Why Going Vegan
Today, many people are going vegan from various reasons. Some are from health ones, and others are for preserving animal lives in general.
And when done right, a healthy vegan diet may result in various health benefits.
Nevertheless, a diet based exclusively on plant foods(in some cases)may increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
This article is a beginner’s guide to the vegan diet, which aims to cover everything you need to know, so you can follow a vegan diet properly and have vegan healthy meals.
What Is Veganism
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 avoiding all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy.
People choose to follow a vegan diet for various reasons, ranging from ethics to environmental concerns, and a desire to improve their health in general.
It isn’t exactly clear how you need to eat to maximize the benefits of plant foods.
But, replacing refined grains with whole grains, boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables, and eating more legumes and healthy fats – is definitely a good place to start.
Types Of Vegan Diets
When going vegan, you should investigate a little bit before you change your way of living and eating.
There are couple of vegan diets and the most common include:
Whole-food vegan diet: A diet based on a wide variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
The starch solution: A low-fat, high-carb vegan diet similar to the 80/10/10 but that focuses on cooked starches like potatoes, rice and corn instead of fruit.
The thrive diet: The thrive diet is a raw-food vegan diet. Followers eat plant-based, whole foods that are raw or minimally cooked at low temperatures.
Raw-food vegan diet: A vegan diet based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or plant foods cooked at temperatures below 118°F (48°C)
Junk-food vegan diet: A vegan diet lacking in whole plant foods that relies heavily on mock meats and cheeses, fries, vegan desserts and other heavily processed vegan foods.
80/10/10: The 80/10/10/ is a raw-food vegan diet that limits fat-rich plants such as nuts and avocados and relies mainly on raw fruits and soft greens instead. Also referred to as the low-fat, raw-food vegan diet or fruitarian diet.
Although several variations of the vegan diet exist, most scientific research rarely differentiates between different types of vegan diets.
How Can A Vegan Diet Improve Your Health
When going vegan, you can easily see how your body is going through some changes. The first one will be – losing weight.
Vegans tend to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegans.
This might explain why an increasing number of people turn to vegan diets as a way to lose excess weight.
- folic acid
- vitamins C and E
- many phyto-chemicals
- more unsaturated fat content
Compared with other vegetarian diets, vegan diets tend to contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more dietary fiber.
Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease.
However, eliminating all animal products from the diet increases the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies.
Micronutrients of special concern for the vegan include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and long-chain n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids.
Unless vegans regularly consume foods that are fortified with these nutrients, appropriate supplements should be consumed.
In some cases, iron and zinc status of vegans may also be of concern because of the limited bioavailability of these minerals.
A vegan diet may help keep your heart healthy.
Observational studies report vegans may have up to a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure and 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Several report that vegan diets are much more effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL and total cholesterol than diets they are compared to.
Vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer.
Diabetics who substitute meat for plant protein may reduce their risk of poor kidney function.
Observational studies show that aspects of the vegan diet may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
You should definitely have to keep in mind that most of the studies supporting these benefits are still observational. This makes it difficult to determine whether the vegan diet directly caused the benefits or not.
Randomized controlled studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Which Foods Vegans Avoid
When going vegan, usually these foods are avoided from consumption:
- 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.
Foods Vegans Eat
Health-conscious vegans substitute animal products with plant-based replacement, 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 B 12-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.
Health Risks For Going Vegan
Consult a Dietitian
A vegan diet should be always personalized, therefore, you need to consult a professional dietitian specialized in plant-based diets.
Following poorly planned vegan diets are particularly at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies.
Not getting enough of these nutrients is worrisome and it may pose a particular health risk.
The composition of your gut bacteria may also influence your ability to derive the nutrients you need from a vegan diet.
One way to minimize the likelihood of deficiency is to limit the amount of processed vegan foods you consume, and opt for nutrient-rich plant foods instead.
Fortified foods, especially those enriched with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, should also make a daily appearance on your plate.
Furthermore, vegans wanting to enhance their absorption of iron and zinc should try fermenting, sprouting and cooking foods.
Also, the use of iron cast pots and pans for cooking, avoiding tea or coffee with meals and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can further boost iron absorption.
Moreover, the addition of seaweed or iodized salt to the diet can help vegans reach their recommended daily intake of iodine.
Which Supplements To Consider When Going Vegan
Some vegans may find it difficult to eat enough of the nutrient-rich or fortified foods above to meet their daily requirements.
In this case, the following supplements can be particularly beneficial:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
- Omega 3
- EPA and DHA coming form algae oil
What To Eat When You Want A Snack (a vegan one)
Healthy snacks are great way to stay energized and keep hunger at bay between meals.
And when going vegan, you can consider following:
- Fresh fruit with a dollop of nut butter
- Hummus and vegetables
- Nutritional yeast sprinkled on popcorn
- Roasted chickpeas
- Nut and fruit bars
- Trail mix
- Chia pudding
- Homemade muffins
- Whole-wheat pita with salsa and guacamole
- Cereal with plant milk
- Whole-grain crackers and cashew nut spread
- A plant-milk latte or cappuccino
- Dried seaweed snacks
Whenever planning a vegan snack, try to opt for fiber- and protein-rich options, which can help keep hunger away.
5 Steps To Healthy Vegan Diet
The following five guidelines pull the above information into simple steps for eating a healthy, well-balanced vegan diet.
- Eat at least 3 servings per day of beans, tofu, tempeh, soymilk, veggie meats, peanuts or peanut butter
- Consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens and dark orange vegetables plus good sources of vitamin C like peppers, citrus fruit, and strawberries
- Get most of your fat from healthy sources, like olive oil, nut butters, avocados, and seeds. Be sure to eat a good source of the essential omega-3 fat found in flaxseed, hempseed, canola oil, and walnuts. If you like them, include nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, and avocado as condiments in your meals.
- Eat 2-3 cups of calcium-rich foods every day including fortified plant milks, and cooked kale, collards, bok choy(raw Chinese cabbage), turnip greens, or tofu made with calcium sulfate.
- All vegans need vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods. Most also need a supplement of vitamin D, at least in the winter months. Consider that vegan DHA and EPA supplements can be good insurance. If you don’t regularly use iodized salt, an iodine supplement is a good idea.
Individuals may choose veganism for ethical, environmental or health reasons, and when done right, the vegan diet can be easy to follow and may provide various health benefits.
As with any diet, these benefits only appear if you are consistent and build your diet around nutrient-rich plant foods, rather than heavily processed ones.
Vegans, especially those who are unable to meet their daily nutrient requirements through diet alone, should consider supplements.
Note : Vegan diet provides no guarantee that you’ll never experience health problems.
While plant-based diets are associated with lower risks for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, vegans can still be struck by these diseases.
No diet, whether vegan or otherwise, can guarantee robust health and a long life.
However, before going vegan, you should learn more what to expect, what will you gain or lose.
After all – it’s your choice!
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