Vegan Diets (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 devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy. People choose to follow a vegan diet for various reasons.
These usually range from ethics to environmental concerns, but they can also stem from a desire to improve health.
Different Types of Vegan Diets
There are different varieties of vegan diets. 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.
• 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).
• 80/10/10: 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.
• The Starch Solution: A low-fat, high-carb vegan diet that focuses on cooked starches like potatoes, rice and corn instead of fruit.
• 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.
Although several variations of the vegan diet exist, most scientific research rarely differentiates between different types of vegan diets.
Vegan Diet (Sample Menu for One Week)
To help get you started, here's a simple plan covering a week's worth of vegan meals:
• Breakfast: Vegan breakfast sandwich with tofu, lettuce, tomato, turmeric and a plant-milk chai latte.
• Lunch: Spiralized zucchini and quinoa salad with peanut dressing.
• Dinner: Red lentil and spinach dal over wild rice.
• Breakfast: Overnight oats made with fruit, fortified plant milk, chia seeds and nuts.
• Lunch: Seitan sauerkraut sandwich.
• Dinner: Pasta with a lentil bolognese sauce and a side salad.
• Breakfast: Mango and spinach smoothie made with fortified plant milk and a banana-flaxseed-walnut muffin.
• Lunch: Baked tofu sandwich with a side of tomato salad.
• Dinner: Vegan chili on a bed of amaranth.
• Breakfast: Whole-grain toast with hazelnut butter, banana and a fortified plant yogurt.
• Lunch: Tofu noodle soup with vegetables.
• Dinner: Jacket sweet potatoes with lettuce, corn, beans, cashews, sour cream and guacamole.
• Breakfast: Vegan chickpea and onion omelet and a cappuccino made with fortified plant milk.
• Lunch: Vegan tacos with mango-pineapple salsa.
• Dinner: Tempeh stir-fry with bok choy and broccoli.
• Breakfast: Spinach and scrambled tofu wrap and a glass of fortified plant milk.
• Lunch: Spiced red lentil, tomato and kale soup with whole-grain toast and hummus.
• Dinner: Veggie sushi rolls, miso soup, edamame and wakame salad.
• Breakfast: Chickpea pancakes, guacamole and salsa and a glass of fortified orange juice.
• Lunch: Tofu vegan quiche with a side of sautéed mustard greens.
• Dinner: Vegan spring rolls.
Remember to vary your sources of protein and vegetables throughout the day, as each provides different vitamins and minerals that are important for your health.
Whom to avoid Vegan Diets
Vegan Diet is good for all age categories. Since it’s totally based on Vegetables and Vegetable based products.
Vegan Diets Can Help You Lose 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.
Part of the weight-related benefits vegans experience may be explained by factors other than diet. These may include healthier lifestyle choices, such as physical activity, and other health-related behaviors.
However, several randomized controlled studies, which control for these external factors, report that vegan diets are more effective for weight loss.
Interestingly, the weight loss advantage persists even when whole-food-based diets are used as control diets.
These include diets recommended by the American Dietetics Association (ADA), the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).
What's more, researchers generally report that participants on vegan diets lose more weight than those following calorie-restricted diets, even when they're allowed to eat until they feel full.
The natural tendency to eat fewer calories on a vegan diet may be caused by a higher dietary fiber intake, which can make you feel fuller.
Vegan Diets, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes
Adopting a vegan diet may help keep your blood sugar in check and type 2 diabetes at bay.
Several studies show that vegans benefit from lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity and up to a 78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-vegans.
In addition, vegan diets reportedly lower blood sugar levels in diabetics up to 2.4 times more than diets recommended by the ADA, AHA and NCEP.
Part of the advantage could be explained by the higher fiber intake, which may blunt the blood sugar response. A vegan diet's weight loss effects may further contribute to its ability to lower blood sugar levels.
Vegan Diets and Heart Health
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 (16, 19).
Randomized controlled studies — the gold standard in research — add to the evidence.
Several report that vegan diets are much more effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL and total cholesterol.
These effects could be especially beneficial since reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar may reduce heart disease risk by up to 46%.
Other Health Benefits of Vegan Diets
Vegan diets are linked to an array of other health benefits, including benefits for:
• Cancer risk: Vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer.
• Arthritis: Vegan diets seem particularly effective at reducing symptoms of arthritis such as pain, joint swelling and morning stiffness.
• Kidney function: Diabetics who substitute meat for plant protein may reduce their risk of poor kidney function.
• Alzheimer's disease: Observational studies show that aspects of the vegan diet may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
That said, keep in mind that most of the studies supporting these benefits are observational. This makes it difficult to determine whether the vegan diet directly caused the benefits.
Foods to Avoid
Vegans avoid eating any animal foods, as well as any foods containing ingredients derived from animals. These include:
• 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 to Eat
Health-conscious vegans substitute animal products with plant-based replacements, 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 B12-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.
Risks and How to Minimize Them
Favoring a well-planned diet that limits processed foods and replaces them with nutrient-rich ones instead is important for everyone, not only vegans.
That said, those following poorly planned vegan diets are particularly at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies.
In fact, studies show that vegans are at a higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc.
Not getting enough of these nutrients is worrisome for everyone, but it may pose a particular risk to those with increased requirements, such as children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Your genetic makeup and 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.
Lastly, omega-3 containing foods, especially those high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can help the body produce longer-chain omega-3s such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Foods high in ALA include chia, hemp, flaxseeds, walnuts and soybeans. However, there's debate regarding whether this conversion is efficient enough to meet daily needs (59, 60).
Therefore, a daily intake of 200–300 mg of EPA and DHA from an algae oil supplement may be a safer way to prevent low levels.
Supplements to Consider
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 B12 in cyanocobalamin form is the most studied and seems to work well for most people.
• Vitamin D: Opt for D2 or vegan D3 forms such as those manufactured by Nordic Naturals or Viridian.
• EPA and DHA: Sourced from algae oil.
• Iron: Should only be supplemented in the case of a documented deficiency. Ingesting too much iron from supplements can cause health complications and prevent the absorption of other nutrients.
• Iodine: Take a supplement or add 1/2 teaspoon of iodized salt to your diet daily.
• Calcium: Calcium is best absorbed when taken in doses of 500 mg or less at a time. Taking calcium at the same time as iron or zinc supplements may reduce their absorption (57, 64).
• Zinc: Taken in zinc gluconate or zinc citrate forms. Not to be taken at the same time as calcium supplements.