Out of all the diets today, the most vocal and trendy right now has to be the vegan diet. From social media and TV to animal and environmental protests down the street, it seems like you literally couldn’t go a day without hearing or reading about the vegan diet.

Followers and gurus of the diet say going vegan is perhaps the next step towards a more sustainable and moral lifestyle. They also claim being vegan is the best for the human body from a health and performance perspective.

While some of the most debated topics on veganism crosses with environmental and animal welfare concerns, this blog won’t discuss those topics with a 10-foot pole. Right now, we’ll focus on what you clicked this blog for and that is to just what you can eat on a vegan diet.

What is a vegan diet?

The vegan diet is a diet similar to vegetarianism, but with absolute exclusion of any and all animal food products. This includes dairy products like milk, eggs, butter, and cheese.

Vegetarian vs Vegan: What’s the difference?

While both vegans and vegetarians abstain from eating meat of any kind, vegans tighten the belt a notch further and exclude any product that made use of an animal in some way throughout the process. We’re talking about leather, wool, silk, and even perfumes, cosmetics, and other beauty products made by companies known that conduct animal testing.

Another difference is while being vegetarian is often a health-driven choice, being vegan is often considered a moral decision. A vegetarian is not always a vegan, but vegans are all vegetarians.

Simply put: Being vegetarian is to just not eat meat. Being vegan is more of a lifestyle.

Benefits of a Vegan diet

From a health perspective, there’s really nothing wrong with being an omnivore. As long as you eat everything in moderation (yes, even the “bad” foods), you will more or less live a long and healthy life.

Now that’s out of the way, health scientists do say there are some really cool benefits to going vegan. Some of them are the following:

Better digestion

The only food vegans are allowed to eat are plants and plants are known for mostly being made up of nutrients, water, and fiber. Among the three, it’s the fiber content that makes vegans have an efficient way of digesting food. It should be noted that one of the benefits of eating a fiber-rich diet is the prevention of constipation and shorter, more relieving trips to the toilet (1).

Weight loss

Most weight management programs involve a strict diet of vegetables and fruits and with good reason. As mentioned above, plants are loaded with fiber, water, and nutrients. When your diet revolves around plants, you will get full faster as well as restore a lot of lost nutrients.

When the body feels full and has adequate nutrient stores, it tells our brain, “Hey, we’re full. We can stop eating now!” This leads to a decrease in caloric intake which results in weight loss or weight maintenance, whatever it is you’re aiming to do.

Lighter feeling

Feeling stuffed is actually a sign that your stomach has eaten too much and expanded to a point where it’s actually having difficulty digesting food. This often happens to people who eat a lot of meat and carbohydrates like rice, pasta, and bread.

Compared to meat and rice, bread, and pasta, vegetables are actually much lighter in terms of that “feeling full” sensation. Your stomach doesn’t have a hard time breaking down vegetables compared to when it tries to digest meat and other carbs.

Reduced risk of diseases

Perhaps the biggest draw of going vegan is the health benefits associated with a plant-rich diet. And it’s true: Vegetables and fruits are really good for the body. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that not only support our immune system but also helps fight off diseases.

A plant-rich diet has been associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, and even some cancers. It also lowers inflammation, a symptom that is currently considered as the root cause of every disease known to man (2).

Some drawbacks of being vegan

While being vegan has a lot of benefits, it’s not perfect.

Nutrient deficiencies

There are certain nutrients that can only be found in meat such as B12 and Omega-3. B12 is crucial to brain and nerve health as well as cell metabolism. Omega-3 is necessary for fetal development, eye health, and lowered risk factors of certain diseases.

Deficiencies in both nutrients are common in most vegans (3, 4). So, most of them either supplement or eat plant alternatives. The problem with plant alternatives, however, is that sometimes it’s impractical (you need to eat a lot of vegetables to get the 100% RDA) and the form of nutrient found in the plant is not the same with the form found in animals as with the case of Omega-3.

A deficiency in B12 can lead to numbness, tingling hands, legs, or feet; balance problems; fatigue and weakness; and anemia.

A deficiency in Omega 3 can lead to dry skin, brittle/dull hair, frequent urination and thirst, sleep problems, and emotional problems like depression.

Lower chances of pregnancy

If you’re a man or if you and your husband are trying to have a child, being vegan might not be your best option especially if you’re both not that young anymore.

Some studies confirm that a vegan diet is linked to poorer sperm quality. This is in contrast to how a woman’s chance of getting pregnant is increased if she’s on a vegan diet (5, 6).

