The vegan diet is a type of diet that completely excludes the consumption of any type of product of animal origin, including also its by-products, vegans (as the followers of this diet are called) choose not to consume products of animal origin for several ethical reasons , environmental or health.
When done correctly, the vegan diet can result in several health benefits, including weight loss and better blood sugar control.
However, a diet based solely on plant foods can, in some cases, increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
This article is a detailed guide for beginners on the vegan diet. The goal is to tell you everything you need to know, so that you can follow a vegan diet in the right way.
Where was the term vegan born?
The term “vegan” was coined in 1944 by a small group of vegetarians who parted ways with the Leicester Vegetarian Society to form the Vegan Society .
These people chose not to consume dairy products, eggs or any other animal products, in addition to not eating meat like vegetarians.
Therefore, they felt the need to form a society that best represented their views.
The term vegan was chosen combining the first and last letters of the word vegetarian. Veganism was originally defined as “the principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”.
In 1979, the Vegan Society became a registered charity and updated this definition of vegan.
And what is veganism?
As defined by the Vegan Society, veganism is defined as a way of life that tries to exclude all forms of exploitation and animal cruelty, whether for food, clothing or any other purpose.
For these reasons, the vegan diet is devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy products.
People choose to follow a vegan diet for several reasons.
These generally range from ethics to environmental concerns, but they can also result from a desire to improve health.
A vegan diet excludes all animal products. Many people choose to eat this way for ethical, environmental or health reasons.
What types of vegan diets?
There are different varieties of vegan diets. The most common include:
|Type of Diet||How it works?|
|Vegan diet with whole foods||A diet based on a wide variety of whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.|
|Vegan raw food diet||A vegan diet based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or plant foods cooked at temperatures below 48 ° C (118 ° F) ( 1 ).|
|Diet 10/10/10||The 80/10/10 diet is a vegan raw food diet that limits fat-rich plants like nuts and avocados and depends mainly on raw, soft green fruits. Also known as a low-fat vegan diet and raw foods or a fruity diet.|
|Starch-based diet||A low-fat, high-carbohydrate vegan diet similar to 80/10/10, but which focuses on cooked starches, such as potatoes, rice and corn, instead of fruits.|
|Raw till 4||A low-fat vegan diet inspired by the 80/10/10 and starch solution. Raw foods are eaten until 4pm, with the option of a cooked vegetable-based meal for dinner.|
|The thrive diet||The thrive diet is a vegan raw food diet. Followers eat whole plant-based foods that are raw or minimally cooked at low temperatures.|
|Vegan diet for junk food||A vegan diet without whole plant foods that rely heavily on meats and cheeses, chips, vegan desserts and other highly processed vegan foods.|
Although there are several variations of the vegan diet, most scientific research rarely differentiates between different types of vegan diets.
Therefore, the information provided in this article is related to vegan diets as a whole.
There are several ways to follow a vegan diet, but scientific research rarely differentiates between different types.
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Vegan diets can help you lose weight
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Vegans tend to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegans ( 2 , 3 ).
This may explain why more and more people are turning to vegan diets as a way to lose excess weight.
Part of the weight-related benefits that vegans experience can be explained by factors other than diet. These may include healthier lifestyle choices, such as physical activity and other health-related behaviors.
However, several randomized controlled studies, which control these external factors, report that vegan diets are more effective for weight loss than the diets with which they are compared ( 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ).
Interestingly, the weight loss advantage persists even when diets based on whole foods are used as control diets.
These include diets recommended by the American Dietetics Association (ADA) , the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) ( 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 ).
In addition, researchers generally report that participants on vegan diets lose more weight than those on calorie-restricted diets, even when they can eat until they are satisfied ( 4 , 8 ).
The natural tendency to eat fewer calories on a vegan diet can be caused by an increased intake of fiber, which can make you feel more satisfied.
Vegan diets seem to be very effective in helping people to naturally reduce the amount of calories they eat, resulting in weight loss.
Vegan diet, blood sugar and type 2 diabetes
Adopting a vegan diet can help keep your blood sugar in check and type 2 diabetes at bay.
Several studies show that vegans benefit from lower blood sugar levels, greater insulin sensitivity and even a 78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-vegans ( 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 ).
In addition, vegan diets are said to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics up to 2.4 times more than those recommended by the ADA, AHA and NCEP ( 5 , 6 , 18 ).
Part of the advantage can be explained by the increased fiber intake, which can weaken the blood sugar response. The weight loss effects of the vegan diet may further contribute to its ability to reduce blood sugar levels ( 4 , 6 , 9 , 10 ).
Vegan diets seem particularly effective in improving markers of blood sugar control. They can also decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Vegan diets and heart health
A vegan diet can help keep your heart healthy.
