The Vegan Diet: The benevolent way of eating that wins hearts (and tummies)


Last Updated July 15th, 2019

Veganism: Quick Facts

  • In 2017, demand for meat-free food increased by 987%. In 2018, going vegan was predicted to be the biggest food trend.
  • In the countries that have gone vegan, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds and lead to healthcare savings.
  • The global market for vegetarian/vegan products was worth US$51 billion in 2016
  • Between 2012 and 2016, there was a 185% increase in the number of vegan products launched in the UK.
  • A 2018 Greenpeace report found that global meat and dairy production and consumption must be kept in check and cut in half by 2050. This would help to ensure that the Paris Agreement is on track.

History of Veganism

Veganism is a way of living that excludes all form of animal cruelty, be it for the sake of food, clothing, or any other purpose. People have been vegetarian for thousands of years, particularly in India, where religions like Jainism and later Hinduism actually prescribed it for their adherents.

However, the description of a separate “vegan” term began with a British woodworker named John Watson, who coined the term in 1944. World Vegan Day was announced on Nov 1, 1994. He used the term vegan to distinguish it from vegetarianism, which did include the use of milk and milk-based products that were derived from cows. Vegans ate nothing that was derived from animals.

In the west, Pythagoras of Samos, a Greek philosopher, and mathematician in around 500 BCE, first mentioned vegetarianism. In addition to his now popular theorem about right angles, Pythagoras promoted benevolence and respect among all species, including humans. In a recent Gallup poll, even though only 3% of Americans identified as being vegan and only 5% identified as being vegetarian, Nielsen reported that about 39% of all Americans were actively trying to eat plant-based foods.

The most vegan-friendly cities in the world are Tel Aviv and Berlin. In addition to cafes and restaurants that serve vegan food, it is also home to the world’s largest vegan supermarket chain. Tel Aviv is known as one of the vegan capitals of the world, with a high percentage of those living in the city practicing veganism.

The Vegan Diet

The vegan diet is extremely popular today. Whether it is for ethical, health, or environmental reasons that people go vegan, the numbers are on the rise year after year in recent years. The vegan diet may have health benefits ranging from trimming the waistline to as much as preventing several health problems. A vegan diet, because it relies entirely on plant-based foods, may lead to nutritional deficiencies. This is especially so in people who have been eating meat and only have just changed to a vegan diet. Veganism being an approach that seeks to avoid the use of animal-based products, the vegan diet avoids meat, eggs, and dairy.

Types of vegan diets

There are various varieties of vegan diets. The most common include:

  • Whole-food vegan diet: A vegan diet based on whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, etc.
  • Raw-food vegan diet: Based on vegetables, raw fruits, nuts, seeds, or plant foods that are cooked at temperatures below 118°F (48°C).
  • 80/10/10: The 80/10/10 diet relies mainly on soft greens and raw fruits. It is also referred to as the low-fat, raw-food vegan diet or fruitarian diet.
  • The starch solution: This diet focuses on a high-carb diet based on cooked rice, potatoes, and corn instead of raw fruits in addition to soft greens.
  • Raw till 4: This is inspired by both the 80/10/10 and the starch solution diets. Raw food is consumed until 4 PM and a cooked plant-based meal is consumed for dinner.
  • The thrive diet: The thrive diet is an example of a raw-food vegan diet. Followers eat plant-based foods cooked at low temperatures.
  • Junk-food vegan diet: A vegan diet that is lacking in whole plant foods but rich in fried vegan alternatives to meats, cheeses, desserts, etc.

Though there are several types of vegan diets, scientific research rarely analyses them differently. In the absence of studies conducted in this manner, the information in this article relates to the vegan diet as a whole.

Vegan diets to lose weight

Vegans tend to be thinner than non-vegans and have a slimmer waistline. This could be a reason why many obese people are resorting to a vegan diet to lose weight.

The weight-related benefits experienced by vegans may not be entirely related to their diets alone. It could also be because of healthier lifestyle choices, physical activity, etc.

However, it has now been established by several randomized controlled studies that vegan diets lead to greater weight loss than the non-vegan diets that they are compared to. These weight loss advantages exist even when whole-based foods are used in the diet.

These include even diets that are recommended by leading associations such as the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).

Scientists now report that those following a vegan diet lose more weight than even those following a calorie-restricted diet, even if they are allowed to eat until they are full. The reason for this is probably the fact that eating more dietary fiber makes you feel full, and people on a vegan diet generally do.

Vegan Diets and Heart Health

A vegan diet keeps your heart healthy. Studies show that vegans may have a 75% less chance of high blood pressure and 45% less chance of dying of heart disease. Vegan diets are also more effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL, and total cholesterol than other diets. This is especially beneficial, as achieving this will reduce the risk of heart disease by about 46%.

