Ever wondered why the vegan diet gained such immense popularity over the past decade?
That’s because unlike most other diets, the benefits of a vegan diet are not limited to losing weight and becoming healthier.
While going vegan will help you get a trimmer waistline, most people start the vegan diet due to ethical and environmental concerns.
Just to get it out of the way, being vegan does not mean eating salads three meals a day. With an increasing number of Americans going vegan and the wide variety of vegan products available in grocery stores, there’s never been a better time to go vegan.
So, let’s clear some things up.
What Is A Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet focuses on plant-based foods and excludes all animal products. The primary goal of a vegan diet is to prevent causing any harm to living beings.
Therefore, a vegan diet is better defined as a way of living rather than a diet. It is devoid of any form of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for food, clothing, or any other purpose.
Just a quick note: “vegan” is not an abbreviated way to say “vegetarian.”
While vegetarians still eat eggs and dairy products, vegans completely eliminate all animal by-products and any foods that involve animals in their processing methods.
Though there are many types of vegan diets, there’s only two you need to know about:
- Whole-Food Vegan Diet – A kind of vegan diet involving the consumption of a wide variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Raw Vegan Diet – This diet differs from the whole food vegan diet, not in terms of the foods consumed, but how they are consumed. A raw vegan diet recommends eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, or plant foods cooked at temperatures below 118°F (48°C).
The above diet is based on the belief that raw and minimally heated foods are more nutritious than cooked foods.
Vegan Diet Benefits
A healthy vegan diet can play a significant role in weight loss and improving overall health. However, its benefits are not limited to your own health. That’s because vegan diet benefits are threefold.
A vegan diet is good for you, for animals, and for the planet.
Let’s go over how it can benefit each of the above.
- Accelerates weight loss
- Lowers blood sugar
- Reduced risk of heart disease and cancer
- Lowers cholesterol
- Improves blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of arthritis
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease
No matter how ethically animals are raised, they still suffer and are slaughtered at the end.
Going vegan will save the lives of countless animals, which will provide you with a sense of moral gratification that will far outweigh the nutritional benefits of the diet.
It will also keep human workers from being forced to work in inhumane slaughterhouse conditions.
For the Planet:
Animal agriculture has been shown to cause increases in greenhouse gas emissions, water wastage, and deforestation. Going vegan and ditching animal products altogether can help minimize the adverse effects of large-scale meat production.
The vegan diet is a lifestyle choice that exercises compassion for all beings, from the tiniest insects to the massive mammals that live in our oceans.
Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?
Vegan diets are rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats, all of which is good for your health. But with the lack of meat and animal products in your diet, will you still be able to get all the essential nutrients you need?
For the most part, yes. Though plant-based foods contain all essential nutrients, some are more readily absorbed from animal foods.
Vitamin B12, for instance, occurs naturally only in animal foods. Its function is to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. Going vegan will require you to consume this vitamin through a B12 supplement.
Though vegan diets contain iron, they have the type that is less readily absorbed than what is present in animal foods. So, if you want the same benefits of iron, you’re going to have to consume more iron-rich vegan foods such as legumes, sunflower seeds, dried raisins, and leafy greens.
Coming to soy-based vegan “meat” its effects on cancer and heart health are still under debate. Some dieticians say that consuming an excess of soy-based vegan foods is worse than consuming high-quality animal products.
How To Start A Vegan Diet?
The very idea of a vegan diet will challenge your friends and family’s beliefs about diets, which means that they will ask you a lot of questions and might even oppose your plans.
In such situations, if you emphasize that you are going vegan for your own reasons, no one will feel the need to defend their choices. Making it all about you is the best way to avoid conflict.
Here are a few tips to help you get started with a vegan diet:
- Center your meals around vegetables – Veggies are full of vitamins and minerals, and their high fiber content will help you feel more satisfied.
- Eat a variety of foods – To ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet, include a variety of healthy foods in your diet.
- Switch to whole grains – Swap out pasta and bread for whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
- Find new sources of protein – Animal sources of protein tend to be high in unhealthy saturated fat. Switch to foods like tofu, lentils, edamame, chickpeas, and beans to get the required protein intake.
- Don’t replace animal products with junk food – Swapping out meat for processed vegan foods with high-fat content is no better for your waistline than gorging on a tub of ice cream.
That being said, it is okay to indulge in vegan treats every once in a while, but don’t justify them as “healthy” simple because they are vegan.
But most importantly, know that you don’t have to go vegan all at once. Start by adding more plant-based foods to your diet, while simultaneously cutting down on animal products. Taking your time and making gradual changes is key.
Vegan Diet For Weight Loss
Now that you know how to start a vegan diet, let’s talk about the effectiveness of a vegan diet plan for weight loss.
Several studies have found that vegans tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegans and are thinner. This explains why vegan diets are quickly gaining popularity as a way to lose excess weight.
You may think that this weight loss could be attributed to healthier lifestyle choices such as regular exercise that vegans make. However, even when these external factors were controlled, the vegan diet’s effectiveness for weight loss was still higher.
What’s even more interesting is that vegans lose more weight than those who follow calorie-restrictive diets, even when they’re allowed to eat until they feel full.
That’s because the high dietary fiber intake in a vegan diet can make you feel fuller, creating the natural tendency to eat fewer calories.
So, a vegan diet will not restrict the number of calories you consume but naturally reduces it by making you feel full sooner. Thus, resulting in weight loss.
Vegan Diet Foods
What To Eat:
- Tofu, tempeh, seitan, and edamame – Versatile protein-rich alternatives to meat, fish, poultry, and eggs.
- Fruits and vegetables – Leady greens such as kale, spinach, bok choy, and watercress, are particularly high in iron and calcium.
- Legumes – Lentils, beans, and peas are excellent sources of many nutrients and beneficial plant compounds.
- Nuts and nut butters – Unblanched and unroasted varieties of nuts are good sources of fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E.
- Seeds – Chia, hemp, and flaxseeds contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and a good amount of protein.
- Calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts – These will help achieve recommended dietary calcium intakes. Try to opt for varieties fortified with vitamin B12 and D if possible.
- Whole grains, cereals, and pseudocereals – Spelt, amaranth, and quinoa are excellent sources of complex carbs, proteins, fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and several minerals.
What To Avoid:
- Meat and poultry – Beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken, turkey, duck, etc.
- Fish and seafood – All types of fish, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, lobster, etc.
- Eggs – From chicken, turkey, ostriches, quail, fish, etc.
- Dairy – Milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, cream, ice cream, etc.
- Animal-based ingredients – Whey, lactose, casein, gelatin, honey, royal jelly, fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids, etc.
Take meat, poultry, fish, and dairy off the table, and replace them with veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, and grains. That’s the vegan diet.
By focusing your consumption on plant-based foods, vegans diets exclude animal products altogether. All of this is done for one critical mission: To reduce the harm of living beings.
When done right, a vegan diet can provide a variety of health benefits. But these benefits only appear if you build your diet around nutrient-rich plant foods rather than heavily processed foods, and stay consistent with it.
Everyone has different reasons for choosing to go vegan. For some people, it’s ethical and environmental, while others do it for health reasons. What’s your reason?
Let us know in the comments below and tell us about your experience with the vegan diet. If you want more information about other popular diets, check out our guide to help you choose the right diet for you.