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When looking at the grocery aisles these days, you would begin to think that everyone is going vegan. With new vegan meat, cheese, milk, yogurt, and even egg products and brands regularly being added to supermarket shelves, it would seem veganism and the desire for more ethical choices is definitely on the increase.
Recent surveys have suggested that there has been a 300% increase in the number of people who follow a vegan diet in the United States in the last 15 years, totaling 9.6 million people who choose to eat vegan every day. However, that is still only 3% of the US population. Despite the craze, it seems that veganism is still a niche lifestyle that many people aren't willing to commit to.
A vegan diet consists of only plant-derived food and no animal ingredients of any kind. It is widely accepted that people choose to adopt veganism for one of, or a combination of, three reasons: animal rights, environmental protection, and personal health.
Animal Rights: Many vegans believe that animals should not be harmed, killed, or exploited for human consumption or gain. Choosing to not eat animal meat, dairy or eggs is a direct way of disassociating oneself from funding and supporting current animal agricultural practices.
Environmental Protection: Animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the current climate crisis. The animals being reared for food emit vast amounts of carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which is leading to rising global temperatures. Vegans omitting themselves from supporting animal agriculture reduce their individual carbon footprint significantly.
Personal Health: Eliminating animal products from your diet has shown to decrease risks of many lifestyle diseases including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Going vegan has also been shown to help people lose weight, eradicate their fatigue, and improve their overall health.
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FOOD ALLOWED ON A VEGAN DIET
Fruits & Vegetables: all kinds. It is often recommended to eat as diverse a range of fruit & vegetables as you can to ensure you receive a broad spectrum of nutrients.
Grains: eg. wheat, oats, quinoa, barley, rye, buckwheat, etc. Most breads, flours, breakfast cereals, and dried pasta are naturally vegan.
Sugars: eg. corn syrup, cane sugar, unrefined sugars such as coconut sugar, agave syrup, and maple syrup. All forms of sugar are considered vegan, except honey.
Nuts: eg. almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia, pistachios, etc. Eaten whole or in the form of flours, butters & oils ie. almond flour, peanut butter, walnut oil.
Seeds: eg. pumpkin, sunflower, flax, chia, sesame, etc. Eaten whole, ground, or in pastes & oils ie. ground flaxseed, tahini paste, sesame oil.
Beans & Legumes: eg. chickpeas, lentils, white beans, kidney beans, etc. Can be bought dried or pre-cooked in cans or jars.
Herbs & Spices: all fresh & dried varieties. Check pre-made spice blends for animal ingredients such as shrimp powder or milk powder.
Tofu & Tempeh: made from soybeans and great alternatives to meat. You can also find vegan meat alternatives such as "chicken" strips or "pork" sausages that are soy-based.
Vegetable & Plant-Derived Oil: corn, canola, olive, avocado, etc. Some vegans choose to avoid palm oil due to its production contributing to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Vegan "Dairy": milks, cheeses, yogurts, ice cream, etc. that are made from ingredients such as cashews, almonds, soy, oats, and coconut.
Miscellaneous: fermented foods, sprouted beans & grains, nutritional yeast, seaweed & sea vegetables, dark chocolate & raw cacao.
FOOD AVOIDED ON A VEGAN DIET
All Meat & Poultry
All Fish & Seafood
Eggs: including egg-based products such as mayonnaise or custard.
All Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, etc. made from milk of cows, goats, sheep, or any other animal.
Bee Products: honey, bee pollen, royal jelly.
All animal-derived ingredients: gelatin, lard, isinglass, lactose, whey, plus many more.
Photo by Ella Olsson from Unsplash
DIFFERENT TYPES OF VEGAN DIETS
Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet: This essentially is a healthy vegan diet but people may also choose to eliminate refined sugar, processed soy, and hydrogenated fats from their food choices. The focus is to eat a large variety of plants as close to their original "wholefood" state in order to gain the optimum nutrients from the food. For example, eating an apple ensures better fiber and nutrient intake compared to a cup of apple juice.
Raw-Vegan Diet: This diet includes only fruits & vegetables that are either completely raw or have been heated or dehydrated below 118℉. This does eliminate grains, beans & other plant foods that simply cannot be eaten raw. The belief is there is purity in eating food raw as cooking could potentially reduce the quality of nutrition available.
Vegan Junk Food Diet: Though technically not a dietary choice, this style of a vegan diet is normally adopted by people who are uninterested in the health benefits of the diet. Because there are many meat, dairy, and egg alternatives now available, and fast food chains all now have vegan versions of their popular items, it is easier than ever to eat the same unhealthy food as a conventional omnivore diet.