Observational studies report that vegans may have up to 75% less risk of developing high blood pressure and 42% less risk of dying from heart disease ( 16 , 19 ).
Randomized controlled studies – the gold standard in research – add to the evidence.
Several report that vegan diets are much more effective in reducing blood sugar, LDL and total cholesterol than the diets they are compared to ( 4 , 5 , 9 , 20 , 21 ).
These effects can be especially beneficial, since lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 46% ( 22 ).
Vegan diets can improve heart health. However, more high-quality studies are needed before strong conclusions can be drawn.
Other health benefits of vegan diets
Vegan diets are linked to a number of other health benefits, including benefits for:
- Cancer risk: vegans can benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer ( 20 ).
- Arthritis: Vegan diets seem particularly effective in reducing symptoms of arthritis, such as pain, swelling in the joints and morning stiffness ( 23 , 24 , 25 ).
- Renal function: Diabetics who substitute vegetable protein for meat can reduce the risk of renal failure ( 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 ).
- Alzheimer’s disease: Observational studies show that aspects of the vegan diet can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease ( 32 , 33 ).
That said, keep in mind that most studies that support these benefits are observational. This makes it difficult to determine whether the vegan diet directly caused the benefits.
Randomized controlled studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
A vegan diet is linked to several other health benefits. However, more research is needed to determine causation.
Foods to avoid
Vegans avoid eating animal foods, as well as any food that contains ingredients derived from animals.
- Meat and poultry: meat, 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, squid, mussels, crab, lobster, etc.
- Dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
- Eggs: From chickens, quail, ostriches, fish, etc.
- Bee products: honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.
- Animal-based ingredients: whey, casein, lactose, egg white, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, fish glue, shellac, L-cysteine, vitamin D3 derived from animal sources and omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish .
Vegans avoid consuming any animal meat, animal by-products or foods that contain an animal ingredient.
Food to eat
Health-conscious vegans replace animal products with plant-based substitutes, such as:
- Tofu, tempeh and seitan: These provide a versatile protein-rich alternative to meat, fish, poultry and eggs in many recipes.
Vegetables: Foods such as beans, lentils and peas are excellent sources of many nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Sprouting, fermenting and cooking properly can increase the absorption of nutrients ( 34 ).
- Nuts and nut butters : varieties especially unblanched and unroasted, which are good sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E ( 35 ).
- Seeds: Especially hemp, chia and flaxseed, which contain a good amount of proteins and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids ( 36 , 37 , 38 ).
- Vegetable milks and calcium-fortified yogurts: help vegans achieve their recommended dietary calcium intake. Opt for varieties also fortified with vitamins B12 and D, whenever possible.
- Algae: Spirulina and chlorella are good sources of complete protein. Other varieties are great sources of iodine.
- Nutritional yeast: This is an easy way to increase the protein content of vegan dishes and add an interesting cheese flavor. Choose varieties fortified with vitamin B12 whenever possible.
- Whole grains, cereals and pseudo-cereals: they are a great source of complex carbohydrates, fibers, iron, B vitamins and various minerals. Spelled, teff, amaranth and quinoa are especially high protein options ( 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 ).
- Germinated and fermented vegetable foods: Ezequiel bread, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha often contain probiotics and vitamin K2. Sprouting and fermenting can also help to improve mineral absorption ( 34 , 43 ).
- Fruits and vegetables: Both are great foods for increasing nutrient intake. Leafy vegetables such as bok choy, spinach, kale, watercress and mustard are particularly rich in iron and calcium.
These minimally processed vegetable foods are great additions to any vegan refrigerator or pantry.
How to minimize the risks
Favoring a well-planned diet that limits processed foods and replaces them with nutrient-rich foods is important for everyone, not just vegetarians.
That said, those who follow poorly planned vegan diets are particularly at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies.
In fact, studies show that vegans are at an increased risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc ( 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 , 56 ).
Not consuming enough of these nutrients is worrying for everyone, but it can pose a special risk for those in greatest need, such as children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Your genetic makeup and the composition of your intestinal bacteria can also influence your ability to obtain the necessary nutrients from a vegan diet.
One way to minimize the likelihood of deficiency is to limit the amount of processed vegan foods you eat and choose nutrient-rich foods.
Fortified foods, especially those enriched with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, should also make a daily appearance on your plate.
In addition, vegans who want to increase their absorption of iron and zinc should try to ferment, sprout and cook food ( 34 ).
In addition, the use of pots and pans for cooking, avoiding tea or coffee with meals and combining foods rich in iron with a source of vitamin C can further increase iron absorption ( 57 ).
