All animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs, are prohibited in a vegan or plant-based diet. When followed appropriately, vegan people can be highly nutritious, minimize the risk of chronic diseases, and promote weight loss when followed.
Vegan diets are becoming more popular as people become more concerned about their health, animal welfare, and the environment. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2018, roughly 3% of Americans are entirely vegan, and sales of plant-based goods are increasing.
Vegan diets are nutrient-dense and low in saturated fats. According to research, eating a healthy diet can enhance heart health, prevent cancer, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
People who eat purely plant-based foods, on the other hand, should be more cognizant of how to get certain minerals, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin B-12, that are typically found in an omnivorous diet.
In this article, we look at the vegan diet in detail, including its health benefits and risks, as well as important points to think about before committing to it. We also offer vegan-friendly meal suggestions and advice.
What is it?
A vegan diet consists solely of plant-based meals. All animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs, are avoided by those who follow this diet. Honey is also avoided by some people. Veganism is a nutritional choice for some, but it is also a lifestyle decision for others.
People avoid wearing clothes, soaps, and other things that use or contain animal parts, such as leather and animal hair. Some people choose this lifestyle as a sustainable diet because of its environmental benefits.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds are commonly found in vegan diets. A wide range of important vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein can be obtained by eating a variety of these foods.
People who follow this diet, however, should make sure they acquire important nutrients that they normally get from animal products. Iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D are among these nutrients.
Vegetarian vs. vegan
The fundamental distinction between vegetarians and vegans is that vegetarians eat dairy products, eggs, or both. Vegans do not eat meat (including cows, pigs, fowl, or fish). All goods containing animal-based substances are prohibited in a vegan diet.
Because the vegan diet is more restrictive, people will have to think more about where their nutrients come from in order to meet their daily nutritional needs.
Vegan diets can satisfy all of a person’s nutritional needs while also removing some of the risks linked with toxic animal fats, according to study. The vegan diet has been linked to a number of health benefits, including those listed below.
Improved cardiovascular health
Vegan diets can help your heart in a variety of ways.
Adults with a higher diet of plant-based meals and a lower intake of animal foods have a lower risk of heart disease and death, according to a large-scale 2019 study.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products such as meat, cheese, and butter. Eating foods high in these fats elevates cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Cholesterol levels that are too high raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Plant meals are also high in fibre, which the American Heart Association links to improved heart health. Plant-based vegetables and grains are the finest sources of fibre, while animal products contain very little or none.
Furthermore, people who follow a vegan diet consume fewer calories than those who follow a traditional Western diet. Moderate calorie consumption can lead to a lower BMI and a lower risk of obesity, which is a key risk factor for heart disease.
Reduced cancer risk
A 2017 research found that following a vegan diet can cut a person’s cancer risk by 15%. Plant meals are high in fibre, vitamins, and phytochemicals — physiologically active molecules found in plants that protect against cancer — which may explain this health benefit.
The impact of nutrition on the risk of certain cancers have yielded varied outcomes in research.
Red meat, on the other hand, is “possibly carcinogenic,” according to the International Agency for Studies on Cancer, which notes that research has connected it to colorectal cancer, as well as prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Processed meat is also carcinogenic and may cause colorectal cancer, according to the EPA.
These risks can be avoided by avoiding red and processed meats in the diet.
Loss of weight
Vegans tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who follow other diets.
Vegan diets were found to be more beneficial for weight loss and macronutrient provision than omnivore, semi-vegetarian, and pesco-vegetarian diets, according to researchers from a 2015 study.
Because many animal meals are high in fat and calories, substituting low-calorie plant-based diets can help people lose weight.
It’s worth noting, though, that eating a lot of processed or high-fat plant-based meals — what some call a “junk food vegan diet” — can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
A plant-based diet can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a major analysis published in 2019. This effect was linked to eating healthy plant-based foods such fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, according to the study.
Because a vegan diet eliminates some food sources, people must carefully arrange their meals to avoid nutritional deficits. Before starting a vegan diet, people should consult with a doctor or a dietician, especially if they have any health issues.
The following nutrients may be lacking in a vegan diet:
- Vitamin B-12: Animal products are the main source of vitamin B-12. It safeguards nerves as well as red blood cells. Fortified cereals and plant milks, nutritional yeast, and yeast spreads are all plant-based sources of this vitamin.
- Iron: Iron is important for the proper functioning of the circulatory system. Beans and dark leafy greens are excellent providers of this nutrient. Learn more about vegan foods that are high in iron.
- Calcium: Bone health necessitates the consumption of calcium. Calcium levels can be maintained by eating tofu, tahini, and leafy greens.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps to strengthen bones and teeth and protects against cancer and other chronic illnesses. Vitamin D levels can be increased by eating vitamin D-fortified foods and spending time in the sun on a regular basis.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA are three forms of omega-3 fatty acids that are important for heart, eye, and brain function. Walnuts and flaxseeds are rich sources of ALA, but the only plant sources of EPA and DHA are seaweeds and algae.
- Zinc: Zinc is important for the immune system and DNA damage repair. Zinc is high in beans, nutritional yeast, nuts, and oats.
- Iodine: Thyroid function is important on iodine. Seaweeds and fortified meals are examples of plant-based sources.
If a person is unsure whether to take supplements or eat more fortified foods, they should consult their doctor.
Plant-based food tips
The transition from an unrestricted diet can be difficult, but there are many simple, enjoyable, and nutritious methods to include vital vitamins and minerals in a vegan diet.
Plant-based alternatives can be used instead of cow milk. Plant milks are generally lower in calories and contain less saturated fat than cow’s milk. Vitamins and minerals are frequently added by manufacturers.
People can also buy or produce their own plant-based cheeses, yoghurts, and butters.
Some people may be concerned about not getting enough protein on a vegan diet, yet many plant foods are high in protein.
Tofu, tempeh, and seitan are soy products that give protein and a meat-like texture to a variety of recipes.
In vegan cuisine, the following nutritious ingredients are frequently substituted for animal products:
- beans and legumes
- peanut butter and other nut butters
Vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular. Veganism has a number of health advantages, including improved heart health, weight loss, and a lower risk of chronic diseases.
Vegan diets may also be beneficial for the environment, according to research.
People who want to follow a vegan diet must carefully arrange their meals to ensure that they acquire enough important nutrients to avoid deficits.