Other health benefits

Vegan diets have other health benefits including those related to the following health conditions:

  • Cancer risk: According to a study, vegans have a 15% lower risk of developing cancer or dying from it.
  • Vegan diets have been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of arthritis such as joint pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness.
  • Kidney function: Kidney function may be improved in those who substitute other diets with the vegan diet.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: A vegan diet may also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s

These other benefits have been analyzed in observational studies. There is a need for randomized controlled studies before strong conclusions can be made.

Foods avoided by the vegan diet

The vegan diet aims to avoid all animal-based products. This would include not just meat, dairy, and eggs but some others like honey as well.

  • 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
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream
  • From chickens, quails, ostriches, fish
  • Bee products. Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly
  • 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 that vegans eat as alternatives

There are a number of vegan foods that offer the same benefits as meat, eggs, and dairy. In addition to giving a cheesy flavor (as with natural yeast) that adds taste to foods, it can also be a source of proteins and carbohydrates as well.

  • Tofu, tempeh, and seitan: These are an alternative to meat, poultry, and eggs
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and peas are sources of nutrients and other beneficial compounds. Absorption of these nutrients can be increased by processes such as sprouting, fermentation, and cooking.
  • Nuts and nut butter: Unblanched and unroasted varieties of nuts are high in iron, fiber, vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, zinc etc.
  • Seeds: Examples are hemp, flaxseeds, and chia. These contain high protein and omega-3 fatty acid content.
  • Calcium-fortified plant milk and yogurts: Calcium-fortified plant milk and yogurts can help vegans achieved their recommended daily allowance. Those fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D also will be more beneficial.
  • Algae: Spirulina and chlorella are great sources of proteins for vegans. Other algae are rich in iodine.
  • Nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast not only helps to increase the protein content of vegan dishes. It also helps to give the dishes a cheesy flavor. It is good to pick Vitamin B-12-fortified varieties whenever possible.
  • Whole grains, cereals, and pseudocereals: These are a great source of fiber, complex carbs, B-vitamins, iron, and several minerals. Examples of high protein grains are quinoa, spelt, amaranth, and teff.
  • Sprouted and fermented plant foods: Ezekiel bread, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, natto, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha often contain vitamin K2 and probiotics. Sprouting and fermenting can also help improve nutrient absorption.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Both fruits and vegetables help increase your nutrient intake. Leafy greens such as spinach, bok choy, watercress, etc. are especially high in iron and calcium.

Risks of a vegan diet

Favoring a well-planned diet will not only help vegans but others as well. People must try to reduce the processed foods in their diet and replace them with nutrient-rich ones.

However, you could have nutritional deficiencies if you follow a poorly planned vegan diet.

In fact, studies clearly show that vegans run a higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, vitamin B12, iodine, calcium, iron, and zinc.

If you are not getting enough of these nutrients, it is worrisome. The condition is even worse in the case of small children and in women who are breastfeeding. Because their nutrient requirements are generally higher, it could pose a serious threat to their condition.

Your ability to derive nutrients from a vegan diet will also depend on the gut bacteria in you and your genetic makeup. To minimize the likelihood of nutritional deficiency, limit the amounts of processed vegan foods you consume.

Fortified foods enriched with vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium must be consumed on a daily basis so that your recommended daily intake is not affected.

Avoiding tea or coffee with meals and adding vitamin C along with iron rich foods will also boost iron absorption.

Supplements for a vegan diet

Vegans may need to consider supplements to help ensure that their nutritional needs are met. The following supplements can be highly beneficial:

  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 in a particular form (cyanocobalamin) seems to help do away with vitamin B deficiency in most vegans
  • Vitamin D:Vitamin D2 or D3, such as those manufactured by top brands.
  • EPA and DHA: Both are sourced from algae oil.
  • Iron: Take iron supplements only if the diet does not contain enough leafy greens. Take care as to the quantity of iron you take, as ingestion of too much iron can harm the body.
  • Iodine: If you are deficient in iodine, add iodized salt to the diet, or take iodine supplements.
  • Calcium: Take calcium in doses of 500 mg or less at a time. Taking calcium along with iron and zinc reduces its absorption.
  • Zinc: It is normally taken as zinc gluconate or zinc citrate. It is not to be taken at the same time as calcium supplements.

Final Words

The vegan diet is a result of a benevolent outlook, driven by compassion for other creatures and a greater desire to also do the environment well. It has been gaining popularity in recent times and there are today several different types of vegan diets. They are all free of animal products and each has its own perceived value to the one following it. Since vegan diets can sometimes lead to nutritional deficiencies, it would be a good idea to supplement the diet with important minerals and nutrients.

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