The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Vegan Diet

A vegan diet is a form of vegetarian diet that excludes meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

This type of diet has been acclaimed by many, including celebrities such as Alanis Morissette. It has also been heavily promoted by animal rights groups, highlighting the negative impact that the consumption of animal products can have on the environment and animal welfare.

According to recent statistics, 2–6% of the US population is taking a vegan diet, and this number is continuously increasing. More people are deciding to go vegan for their health, the environment, and all animals that live on the Earth!

Going vegan can be challenging at first because of the significant changes you must make. Therefore, you need to learn many things before starting a vegan diet.

This article is an ultimate beginner’s guide to the vegan diet that will help you make a good beginning.

What is a vegan diet?

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from using every animal product, which seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing, or other purposes.

For this reason, the experts of NHS suggest a vegan diet contains only plants and foods made from plants (vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits).

Types of veganism

There are different types of vegans and vegan diets. These are based on the purpose and the foods that are used. Also, the health benefits vary among these different vegan diets.

Four different types of vegans are,

  1. Ethical vegans
  2. Religious vegans
  3. Dietary vegans
  4. Environmental vegans

Here are eight types of a vegan diet,

  1. Varied vegan diet
  2. Whole food plant-based diet
  3. Raw vegan diet
  4. High-carb vegan diet
  5. Low-carb vegan diet
  6. High-protein vegan diet
  7. Freegan
  8. Ostrovegan

Foods to eat on a vegan diet

Vegans include only plant-based foods in their meals, such as,

  1. Fruits and vegetables like spinach, kale, and mustard greens
  2. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan
  3. Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils
  4. Nuts, nut butter, and seeds, especially chia, hemp, and flax seeds
  5. Cereals and whole grains like bread, rice, and pasta
  6. Calcium-fortified plant milk like almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and oat milk
  7. Vegetable oils

Foods to avoid in a vegan diet

Vegans can’t eat animal foods or any food containing ingredients derived from animals, such as,

  1. Red meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, venison, and mutton
  2. Chicken, ducks, turkeys, and other poultry
  3. Fish
  4. Eggs
  5. Dairy such as cheese, butter, ice cream, milk, yoghurt, etc
  6. Mayonnaise
  7. Honey
  8. Other animal-based ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish.

Health benefits of a vegan diet

Many people choose a vegan diet not for ethics but because of its potential health benefits. Vegan diets are rich in fibre, antioxidants, and many micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, E and iron.

These nutrients provide several health benefits, which are as follows,

1. Help lose weight

Most people shift to a vegan diet for effective weight loss.

A vegetarian diet increases one’s dietary fibre intake and reduces calorie consumption, leading to weight loss. A study found that people who eat a low-fat, high-fibre vegan diet lose more weight than those who follow a conventional low-fat diet plan.

Vegans eat whole foods like beans, vegetables, and grains that increase their fibre intake, leading to significant weight loss.

2. Lowers the risk of diabetes

Following a vegan diet is an effective way to lower the risk of type-2 diabetes. Researchers say that plant-based foods reduce insulin resistance and improve glycaemic control, which helps prevent type-2 diabetes.

According to a detailed study, people with the highest adherence to predominantly plant-based diets had a 23% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those with weaker adherence to these diets.

The high fibre content in a vegetarian diet supports weight loss and keeps blood sugar levels in check, thus lowering the risk of type-2 diabetes.

3. Reduces the risk of heart disease

One of the significant health benefits of consuming plant-based foods is they reduce the risk of heart disease.

A study suggests that vegetarian diets offer protection against cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and ischemic heart diseases. This may be why vegan men tend to live 9.5 years longer than their non-vegan peers.

4. Protects against cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute report,  people with diets rich in plant foods such as fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of getting certain cancers.

Plant foods contain nutrients that help remove excess hormones that cause certain cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer.

Pigments like carotenoids in vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes also help fight against lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers.

Risks of a plant-based diet

A vegan diet is healthy, but following a poorly planned vegan diet can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

As vegans strictly avoid animal-based foods, legumes become their primary protein source. Unfortunately, though legumes provide many health benefits, they contain chemical phytic acid that impairs the absorption of minerals, causing their deficiencies.

As a meat substitute, processed soy is mostly used by vegans. Processed soy contains phytoestrogens that increase estrogen levels and create an imbalance in the body.

Strictly following a vegetarian diet also deprives your body of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, iron, protein, and vitamin D. These nutrients are crucial for the human body. Their deficiency can disturb the body’s functioning.

Do vegans need supplements?

Vegans fulfil most of their body requirements through diet. However, some nutrients can’t be provided through a vegan diet, so vegans need to take some dietary supplements.

An ideal approach is to regularly check your body’s nutrient levels and consult your doctor regarding supplement intake.

The Bottom Line

There are various health, environmental, and ethical reasons for people to become vegans.

When done right, plant-based diets can provide many health benefits, such as weight loss and reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases.

However, following a poorly planned vegan diet can cause several nutritional deficiencies and put your life at risk.

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