.
Reach out for support: Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, join a vegan community or online group, and seek support from friends and family. Having a support system can make sticking to a vegan diet easier.
Remember, starting a vegan diet is a personal journey and it’s important to find what works best for you.
Vegan Diet Recipes
What About Locally Grown Food?
Is Local Food More Nutritious?
There is no clear consensus on whether locally grown food is more nutritious than food grown elsewhere and transported to your area. In some cases, locally grown food may be fresher and therefore have a higher nutrient content, but this depends on many factors such as soil quality, growing practices, and storage and transport methods. Other factors such as the variety of the crop, ripeness at harvest, and time between harvest and consumption can also impact nutrient content. It’s important to consider the overall diet and to eat a variety of foods, regardless of their origin, to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
That said, supporting your local farmers is a great idea. It contributes to your community.
Recap of Health Benefits and Risks of a Vegan Diet
In this article, we have explored the various benefits and risks associated with a vegan diet. On one hand, well-planned vegan diets have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, improve weight management, boost bone health, and better control blood sugar levels. On the other hand, a poorly planned vegan diet may lead to nutrient deficiencies and a lack of essential nutrients. It is important to supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals that may be lacking, such as vitamin B12, iron, and calcium.
Importance of a Well-Planned Vegan Diet
To reap the maximum benefits of a vegan diet, it is crucial to plan it carefully. This includes incorporating plenty of whole plant foods, finding protein sources, and focusing on key vitamins and minerals. Eating at vegan-friendly restaurants is also helpful.
Encouragement for Considering a Vegan Lifestyle
Overall, a plant based has the potential to offer many health benefits when done properly. While it may take some effort to plan and ensure adequate nutrient intake, the benefits can be well worth it. We encourage those considering a vegan lifestyle to educate themselves on the best practices and consult with a healthcare professional to determine if it is suitable for them.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that eliminates all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey.
People follow a vegan diet for various reasons including health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability.
A well-planned vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients and can be healthy. However, it is important to ensure that you are getting enough protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12.
Yes, vegans can get enough protein from plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, and whole grains.
Yes, it is possible to build muscle on a vegan diet. Plant-based sources of protein, combined with strength training, can support muscle growth.
A vegan diet can support weight loss if it is well-planned and includes plenty of whole foods. However, it is important to avoid high calorie, processed vegan foods.
Vegan sources of calcium include tofu, fortified plant milks, leafy greens, and almonds.
Yes, with careful planning and the help of a healthcare provider, a well-balanced vegan diet can meet the needs of a growing fetus.
A vegan diet can be affordable if you focus on whole, plant-based foods such as beans, lentils, and grains. Processed vegan products and meat substitutes can be more expensive.
Yes, it is possible to follow a vegan diet if you have a food allergy or intolerance. However, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare provider and to be aware of the alternative sources of nutrients that may be lacking in your diet.
Some potential downsides to following a vegan diet include a higher risk of certain nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12 and calcium, and a tendency to rely on processed vegan foods. It is important to have a well-planned and balanced diet to mitigate these risks.
To ensure you are getting all the necessary nutrients on a vegan diet, it is important to eat a variety of whole, plant-based foods and to consider supplementing with vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids.
With increasing awareness and popularity of veganism, it is becoming easier to follow a vegan diet while eating out or traveling. However, it may still require some planning and research to find vegan-friendly options.
“Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets”. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/vegetarian-and-special-diets/position-of-the-academy-of-nutrition-and-dietetics-vegetarian-diets.
“Veganism”. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/veganism/en/.
“The Vegan Society”. The Vegan Society. https://www.vegansociety.com/.
“Veganism in a Nutshell | PCRM”. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/veganism-nutshell.