While most of the planet’s population still eats animal products, a growing number of people have chosen to follow a vegan diet, eliminating all animal products from their diet. Some people choose to go vegan based on moral and ethical principles, while others are simply trying to better their health and clean up their eating habits.
If you’re new to the vegan diet, you may curious to know what can be eaten on this diet and exactly what benefits the diet offers. While some individuals certainly experience weight loss or improved health conditions, there is always the risk of nutritional deficiencies when eliminating certain food groups from the diet, which is why this diet should be fully researched and discussed with a physician before committing to.
Vegan Diet Plan
If the vegan diet is something that you’re vaguely familiar with, then you may be wondering what the difference between a vegan diet and a vegetarian diet is. On a vegan diet plan, all animal products are eliminated from the diet. This typically means that individuals cannot eat anything that contains meat, dairy, or eggs. Some vegans even exclude honey from their diets as it is a product of bees.
In contrast, a vegetarian diet typically entails avoiding meat products but not necessarily dairy products or eggs. Overall, both diets emphasize eating plant-based foods, however, a vegan diet plan tends to be more restrictive.
Choosing a vegan diet plan over other diets is often a matter of moral and ethical principles. Many individuals on a vegan diet are against animal cruelty and believe that harming animals for food products is morally and ethically wrong.
Others choose a vegan diet because they believe that eliminating meat, dairy, and eggs from their diet can benefit their overall health and either help them lose weight or improve certain health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension.
Vegan Diet Benefits
While the vegan diet can certainly help individuals improve their health, it is important to distinguish what dietary choices these individuals are making instead of consuming traditional animal products.
For instance, many meat substitutes for vegans consist of soy products that can pose their own potential health dangers. Also, a vegan diet does not exclude sugar, therefore, just because certain cakes or cookies may be classified as vegan-friendly does not mean those cakes or cookies are in any way healthier than the regular version.
When an individual on a vegan diet eliminates junk food and focuses on eating healthy, nutrient-rich plant foods, they can experience some of the vegan diet benefits, including:
By following a vegan diet, many people often give up eating certain packaged or processed foods that they were eating before. This elimination, plus the natural increase in dietary fiber from eating whole foods, can in many cases translate to weight loss for individuals on a vegan diet.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
There are many studies that have shown evidence for vegans experiencing higher insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and up to a 78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than individuals who do not follow a vegan diet. This could be a result of the increased fiber intake, which naturally tranquilizes the blood sugar response.
Promotes Heart Health
The lack of animal products can in many cases mean there is less cholesterol in the diet, which benefits heart health. Studies have shown that vegans have a 75% lower risk of experiencing high blood pressure and a 42% lower risk of death from heart disease.
Other studies have also shown that a vegan diet can benefit individuals by lowering their chances of developing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis. Many of these studies, however, are observational and need stronger evidence to back their claims.
Vegan Diet Foods
In general, someone on a vegan diet will want to avoid any food containing animal products. Some of the foods to avoid on a vegan diet include:
- Meat and poultry
- Seafood and fish
- Bee products
- Animal-based ingredients (i.e. gelatin, whey, casein, etc.)
Many food manufacturers offer vegan-friendly alternatives or substitutes for the foods that must be avoided on a vegan diet. Aside from fresh fruit and veggies, some other foods one can add to a vegan diet include:
- Tofu, tempeh, and seitan (for protein substitute)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
- Nuts and nut butter
- Seeds (hemp, chia, and flax)
- Plant milk and yogurt (almond milk, cashew milk, etc.)
- Algae (for protein and iodine)
- Nutritional yeast
Overall, minimally processed foods are the best route to go when looking to fill a pantry or fridge with vegan-friendly foods. Single-ingredient foods such as fresh fruits, veggies, herbs, and whole grains should be the focus of an individual on a healthy vegan diet.
Vegan Diet Side Effects
Whenever one is eliminating certain foods from their diet, he or she is potentially at risk of nutritional deficiencies, depending on the type of food that’s being eliminated. In order to remain healthy on a vegan diet, it’s important that the diet be planned well and adequate nutritional substitutes be made for foods that cannot be eaten on the diet.
The individuals who tend to be at greatest risk of developing these deficiencies include children, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, or those who suffer from poor digestion or gut problems.
Because vegans can miss out on important nutrients by eliminating animal products, it’s important that they consume foods that have been fortified with these nutrients instead. For example, meat is a great source of iron, so it’s important that individuals who do not eat meat look for other sources that provide sufficient iron, such as tofu, spinach, or white beans.
Staying Healthy on a Vegan Diet
Staying healthy while following a vegan diet comes down to two things: planning the diet and meals well, and consuming nutrient-rich plant foods over processed vegan-friendly foods.
With the vegan diet as popular as it is, it’s not hard to find vegan-friendly versions of favorite snack items and junk food in the store. A conscious effort should be made, however, to avoid these foods and instead stock up on fresh, single-ingredient, wholesome foods that will supply the necessary nutrients the human body needs to perform and maintain optimal health.
Check out some of our favorite vegan recipes here.