Nowadays, around 3-6% of the population in the US are vegans. Many famous people decided to stick to this lifestyle, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Beyonce, Bill Clinton, Jessica Chastain, Venus Williams, and others.
A vegan diet consists only of plants (for example, fruits, vegetables, grains) and foods derived from plants. People following this diet do not consume animal-derived food, including eggs and dairy products.
A vegan diet is rich in various essential nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, vitamin E, etc. At the same time, this nutritional approach reduces the consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol. As a result, people practicing a vegan diet usually have lower risks of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and some types of cancer. In addition, vegans tend to be thinner, so it can be advantageous if your goal is weight loss.
If you decide to try a vegan diet, you should remember two basic rules:
- plants and plant-derived foods can be eaten
- animal products, including meats, eggs, dairy products, and honey, are excluded
However, to reap the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, you should eat a well-balanced diet. It means getting enough macro and micronutrients. To accomplish this:
- eat plenty of fruits and all types of vegetables, including starchy one
- include plant-based protein sources like soy, beans, legumes, nuts (almonds and walnuts), and seeds (pumpkin, hemp, and sunflower seeds)
- choose whole-grain options if possible
- eat healthy plant-based fats like canola oil, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts
- reduce the consumption of fruit juices, sugary beverages, and refined carbohydrates
- drink enough water
It is recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under the age of 5 to consult a registered dietitian before trying a vegan diet. In addition, before shifting to a vegan diet, you should consult with a specialist if you have a history of an eating disorder.
How to avoid possible nutritional deficiencies
If you want to practice a vegan nutritional approach, you should balance your diet correctly. Otherwise, you may be at risk of developing deficiencies in some essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B-2 (riboflavin), vitamin B-12, calcium, zinc, iodine, and selenium. To make sure you get enough of these molecules, consider including the following foods in your diet:
- omega-3 fatty acids: nuts (walnuts), plant oils (flaxseed oil), seeds (flaxseeds and chia seeds), fortified cereals and juices;
- vitamin D: mushrooms, fortified foods;
- iron: spinach, beans, lentils, nuts, peas, raisins, fortified cereals;
- vitamin B-2 (riboflavin): spinach, almonds, asparagus, avocado, fortified foods (cereals, bread);
- vitamin B-12: fortified nutritional yeast, fortified foods;
- calcium: brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, beans, peas, chars, soy products;
- zinc: nuts (cashews, almonds), seeds (pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds), legumes, oats, tofu;
- iodine: iodized salt, cranberries, prunes, soy milk, seaweed, potatoes;
- selenium: brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, brown rice, mushrooms, spinach, oats, and enriched foods;
Making sure your diet contains enough of these essential nutrients can be challenging. However, you can take supplements to fulfill the needs of your body. In addition, vegans are recommended to take creatine supplements as this compound is contained mainly in animal foods. Consult the doctor or nutritionist about the exact supplements you may need.
Tips on improving your dieting experience
The idea of eating healthily and balanced without using animal products confuses some people. You can use the following tips to help yourself in transition to a vegan diet:
- Diversify your diet. It will help you get all the needed nutrients and balance your meals.
- Try new plant-based protein sources. Many people think that it is challenging for vegans to get enough protein from their diet. However, various plant-based protein options exist, including tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans, edamame, and some nuts and seeds.
- Feature vegetables in your meals. Adding a variety of veggies to your meal will provide you with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition, such a meal will make you feel more satisfied while consuming fewer calories.
- Give preference to whole grains. Whole grains contain more fiber and may provide some vitamins and minerals.
- Be precautious with vegan processed foods. Plant-based processed food is not healthier than a regular one. Therefore, it has the same adverse effects on your body. Choosing whole foods while allowing yourself some treats occasionally is a healthy approach.
Overall, a vegan diet may be a healthy nutritional approach if well-balanced. In addition, refusing to eat animal products is an environment-friendly choice. However, many people find a vegan diet over-restrictive and hard to follow. What’s more, the restrictiveness of such plant-based nutritional approach may contribute to an eating disorder. Therefore, if you want to shift to a vegan diet, it is essential to avoid excessive restrictions, pay attention to how you feel, and consult with a specialist if needed.