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In recent years, an increasing number of people are switching to the vegan diet; the motives behind this are multifactorial and include environmental, ethical, and health reasons.
If you’ve turned vegan lately or if you are considering this option, there is some information that you need to be familiar with.
In this article, I’ll provide you with the basic concepts of the vegan diet, how it can benefit your health, what you can and cannot eat, and if there are any side effects to this lifestyle. So let’s start with an easy question:
Vegan diet: What is it?
The vegan diet stems from a concept called veganism, which is a particular lifestyle that ensures its followers exclude any product that was the result of animal exploitation or cruelty, whether this product is a food, a piece of clothing, or any other type, it’s all excluded.
As a result, the vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, fish, and other products that were produced using animal cruelty such as dairy and eggs.
Types of the vegan diet
There are many types of vegan diets, but all have the same rule: no animal products are allowed.
Whole-food vegan diet
This is the most diversified type; you can consume whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts.
Raw-food vegan diet
This diet is based on raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. You can also cook plant foods, but the temperature has to be below 118°F (48°C).
Raw till 4
This type is the combination of the previous two; you can eat raw foods until 4 P.M. and have a plant-based meal cooked for dinner.
Junk-food vegan diet
In this type, people rely heavily on processed foods such as mock meats, cheeses, fries, and vegan desserts; it is considered an unhealthy option in the vegan diet.
Benefits of the vegan diet
As you may have noticed, vegans tend to be thinner than other people, which is part of the reason why more people are turning into vegans in recent years.
Several studies have compared the vegan diet to other diets, to see which is the most effective when it comes to losing weight. The results were always on the vegan diet’s side.
Moreover, when the vegan diet was compared to a calorie-restricted diet, the vegan diet was also more effective, even though vegans were allowed to eat until they feel full.
It is important to note that part of this weight-losing effect of the vegan diet is due to the relatively healthy habits of vegans; you see, vegans tend to be more physically active and more conscious about their health status than other people.
Type 2 diabetes is oftentimes related to obesity, sedentary life, and bad food choices. Other risk factors such as genetic predisposition do exist, but it is believed that, unlike type 1 diabetes, diabetes mellitus is more triggered by environmental factors.
When you are on a vegan diet, you have basically excluded all of the risk factors mentioned above, which will reduce your risk of developing diabetes by up to 78%.
It is theorized that the high fiber intake in the vegan diet plays a major role in the risk reduction, as it decreases the frequency of blood sugar spikes, making the cells more sensitive to insulin.
The deadliest heart disease in the world is myocardial infarction, which is caused by the complete obstruction of a major blood vessel (the coronary artery) that supplies the heart with nutrients and oxygen.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- Blood hypertension
- High LDL
- Low HDL
- High triglycerides
Reducing these risk factors would mean lowering the risk of myocardial infarction, and that’s exactly what the vegan diet does.
In one meta-analysis, it was found that the vegan diet can reduce your risk of developing cancer by 15%.
The exact mechanisms that allow for this are not fully understood, but it is believed that eating whole grains that are low in unhealthy fats, staying active, avoiding processed foods play a role in this result.
The vegan diet seems to be quite effective at reducing the symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
This is thought to be the result of an improved gut flora content, which may exert some anti-inflammatory functions.
Multiple observational studies show a reduced risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease in vegans.
It’s true that this type of study is not the gold standard, but it’s still a promising field to explore by doing more research and clinical trials.
What can you eat?
Despite the fact that being on a vegan diet means restricting the types of food you can, it’s of the essence to try to keep your meals as nutritious and varied as possible.
- Fruit: berries, apples, bananas, melons, etc.
- Vegetables: potatoes, tomatoes, salads, etc.
- Protein: beans, tofu, lentils, etc.
- Whole grains: oats, quinoa, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, etc.
- Healthy fats: extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, black and green olives, etc.
- Herb and spices: rosemary, garlic, etc.
Also Read: 21 Vegan Holiday Recipes
What can’t you eat?
As mentioned earlier, vegans exclude animal foods from their diet plus other products that were obtained through animal exploitation; examples include:
- Meat: beef, pork, organ meat, and lamp.
- Poultry: chicken, turkey goose, and duck.
- Seafood: fish, shrimp, squid, and lobster.
- Dairy and eggs: milk, yogurt, butter, and ice cream.
- Others: honey, gelatin, whey, fish-derived omega-3, etc.
Are there any side effects to being vegan?
Although being on a vegan diet is relatively safe, it’s not always the case, especially if the diet is not well planned and does not account for all the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Some nutritional deficiencies have been reported and include low levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3, iron, calcium, and zinc.
Each of these vitamins and minerals is essential for us, and their deficiencies will create a whole range of signs and symptoms.
For this reason, you’ll often find vegans taking supplements to cover the needs of these compounds and manage to stay healthy.
Discussing whether the vegan diet is a good or a bad thing is not for anyone to judge; however, and from a medical perspective, it’s essential to consult with your primary care physician before turning vegan, as deficiencies in one or more critical elements can be quite problematic.
Results may vary. Information and statements made are for general purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Her Own Health does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Her Own Health are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.