In addition, the addition of seaweed or iodized salt to the diet can help vegans achieve their recommended daily intake of iodine ( 58 ).
Finally, foods containing omega-3, especially those rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can help the body produce longer-chain omega-3s, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Foods rich in ALA include chia, hemp, flax seeds, nuts and soy. However, there is debate about whether this conversion is efficient enough to meet daily needs ( 59 , 60 ).
Therefore, a daily intake of 200 to 300 mg of EPA and DHA from an algae oil supplement may be a safer way to prevent low levels ( 61 ).
Vegans may be at increased risk for certain nutritional deficiencies. A well-planned vegan diet that includes whole, fortified foods rich in nutrients can help provide adequate levels of nutrients.
Supplements to consider
Some vegans may find it difficult to eat enough of the nutrient-rich or fortified foods above to meet their daily needs.
In this case, the following supplements can be particularly beneficial:
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin is the most studied and seems to work well for most people ( 62 ).
- Vitamin D: Opt for vegan D2 or D3 forms, such as those manufactured by Nordic Naturals or Viridian.
- EPA and DHA: Originated from algae oil.
- Iron: should only be supplemented in the case of a documented deficiency. Taking too much iron from supplements can cause health complications and prevent the absorption of other nutrients ( 63 ).
- Iodine: Take a supplement or add 1/2 teaspoon of iodized salt to your daily diet.
- Calcium: Calcium is best absorbed when taken in doses of 500 mg or less at a time. Taking calcium at the same time as iron or zinc supplements can reduce its absorption ( 57 , 64 ).
- Zinc: Extracted zinc gluconate or zinc citrate forms. It should not be taken at the same time as calcium supplements ( 64 ).
Vegans unable to meet their recommended nutrient intake through fortified foods or products should only consider taking supplements.
Vegan diet menu template
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To help you get started, here’s a simple plan covering a week of vegan meals:
|Breakfast||Vegan breakfast sandwich with tofu, lettuce, tomato, turmeric and a vegetable milk chai latte.|
|Lunch||Spicy zucchini and quinoa salad with peanut sauce.|
|Dinner||Red lentil and spinach dal over wild rice.|
|Breakfast||Oats made with fruits, milk from fortified plants, chia seeds and nuts.|
|Lunch||Seitan sauerkraut sandwich.|
|Dinner||Pasta with lentil bolognese sauce and salad on the side.|
|Breakfast||Mango and spinach smoothie made with fortified plant milk and a linseed cake with banana.|
|Lunch||Tofu sandwich with side of tomato salad.|
|Dinner||Vegan chili on an amaranth bed.|
|Breakfast||Whole toast with hazelnut butter, banana and fortified yogurt.|
|Lunch||Tofu soup with vegetables.|
|Dinner||Sweet potatoes with lettuce, corn, beans, cashews and guacamole.|
|Breakfast||Vegan chickpea and onion omelette and a cappuccino made with fortified vegetable milk.|
|Lunch||Vegan tacos with mango and pineapple sauce.|
|Dinner||Fried tempeh with bok choy and broccoli|
|Breakfast||Spinach and scrambled tufu wrap and a glass of fortified vegetable milk.|
|Lunch||Spiced red lentils, tomatoes and cabbage with whole grain toast and hummus.|
|Dinner||Vegetarian sushi rolls, miso soup, edamame and wakame salad.|
|Breakfast||Chickpeas, guacamole and salsa pancakes and a glass of fortified orange juice.|
|Lunch||Vegan tofu quiche with a side of sautéed mustard.|
|Dinner||Vegan spring rolls.|
Remember to vary your protein and vegetable sources throughout the day, as each provides different vitamins and minerals that are important for your health.
You can eat a variety of tasty plant-based meals on a vegan diet.
How to eat in restaurants
Dining out for a vegan can be challenging.
One way to reduce stress is to identify vegan restaurants in advance, using sites like Happycow or Vegguide . Apps like VeganXpress and Vegman can also be useful.
When dining at a non-vegan establishment, try checking the online menu in advance to see what vegan options they may have for you.
Sometimes calling ahead allows the chef to organize something especially for you. This allows you to arrive at the restaurant confident that you will have something more interesting than a side salad.
When choosing a restaurant on the spot, be sure to ask about vegan options as soon as you enter, preferably before you sit down.
If in doubt, choose ethnic restaurants. They tend to have dishes that are naturally vegan-friendly or can be easily modified to become that way. Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian and Indian restaurants tend to be great options.
Once at the restaurant, try to identify the vegetarian options on the menu and ask if dairy or eggs can be removed to make the dish more vegan.
Another easy tip is to order several vegan appetizers or side dishes to prepare a meal.
