The vegan diet is actually a part of a much larger lifestyle, which is veganism. Veganism is defined as a means of living without the exploitation of animals, with regards to food, clothing, make up, and other forms. 

The vegan diet stems from an overall vegan way of life in that it encompasses all foods except those that come from animals. It is often referred to as a plant based diet, although eating a plant based diet can also mean eating minimal animal products. 

There are many reasons one might follow a vegan diet, from ethical to health to personal, as well as several different types of veganism, so let’s dive into them!

Different types of vegan diets:

Whole-food vegan diet: the most flexible diet of the vegan diets is the standard whole-food vegan diet. On this diet, you eat only plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and occasionally incorporate specialty items, like vegan desserts and treats. Unlike some forms of veganism, you are able to eat whatever foods you like cooked. 

Raw food vegan diet: this is similar to the standard whole-food vegan diet, except you only eat foods that are raw, or cooked below 118F. This includes eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other plant based foods that are raw. 

80/10/10: this diet essentially minimalizes the amount of fat you consume, specifically from plant sources, so it focuses mostly on carbohydrates and proteins.

Raw till 4:  this form of veganism is essentially the raw food vegan diet, except low in fat and you’re allowed to have a cooked meal for dinner, rather than only raw food. 

Junk food vegan diet: this form of veganism is still considered “plant based,” but not whole foods based, which is more optimal to eat. It relies heavily on processed vegan “meats” and treats, such as Oreo’s and vegan ice creams, whereas a standard whole-food vegan diet has more of an abundance of unprocessed foods.  

Of course, you can include treats from time to time! But it is important to focus on eating mainly whole and unprocessed foods, and incorporating treats in from time to time. 

The starch solution: often times, a vegan diet is heavy in carbohydrates, but this particular form of the vegan diet aims to have a low intake of fat and high intake of carbohydrates. What makes this different from the 80/10/10 diet is that it includes cooked carbohydrates, like rice and grains, over just raw carbohydrates, like fruits. 

What are the benefits of eating vegan?

Now that we know a little bit more about what types of vegan diets are out there, let’s go over some of the benefits of eating a standard vegan diet, as well as some of the negatives (because there is always a downside to everything!). 

Benefits:

Potential weight loss: though eating a vegan diet can also lead to weight gain, many find that they are able to lose weight faster and keep it off longer than when compared to other diets as recommended by the American Dietetics Association, the American Heart Association, and the National Cholesterol Education Program.  

Can lower blood sugar: those who follow a vegan diet also have up to 78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Can reduce LDL and total cholesterol

May reduce risk of Alzheimer’s 

Risks:

Risk of developing leaky gut: legumes contain high amounts of lectins, and as legumes tend to be the main source of protein, it can increase one’s risk of developing leaky gut syndrome in which the lining of your intestinal track becomes more permeable. 

Risk of anemia: because you are avoiding animal proteins, it is easy to become deficient in heme iron, which is essential. While iron is found in plant sources, the type of iron found in plants is less absorbable than iron found in animal sources. 

Risk of B12 deficiency: vitamin b12 is an absolutely essential vitamin for the human body to function properly, and is only found in animal sources. It does not naturally occur in plants. Being too low in b12 can lead to irreversible damage, so it is necessary for those whole follow a vegan diet to also take a vitamin b12 supplement. 

Risk of disordered eating: like with all diets, very strict eating regimes can often trigger eating disorders of disordered eating behaviors in those who are susceptible to restriction and obsession. 

Risk of being too low in zinc: like vitamin b12, zinc is also an essential nutrient that one needs in order to function properly, and following a vegan and/or vegetarian diet can inhibit the absorption of zinc

There are many benefits to following a vegan diet, but there are also some downsides that one must be cautious and aware of. It is often recommended by many dietitians and physicians to include proper supplementation of vitamins and minerals in order to ensure that you are consuming all that your body needs to properly function.  Always consult your doctor to determine your specific needs.

What to eat and what to avoid

Do enjoy:

  • Fresh and frozen produce, including all vegetables and fruits
  • Nut and nut butters
  • Legumes
  • Tofu, tempeh, and seitan in moderation (as these are processed forms of protein)
  • Seeds
  • Calcium fortified plant milks and yogurts, such as coconut milk, almond milk, and the like
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Whole grains, such as rice, quinoa, faro, etc.
  • Sprouted and fermented foods such as pickles, kimchi, kraut, Ezekiel bread, Kombucha, and miso
  • Plant based protein powders, such as pea protein, sacha inchi protein, and hemp protein

Avoid:

  • All meats
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream

Sample Meal Plan:

Breakfast: Chocolate banana smoothie with 1 frozen banana, ½ cup frozen cooked zucchini, 1 cup spinach, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1 scoop vegan protein powder, 1 tbsp cacao powder, 1 tsp vanilla extract

Snack: carrot sticks with 2 tbsp guacamole 

Lunch: Hummus wrap with a whole wheat organic tortilla, 2 tbsp hummus, ½ cup chopped lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and shredded carrots, 1 tbsp chopped dill, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp olive oil, and ½ cup washed chickpeas

Snack: ¼ cup nuts or 1 apple + 1 tbsp almond or peanut butter

Dinner: BBQ stuffed sweet potato with black beans
Dessert:
square of vegan chocolate or bowl of berries with coconut cream

How to eat out on a vegan diet:

Dining out can be challenging as a vegan, but it also doesn’t have to be! There are definitely work arounds to eating out as a vegan.

You can always call a restaurant ahead of time to see if they offer any vegan options, and if so, what they might have. You can also peruse restaurant menus online to see what might be available. 

Often times, you can also make a simple dish vegan, such as a salad, by removing any cheese or eggs that they might add, and requesting a vinegar and olive oil dressing rather than a cream based dressing.

Ethnic restaurants, such as Mexican, Indian, Thai, and Ethiopian, tend to have more vegan options as these are diets that can be very plant based.

When in doubt, always call ahead! Most restaurants are willing to make accommodations, and many of the national chains have great options when eating out on the fly. 

Where to find vegan recipes

It is always preferable, however, to cook food at home, as this way you can ensure that it is to your likings, monitor how much you’re spending, and make sure that it is healthy!

There are an abundance of resources to find plant-based recipes, from breakfast to dinner to holidays and desserts!

Some easy and simple vegan recipes can be found on Minimalist Baker, Choosing Chia, Oh She Glows, The Banana Diaries, and Cotter Crunch.

Take Away

Following a vegan diet has many benefits, and can definitely be delicious! It can aid in helping you to achieve your health goals and help you to find new foods that you like!

However, it can also be a very restrictive diet, and you do need to be cautious about making sure you are meeting your body’s needs. Always consult a dietitian and doctor before starting any diet, and include what will help you most in living your best life!