The vegan diet: a complete guide to eating well

A vegan diet generally contains no animal foods and includes eggs, honey, and dairy products. Strict vegans may also choose to avoid animal products, such as wool, silk, beeswax, leather, and fur.

If you’re one of the 9.6 million Americans who consider themselves vegan, you’ll most likely follow a plant-based diet of legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fruits. Veganism has grown in popularity in recent years and may have many potential health benefits.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Internal Medicine (opens in a new tab) found that going without meat could reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Other research in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients (opens in a new tab) found that a plant-based diet can lower cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels, and reduce high blood pressure.

Want to know more ? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the vegan diet, including risks and considerations. Plus, check out our vegan diet plan for beginners.

What is the vegan diet?

Vegans avoid anything made from animals, both foods and by-products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. Some people also avoid eating honey.

“Vegan diets tend to include lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds,” says a nutritionist Kiran Singh (opens in a new tab). “Eating a variety of these foods will provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and important proteins. For some, being vegan is a food choice, while for others it is a choice. of lifestyle.

People who choose a plant-based diet for nutritional or allergic reasons are called dietary vegans, while those who adopt the diet for moral and political reasons are called ethical vegans.

So, what is the difference between veganism and vegetarianism? Many consider veganism to be a stricter form of vegetarianism and it is seen as a way of life or a movement, rather than just a diet.

What are the benefits of a vegan diet?

weight management

Adopt a vegan diet for weight loss? Research published in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology (opens in a new tab) found that for each year of a vegan diet, the risk of obesity decreased by 7%. And one study 2017 (opens in a new tab) found that people who ate plant-based foods tended to weigh less on average than those who ate meat, dairy and eggs.

Can regulate blood sugar

If you have diabetes, eating a healthy vegan diet could help regulate and maintain your blood sugar levels. A study (opens in a new tab) found that those who followed a low-fat vegan diet could not only lower blood sugar and lose weight, but also lower cholesterol and improve kidney function.

May reduce the risk of disease

Singh says, “Fruits and vegetables contain a host of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Vegans have better heart health and less chance of certain diseases. Those who avoid meat are less likely to develop heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Vegans are also less likely to get diabetes and certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (bowel) and breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers in women.

fiber boost

A well-following plant-based diet can result in higher fiber intake due to an increase in starchy foods, such as whole grains and some vegetables. However, most people don’t eat enough fiber. Americans eat an average of 10-15 grams of fiber per day, but the USDA recommends the daily amount for adults to be 25g for women and 38g for men. Women and men aged 50 and over should have 21 and 30 grams respectively. Following a vegan diet is one way to increase fiber intake.

“The focus in driving a more plant-based diet should really be on what you can add to your diet — for example, lots of micronutrients — as opposed to what you take away,” Singh says.

What can you eat on a vegan diet?

On a vegan or plant-based diet, you can eat foods such as:

  • Protein: tofu, seitan, tempeh, edamame
  • Carbohydrates: breads, rice, pasta, potatoes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes: peas, beans and lentils
  • Healthy fats: seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, coconut, flax seeds, vegetable oils
  • Dairy alternatives: soy milk, coconut milkrice milk, nut milk, cashew butter

is a healthy vegan diet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What foods should you avoid if you’re vegan?

Vegans exclude all foods made from animals, including:

  • Beef, pork, lamb and other red meats
  • Chicken, duck and other poultry
  • Fish or shellfish such as crabs, clams and mussels
  • Eggs
  • Cheese, butter
  • Milk, cream, ice cream and other dairy products, including milk chocolate
  • Mayonnaise (because it contains egg yolks)
  • Honey

Are there any risks of a vegan diet?

“A vegan diet is healthy overall, but avoiding animal protein can rob you of a few nutrients like protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamin D,” says Singh.

“You need protein to fuel all the chemical reactions in your body. Calcium strengthens your bones and teeth. Omega-3 fatty acids keep your cells healthy and protect your heart by protecting you against heart disease and stroke.

Do you need to complete?

Should vegans take supplements? “The three commonly recommended supplements are vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iodine, but it’s important to consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist when looking for specific supplement information,” Singh says.

He adds, “B12 is impossible to obtain from plant sources alone. The body uses it to make red blood cells and DNA, and you’ll only find B12 in animal products. If you go vegan, you may need a supplement to make up for what you’re not getting from your diet.

“A lot of people might assume that plant-based foods are automatically healthy. This can be a common misconception when it comes to plant-based foods like cereal, granola bars, soft drinks, fast food, and ice cream.

“Just because something is vegan doesn’t automatically mean it’s healthy. Whether you follow a vegan diet or not, you’ll get the most benefit from a varied and balanced diet with plenty of water to hydrate you while limiting foods and beverages with high levels of added sugar and salt.

“Make sure to include a plethora of different types of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Take whole wheat foods, potatoes, oats and brown rice which contain a high amount of fiber and vitamins. starch.Aim for the organic protein found in beans, tofu, soy, and chickpeas.You can also boost your protein intake with best vegan protein powder.