PLANT-BASED VS VEGAN - WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
The term "plant-based" is often used as an alternative way of describing a vegan diet, however, it is often up for interpretation. Veganism is perceived as a lifestyle choice with strict rules which can filter into choices made around clothes fabric and beauty product ingredients. "Plant-based" is more about the diet with a focus on eating healthy wholefoods and avoiding unhealthy choices often including meat, dairy, and eggs. Some people choose to have a "plant-based" diet where 80-90% of their food is vegan but a small amount of good-quality dairy, eggs, and lean meats are still incorporated into their personal meal plans.
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash
HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE VEGAN DIET
Ultimately, having a more plant-based diet has shown to improve overall health. Eating a diverse range of plants automatically increases the uptake of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber in a person's diet which all contribute to improvements across many health markers.
Studies have also suggested that eating a diverse healthy vegan diet reduces the chances of obtaining diseases normally associated with old age, and therefore increases a person's chance of living a longer life. Lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, risks that normally increase with age, have shown to be fairly low risk in people of all ages who choose a healthy vegan diet.
It can be argued that the slightly less restrictive vegetarian diet is just as effective as a vegan diet when looking at health. However, further removing dairy and eggs from the diet has shown to reduce the intake of bad cholesterol and further reduce the risks of diabetes and cancer.
SOURCES OF VEGAN PROTEIN
Regularly including a diverse range of nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and even vegetables, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and green peas, in your vegan diet will provide you with sufficient quantities of digestible protein. However, if you are looking for more robust protein sources then here are a few suggestions:
In the form of tofu, tempeh, soy milk, or edamame, soybeans can provide a naturally high source of protein. Edamame are young soybeans and often eaten as a simple vegan protein snack. Tofu and tempeh are great meat substitutes as they are versatile ingredients and perfect for marinating in seasonings. While soy milk tastes great in coffee and can be an easy way to add extra protein to many breakfast dishes.
Commonly used a vegan meat substitute as the texture can be easily manipulated to create realistic high-protein replicas of chicken pieces, steaks, and sausages. Made using wheat protein and water it is also possible to make your own seitan at home by simply buying some vital wheat gluten, though it is quite a long process.
Beyond Meat & Impossible Foods
These companies have developed meat alternatives that so closely resemble meat that people have been fooled into eating them thinking they are eating actual meat. After years of testing secret recipes and formulas, both these company's vegan meat alternatives match the protein content, texture, look, smell, and even savory meaty taste of traditional beef burgers, pork sausages, and minced meat.
A plant-based mix that resembles beaten eggs: a perfect substitute for scrambles, omelets, frittatas, or even french toast. Made from mung beans, which are naturally high in protein, means it has the same level of protein as conventional eggs but zero cholesterol making it a great healthy addition to a vegan diet.
|There are many vegan protein powders on the market that offer guaranteed sources of healthy protein. Powders containing proteins isolated from pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, green peas can be great additions to breakfast smoothies or vegan energy snacks. Do check that the protein powders you buy are "vegan-approved" and don't contain any whey dairy protein.|
This week-long meal plan shows how diverse and creative a vegan diet can be. With dishes predominantly created with whole-food plant-based ingredients, we have also included some of our favorite vegan products we feel are worth a try.
- Breakfast - Kite Hill Almond Yogurt, Buckwheat Granola, Banana Slices & Date Syrup
- Lunch - Tempeh, Creamy Spanish Gazpacho
- Dinner - Provençal Pistou with Wholewheat Pasta, Sun-dried Tomatoes & Nutritional Yeast
- Breakfast - Chia Seed Pudding with Almond Butter, Blueberries & Cacao Nibs
- Lunch - Chickpea 'Tuna' Sandwich with Follow Your Heart Vegan Mayo, Tomato & Lettuce Sandwich
- Dinner - Quinoa Salad with Celery, Orange Bell Pepper, Scallions and Fresh Dill
- Breakfast - JUST Egg Omelette with Garlic Mushrooms & Cherry Tomatoes
- Lunch - Black Bean Tortilla Soup with Avocado
- Dinner - Red Wine Vegan Shepherd's Pie
- Breakfast - Oatmeal with Oatly Oat Milk, Fresh Peach Slices & Raspberries
- Lunch - Creamy Avocado Soup with Extra Crispy Onion Rings
- Dinner - Upton’s BBQ Jackfruit Tacos with Sweetcorn Salsa & Pickled Red Cabbage
- Breakfast - Whole Wheat Sourdough Toast with Vegan Butter and Homemade Strawberry Jam
- Lunch - Vegetable Sushi with Ginger & Soy Dipping Sauce
- Dinner - Baked Falafel with Beet Hummus, Zucchini Ribbon Salad & Dukkah Seasoning
- Breakfast - Turmeric, Mango & Pineapple Smoothie Bowl topped with Chia Seeds & Coconut Chips
- Lunch - Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad with Arugula & Lemon Olive Oil Dressing
- Dinner - Healthy Vegan Moussaka
- Breakfast - Cinnamon Applesauce Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup & Walnuts
- Lunch - Spicy Kale Salad With Sesame Vinaigrette and Sourdough Bread
- Dinner - Vegan Mac & Cheese Au Gratin
Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash
HOW TO EAT VEGAN OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME
As veganism is still such a niche dietary and lifestyle choice, it can often be hard to find appropriate food options when eating outside the comfort of your own home. However, the more comfortable you get with the vegan diet, the more you will be able to find suitable solutions that work with your values.
