Vegan Diet Basics: Types, Diet Plan and Benefits of Vegan Diet



‘Veganism’ is a practice of excluding all kinds of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether it is food, clothing or any other purpose. A person whose diet is entirely based on plant products is known as a ‘Vegan’. The vegan diet is devoid of all forms of animal products such as dairy, eggs, poultry, meat, fish, gelatin, and honey.

People choose to follow a vegan diet due to various reasons that include ethical, environmental, or the desire to improve personal health. Ethical vegans not only follow a vegan diet but also abstain from using animal-based products such as fur, leather, wool, silk, shellac, etc. Environmental vegans feel that factory farming of animals causes environmental destruction and so a plant-based diet is a viable choice for the health and wellness of Earth.

Different Types of Vegan Diets

The different types of vegan diets are listed below:

  • Whole-food vegan diet: This diet is based upon a variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  • Raw-food vegan diet: This diet is based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or plant foods cooked at temperatures below 48 degrees Celsius.
  • The starch solution: A low-fat, high-carb vegan diet that focuses on cooked starches like potatoes, rice, and corn.
  • 80/10/10: This is a raw-food vegan diet that is devoid of fat-rich plants such as nuts and avocados and relies solely upon raw fruits and soft greens instead.
  • Raw till 4: This is a low-fat vegan diet inspired by the starch solution and 80/10/10. In this diet, raw foods are consumed till 4 p.m with the option of a cooked plant-based meal for dinner.
  • The thrive diet: This is a raw-food vegan diet. People who follow the thrive diet consume plant-based whole foods that are cooked at low temperatures like beans, seeds, leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, etc.
  • Junk-food vegan diet: This diet is based on cheeses, fries, vegan desserts, and other heavily processed vegan foods.

Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

  • A vegan diet relies heavily on raw-foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, whole-grains, nuts, etc. This type of diet provides more fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds. They are also rich in potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E.
  • A large number of people are switching to a vegan diet in the hope of losing excess weight. Certain studies have suggested that vegans tend to be thinner and have lower body mass indexes than non-vegans. Vegan diets tend to reduce your calorie intake. This is proved to be effective at promoting weight loss without the need to actively focus on cutting calories.
  • A vegan diet reduces the risks of type 2 diabetes and declining kidney functions. They are effective in reducing blood sugar levels and also help prevent further medical issues from developing.
  • According to the World Health Organization, about one-third of all cancers can be prevented if you follow a vegan diet. Vegans consume more legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Research suggests that eating fresh fruits and vegetables every day might lower your risk of dying from cancer up to 15%.
  • Well-planned vegan diets are related to a lower risk of heart disease. Vegans consume more whole grains and nuts which are good for the heart. Several studies suggest that vegan diets are effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels which in turn reduces the risk factors associated with heart diseases.
  • Vegan diets are based on probiotic-rich whole foods that can decrease the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Certain studies have suggested that people who follow a vegan diet experienced a greater improvement in symptoms like pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness.

Foods that should be eaten by Vegans

  • Tofu, tempeh, and seitan: These foodstuffs are alternatives to protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and poultry.
  • Legumes: Foods such as lentils, beans, and peas are excellent sources of nutrients and other valuable plant compounds.
  • Nuts and nut butter: Unroasted and unblanched varieties of nuts are good sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E.
  • Seeds: Hemp, chia, and flaxseeds contain a good amount of protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Calcium-fortified plant milk and yogurts: These are recommended to increase the calcium intake of the vegans.
  • Algae: Spirulina and chlorella contain a good amount of protein. Other varieties are great sources of iodine.
  • Nutritional yeast: This increases the protein content of vegan dishes and adds an interesting cheesy flavor. Opt for vitamin B12-fortified varieties whenever possible.
    ● Whole grains, cereals, and pseudocereals: These are good sources of complex carbs, fiber, iron, B-vitamins and several minerals. Examples include spelt, teff, amaranth, and quinoa.
  • Sprouted and fermented plant foods: Sprouted and fermented foods help to improve mineral absorption. Examples of such foods are Ezekiel bread, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, etc which contains probiotics and vitamin K2.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Both the foods help in increasing your nutrient intake. Leafy greens such as bok choy, spinach, watercress, and mustard greens are high in iron and calcium.

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Foods that the vegans should avoid

  • Meat and poultry products such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, organ meat, goose, duck, quail, etc.
  • All types of fish including anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, etc.
  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
  • Eggs from chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, etc.
  • Bee products such as honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.
  • Animal-based constituents like whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal, isinglass, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3, and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegan diet risks and how to minimize them

People who follow poorly planned vegan diets are particularly at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Several studies have reported that vegans are at higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium, and zinc. It also poses a risk for people with increased requirements such as children, pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding.

To prevent the likelihood of such deficiencies, it is necessary to avoid processed vegan foods and opt for nutrient-rich plant foods. Also, the use of iron cast pots and pans for cooking, avoiding tea/coffee and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C increases iron absorption. Adding seaweed or iodized salt in the diet can help vegans reach their recommended daily intake of iodine. Also, eating fortified foods enriched with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 are essential.

Lastly, eating omega-3 containing foods can help the body to produce longer-chain omega 3s such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Healthy Vegan Snacks

Some of the healthy vegan snacks are listed below:

  • Fresh fruit with a dollop of nut butter
  • Hummus and vegetables
  • Nutritional yeast sprinkled on popcorn
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Nut and fruit bars
  • Chia pudding
  • Homemade muffins
  • Cereal with plant milk
  • Whole-grain crackers and cashew nut spread
  • Dried seaweed snacks.

A Vegan Sample Menu for a Day

Breakfast:

Porridge made with fortified plant milk and topped with ground flaxseed and your favorite fruit along with a small glass of orange juice.

Lunch:

Morrocan-style whole-meal couscous salad with chickpeas, spinach, and chopped dried apricots.

Evening Meal:

Bean and roasted pepper chili with a jacket potato followed by fortified yogurt alternative and your favorite fruit.

Snacks and drinks:

A handful of cashew nuts/slice of whole-meal toast and peanut butter/a mug of a warm fortified plant with a little ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon added for flavor. Also one must drink plenty of water.

One may choose veganism for various reasons. But when done properly, the vegan diet is easy to follow and provides many health benefits.

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