What Is the Vegan Diet?
The vegan diet has become very popular.
Increasingly more people have decided to go vegan for ethical, environmental or health reasons.
When done right, such a diet may result in various health benefits, including a trimmer waistline and improved blood sugar control.
Nevertheless, a diet based exclusively on plant foods may, in some cases, increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Veganism is defined as a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for food, clothing or any other purpose.
For these reasons, the vegan diet is devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy.
People choose to follow a vegan diet for various reasons.
These usually range from ethics to environmental concerns, but they can also stem from a desire to improve health.
Foods to Eat
Health-conscious vegans substitute animal products with plant-based replacements, such as:
- Tofu, tempeh and seitan:These provide a versatile protein-rich alternative to meat, fish, poultry and eggs in many recipes.
- Legumes:Foods such as beans, lentils and peas are excellent sources of many nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Sprouting, fermenting and proper cooking can increase nutrient absorption .
- Nuts and nut butters:Especially unblanched and unroasted varieties, which are good sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E.
- Seeds:Especially hemp, chia and flaxseeds, which contain a good amount of protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
- Calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts: These help vegans achieve their recommended dietary calcium intakes. Opt for varieties also fortified with vitamins B12 and D whenever possible.
- Algae:Spirulina and chlorella are good sources of complete protein. Other varieties are great sources of iodine.
- Nutritional yeast:This is an easy way to increase the protein content of vegan dishes and add an interesting cheesy flavor. Pick vitamin B12-fortified varieties whenever possible.
- Whole grains, cereals and pseudocereals:These are a great source of complex carbs, fiber, iron, B-vitamins and several minerals. Spelt, teff, amaranth and quinoa are especially high-protein options
- Sprouted and fermented plant foods:Ezekiel bread, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha often contain probiotics and vitamin K2. Sprouting and fermenting can also help improve mineral absorption.
- Fruits and vegetables:Both are great foods to increase your nutrient intake. Leafy greens such as bok choy, spinach, kale, watercress and mustard greens are particularly high in iron and calcium.
Foods to Avoid
- Meat and poultry:Beef, lamb, pork, veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
- Fish and seafood:All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, etc.
- Dairy:Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
- Eggs:From chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, etc.
- Bee products:Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.
- Animal-based ingredients:Whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, isinglass, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.
Health Benefits of Vegan Diets
Vegan diets are linked to an array of other health benefits, including benefits for:
- Reduce blood sugar:Adopting a vegan diet may help keep your blood sugar in check and type 2 diabetes at bay.
- Weight loss:Vegan diets seem very effective at helping people naturally reduce the amount of calories they eat, resulting in weight loss.
- Cancer risk:Vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer.
- Arthritis:Vegan diets seem particularly effective at reducing symptoms of arthritis such as pain, joint swelling and morning stiffness.
- Kidney function:Diabetics who substitute meat for plant protein may reduce their risk of poor kidney function.
- Alzheimer’s disease:Observational studies show that aspects of the vegan diet may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
That said, keep in mind that most of the studies supporting these benefits are observational. This makes it difficult to determine whether the vegan diet directly caused the benefits.
Randomized controlled studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.