To make things easier, more and more exclusively vegan restaurants are popping up around the world. Using websites such as HappyCow will help you find peer-reviewed vegan-friendly places. If faced with a menu containing no vegan dishes, find the vegetarian options and see if they can be adapted eg. replacing the egg for avocado or removing the cheese from a pizza or pasta dish. When going to cafes or coffee shops, ask what milks they have as they may have some plant-based milks on offer. If not you can always just opt for black coffee, black tea, or herbal tea.
When traveling it is also a good idea to bring vegan snacks with you if you are unsure of what will be on offer at gas stations or airports. Simple homemade snacks such as hummus and veg sticks or dried fruit and nuts are perfect but you can also find many vegan-friendly granola bars, chips, and much more in supermarkets or online.
When socializing with friends who choose to not eat vegan, offer to cook or bring some vegan food with you. Cooking delicious vegan food is a great way to show your friends how you eat and they might be surprised at what vegan food can be. Even bringing along a pack of vegan burgers to a BBQ or a selection of vegan-friendly snacks to a game night is a great way for you to feel more comfortable at social gatherings.
RISKS OF A VEGAN DIET
Like many other diets, risks can come from a poorly planned vegan diet. Eating predominately processed junk food high in fat and refined sugar will drastically reduce the intake of nutrients which can lead to fatigue, digestive issues.
When looking at common nutrient deficiencies in people who choose to completely eliminate animal products from their diet, it is often levels of vitamin B-12, iodine, calcium, as well as DHA & EPA fatty acids that are the hardest to maintain. These vitamins and minerals all contribute to optimal health and can affect the body’s function if levels drop too low.
The main way to reduce the risks of a vegan diet is to eat a wide range of colorful wholefoods and plants to increase the variety of minerals and vitamins being consumed. Also regularly eating fortified products and taking vegan supplements will help with any nutrient deficiencies.
BEST SUPPLEMENTS TO CONSIDER
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Is It Hard To Stay Vegan?
This depends on your motive to go vegan in the first place, however, the main thing is you don’t have to be perfect. As a beginner, maybe have a transition period and get used to the new diet; taking it one step at a time allows you and your body time to adapt. Also, don’t give yourself a hard time if you accidentally forget when cakes are being handed around the office or you forget to order vegan wine at dinner. The fact that you are even trying has positive consequences. If you are really struggling to stick to the diet, maybe find a friend to go vegan with you or find support through online vegan communities.
- What Are The Best Ways To Replace Egg & Dairy In Baking?
Dairy replacements are pretty easy to find these days with vegan versions of milk, butter, yogurts, and creams that can all be used in baking. For cakes and pastries that traditionally contain eggs and dairy, you can find many adapted vegan recipes online that use plant-based substitutes such as flaxseed meal as a binding agent or coconut oil instead of butter.
- Is There Much Variety In A Vegan Diet?
So much variety! As you can see from our sample meal plan above you could have something different every day plus so much more. Having a "restricted" shopping list may actually encourage you to be more creative in the kitchen and try new combinations or cooking techniques. There are now many vegan recipe blogs and cookbooks to browse through; check out our selection of vegan recipes for inspiration.
- How To Know Something Is Vegan-friendly?
Buying wholegrains, fruits, and vegetables from the produce section is easy and guaranteed to be 100% plant. However, when buying pre-packaged or pre-made food, or even beauty and cleaning products, you may want to get into the habit of reading the labels. The main thing to check is the ingredient lists for any animal-based items. Nowadays a lot of brands will have "vegan-friendly" or a large "V" on their label to signify that their product is vegan which can make things easier. It’s also good to check for approval stamps to confirm no animal testing has occurred.
- Does Produce Need To Be Organic To Be Vegan?
No, do not feel you have to buy organic food in order to start eating a vegan diet. However, organic produce will not have come into contact with harmful chemicals and pesticides which are regularly used on non-organic produce farms. If you have chosen to go vegan for health reasons then buying as much organic produce that works with your budget is a great additional lifestyle choice.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately, adopting a vegan diet can be a drastic change in lifestyle. However, with more and more research validating it as a healthy choice, not just for personal health but also for the health of the planet, it is becoming a more widely accepted and valued dietary choice.
The information provided in this article is not nutritional or medical advice. Please read our disclaimer.