A vegan diet consists of plant-based foods and beverages, at the exclusion of animal products. Only plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes (dried beans and peas), seeds and nuts constitute vegan or total vegetarian diet.
However, apart from the vegan diet that can be referred to as a total vegetarian, there are other variants of vegetarian diets. Vegetarians, therefore, include vegans, who eat no animal products; semi-vegetarians, who eat meat once a week; pesco-vegetarians, who rarely eat meat but eat fish; and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, who also consume eggs and dairy products.
Vegan diets can be used at all stages of life, which include during pregnancy and infancy. Vegan diets are higher in magnesium, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin C, iron, phytochemicals, and dietary fiber; while they are lower in cholesterol, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, saturated fat, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, vitamin B12, and dietary energy. However, unbalanced vegan diets may result in nutritional deficiencies that can cause serious health issues. Regular intake of dietary supplements can be used to nullify some of these deficiencies; particularly for Vitamin B12 deficiency which causes blood disorders, and neurological damage that is potentially irreversible.
Veganism is the practice of adopting a vegan philosophy or lifestyle. There are several categories of veganism. These include Dietary Vegans (or strict vegetarians) who are averse totally to the consumption of animal products including meat, dairy products, eggs, and other animal-derivatives. There are others referred to as ethical vegans who are opposed to the use of animals for any purpose, in addition to adhering to the vegan diet. Environmental veganism is another type of veganism, and this is based on the premise of the belief in the environmentally damaging and unsustainable effect of industrial farming. Consequently, adherents of this belief avoid animal products such as clothing, medication, makeup, entertainment options, and personal care items, as long as they involve animal product.
What Is Expected Of A Vegan?
As a vegan, you are expected to eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, plant-based oils, tofu, and tempeh. Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave can be taken. Honey is not recommended but can be taken only in moderation. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, seaweed, miso paste, and kimchi are helpful for gut health, vitamin intake, and mineral absorption.
On the other hand, animal proteins like poultry, pork, beef, and seafood should be avoided; the same goes for eggs, honey, and animal fats like lard and fish oils.
Benefits Of Going Vegan
There are many scientific-based life-changing benefits of the vegan diet. Research shows that a well-planned, healthy vegan diet can enhance the overall health of an individual. These benefits include better digestion, lower cholesterol, improved blood pressure, weight loss, better sleep, lower risk of diabetes/heart disease, clearer skin, lower inflammation, and longer lifespan.
Apart from the nutritional benefits, some derive moral satisfaction from being a vegan. Some people feel compelled to spare animals from slaughter and suffering by abstaining from meat, as well as spare the human workers from what they consider as less-than-ideal slaughterhouse conditions.
Furthermore, environmental vegans believe that by abstaining from meat and adopting plant-based diets, they are minimizing contribution to environmental challenges caused by large- scale meat production like water wastage, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions.
Side Effects Of Being A Vegan
Although there are many benefits of going vegan such as lower cholesterol, improved blood pressure, clearer skin, and better sleep and higher energy levels, there are some adverse effects as well. These include deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Also, there can be digestive issues, intense cravings, hunger pangs, and fatigue. However, many of these adverse effects go away over time, more so if you are eating a well-balanced vegan diet with enough calories derived. Nevertheless, endeavor to monitor your symptoms, and if such symptoms persist, see your doctor.
Health Benefits Of Vegan Diet
In the United States, heart disease is considered to be the single biggest deadly disease, having equal effects on both women and men. However, there is low awareness of the fact that we need to cultivate the ability to prevent heart disease.
One way to prevent heart disease and many other dangerous illnesses is by eating a healthy, low-fat, high fiber, a high healthy carbohydrate, combined with vegetables and fruits. Even when you have a family genetic history of a certain disease, the genes responsible for such a disease must be triggered by an environmental factor before they can manifest.
Vegans avoid eating meat or animal products like dairy, meat, and eggs, and many constituents of a vegan diet are believed to protect against heart disease. For example, it has been found out that increase blood cholesterol level results from high consumption of saturated fat from red meat, and this, in turn, leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It was, therefore, suggested that adopting a vegan diet for heart disease could help in the prevention and treatment of the disease.
A vegan diet consists of a lot of fiber and this makes vegans less prone to the risk of heart disease. It has been estimated that most vegans consume 50% to 100% more fiber than those who are non-vegans. Consequently, vegans are known to be less disposed to the risk of heart disease. A high-fiber diet has been attributed to a more favorable lipoprotein profile, thereby enhancing a lower risk of heart disease. Furthermore, lower blood cholesterol level has been linked with the consumption of soluble fiber thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
The risk of diabetes and obesity can also be reduced when less meat is consumed or totally avoided. Consumption of higher amounts of saturated fat in meat has been linked with increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, on the other hand, is considered a risk factor of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). As you adopt a plant-based diet with a reduction of saturated fat, weight loss can partly be achieved, particularly with the consumption of fruits and vegetables which have more water and fewer calories.
Photo By: Ella Olsson