The simple explanation is sperm production (and from broader perspective testosterone) requires cholesterol. In the absence of cholesterol, men are at risk of having low testosterone which results in low sperm count and quality.

What can you eat on a Vegan diet?

As highlighted earlier, the vegan diet is similar to a vegetarian diet but without eggs and other dairy products. Let’s dive in on the specifics.

Fruits and vegetables

No problems here. Fruits and vegetables are free for all. However, you want to focus on foods that offer the most nutrition per calorie because if you’re avoiding animal-based products of any kind, it’s important to replace them with their plant counterparts.

Legumes

For protein and iron, your best bet is legumes. We’re talking about lentils, beans, peas, food that contain anywhere from 10-20 grams protein per cup. They’re also rich in fiber, folate, manganese, zinc, antioxidants, and other nutrients.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and their byproducts are great protein substitutes. They contain up to 28 grams of protein per serving depending on the variety. They’re also great sources of vitamin E and can be eaten in many ways. The best ones are fresh or unblanched because most nutrients are lost during processing.

Tofu

Tofu is a popular soybean curd product and has been a meat-replacer for years. For example, you can opt to use tofu in place of eggs when you cook an omelet or quiches.

Seaweed or kelp

Seaweed contains DHA and it’s among the few that has it.

Beverages

Water is never out of the equation in any diet, but are plain coffee and tea. You may also drink fortified vegan beverages to get your daily nutritional requirements. If you’re not particularly strict around sugar and other forms of non-animal based processing, colas, root beers, and alcoholic drinks are also on the table.

Plant-based yogurt and milk

Yes, there are actual yogurt products made entirely of plant-based ingredients. There are milk and yogurts made from soy or hemp.

Choline-rich foods

Choline is important for your liver, brain, and nervous system. We can produce it, but only in small quantities. This makes choline an essential nutrient. For vegans, you can get choline from tofu, soymilk, cauliflower, quinoa, and broccoli.

If you’re pregnant, you have to increase choline intake. If you’re into endurance sports, a heavy drinker, or in your postmenopausal stage, you’re also at risk of choline deficiency.

Whole grains and cereals

Cereals and whole grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, iron, B vitamins, fiber, and minerals like selenium, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium. Among them, spelt and teff are considered among the best in the variety, containing 10 grams protein per 237 ml cup. Amaranth and quinoa are also good at 9 grams protein as well as a good source of complete protein.

How to make the vegan diet work

As with any diet, going vegan isn’t just something you do when you feel like it. Many people who go 100% on a diet during the first day often fail and that’s because they didn’t allow their body to adjust to the change.

Here are some tips to make the vegan diet work for you.

Read about the diet

Many think going vegan is easy due to what they see on social media and how celebrities explain the diet. The fact of the matter is, it’s a lifelong commitment. As with any lifelong commitment, it’s imperative to learn and understand what you’re going to get into. It’s so you can minimize the odds of you reverting back to your old diet.

Plan your meals

Similar to a weight loss program, pre-planning your meals (as well as preparing them ahead of time if possible) helps keep you on track. This also makes you less likely to think about giving yourself a break and eating or drinking something that isn’t vegan. When you know you have food in front of you, you wouldn’t be as tempted to buy something else.

Remove animal products

Clear your fridge of anything that might have been made of or come from an animal. Cheese, milk, sausages, fish, sauces, even noodles with meat bits in them. This way, you won’t end up eating something that isn’t vegan. You can also instead replace them with vegan alternatives.

Do it with friends

There’s a good chance for someone at work or social group wants to go vegan. Maybe they want to lose weight or maybe they’re looking for a sign. Regardless, doing a diet together makes any diet easier to manage.

Scout places that offer vegan food

Imagine you’re lost in a city somewhere and it’s way past lunchtime. You’re hungry and all the food stalls around you are hotdogs in buns or shawarma. The alluring smell and the scenes of people chewing and wiping their oily lips get to you, so you end up eating one too. Scouting for vegan-friendly food stalls or restaurants is great information especially if you’re visiting another city or country.

Who is the Vegan Diet for?

At this point, you know what the vegan diet is all about, what it offers, as well as how you can make transitioning easier. The question now is, do you see being labeled as a vegan something that you can live with?

If you’re like most people, you’re probably used to eating whatever’s in front of you. And if you’re like most people, going vegan sounds like punishment. While it may seem like torture at first, your brain and body can and will adapt accordingly. So long as you keep your head in the game and avoid distractions (or at least learn ways to ignore temptation), going vegan might just be what you need to change your life for the better.

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245565/

(3) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25369925

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27280539

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3066040/

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