Being well prepared allows you to reduce stress when dining as a vegan.
Healthy vegan snacks
Snacks are a great way to stay energized and keep hunger at bay between meals.
Some interesting and portable vegan options include:
- Fresh fruit with a heap of peanut butter
- Hummus and vegetables
- Nutritional yeast sprinkled in popcorn
- Roasted chickpeas
- Fruit and nut bars
- Mix of nuts
- Chia pudding
- Homemade cupcakes
- Whole wheat pita with salsa and guacamole
- Cereal with plant milk
- Whole grain crackers and cashew nuts
- A milk with milk or cappuccino
- Dried seaweed snacks
Whenever you plan a vegan snack, try to opt for options rich in fiber and protein, which can help keep hunger at bay.
These high-protein, high-protein vegan snacks are convenient options to help minimize hunger between meals.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about veganism.
- Can I eat only raw foods like vegan?
- Absolutely not. Although some vegans choose to do so, raw veganism is not for everyone. Many vegans eat cooked food, and there is no scientific basis for you to eat only raw food.
- Will switching to a vegan diet help me lose weight?
- A vegan diet that emphasizes whole, nutritious plant foods and limits processed foods can help you lose weight. As mentioned in the weight loss section above, vegan diets tend to help people eat fewer calories without having to consciously restrict food intake.
- That said, when combined with calories, vegan diets are no more effective than other diets for weight loss ( 65 ).
- What is the best milk substitute?
- There are many herbal milk alternatives to cow’s milk. Soy and hemp varieties contain more protein, making them more beneficial for those trying to keep their protein intake high.
- Whichever vegetable milk you choose, make sure it is enriched with calcium, vitamin D and, if possible, vitamin B12.
- Vegans tend to eat a lot of soy. Is that bad for you?
- Soy is a great source of vegetable protein. They contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds that are linked to various health benefits ( 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 ).
- However, soy can suppress thyroid function in predisposed individuals and cause gas and diarrhea in others ( 71 , 72 ).
- It is better to opt for minimally processed soy food products, such as tofu and edamame, and limit the use of simulated soy-based meats.
- Fermented soy products, such as tempeh and natto, are especially beneficial, as fermentation helps to improve nutrient absorption ( 34 ).
- How can I replace eggs in recipes?
- Chia and flaxseed are a great way to replace eggs in cooking. To replace an egg, just mix one tablespoon of chia or ground flax seeds with three tablespoons of hot water and let it stand until it gels.
- Crushed bananas can also be a great alternative to eggs in some cases.
- Scrambled tofu is a good vegan alternative to scrambled eggs. Tofu can also be used in a variety of egg-based recipes, from omelets to frittatas and quiches.
- How can I be sure to get enough protein?
- Vegans can ensure that they meet their daily protein needs, including protein-rich plant foods in their daily meals.
- Check out this article for a more detailed look at the best sources of vegetable protein.
- How can I be sure to get enough calcium?
- Calcium-rich foods include bok choy, cabbage, mustard, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas and calcium tofu.
- Fortified plant milks and juices are also a great way for vegans to increase their calcium intake.
- The RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most adults and increases to 1,200 mg per day in adults over 50 years of age ( 73 ).
- Some argue that vegans may have slightly lower daily needs because of the lack of meat in their diets. There is not much scientific evidence that can be found to support or deny this claim.
- However, current studies show that vegans who consume less than 525 mg of calcium per day are at an increased risk of bone fractures ( 55 ).
- For this reason, vegans should aim to consume at least 525 mg of calcium per day.
- Should I take a vitamin B12 supplement?
- Vitamin B12 is usually found in foods of animal origin. Some plant foods may contain a form of this vitamin, but there is still debate about whether this form is active in humans ( 74 , 75 , 76 , 77 , 78 , 79 , 80 ).
- Despite the circulating rumors, there is no scientific evidence to support unwashed products as a reliable source of vitamin B12.
- The recommended daily dose is 2.4 mcg per day for adults, 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy and 2.8 mcg per day during breastfeeding ( 81 ).
- Vitamin B12-fortified products and supplements are the only reliable forms of vitamin B12 for vegans.
- Unfortunately, many vegans do not seem to consume enough vitamin B12 to meet their daily needs ( 82 , 83 , 84 ).
- If you are unable to meet your daily needs through the use of vitamin B12 fortified products, you should definitely consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
People can choose veganism for ethical, environmental or health reasons.
When done properly, the vegan diet can be easy to follow and can provide several health benefits.
As with any diet, these benefits only appear if you are consistent and build your diet around nutrient-rich plant foods, rather than highly processed foods.
Vegans, especially those who are unable to meet their daily nutrient needs with diet alone, should consider supplements.