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Vegan Diet

Vegan Diet – Gaining in Popularity

According to recent statistics, the number of people following a vegan diet is growing rapidly. In fact, a Zogby poll of Americans found that the 1.7 million people now follow the Vegan Diet, a rapid increase from a decade before. So, what is the Vegan Diet and, and why is it gaining in popularity?

What is the Vegan Diet?

In essence, the Vegan Diet means eliminating or severely limiting all foods made in whole or in part from animals. Unlike vegetarians, where there are many categories, the vegan diet is much more specific.

Foods that are not included in the Vegan Diet (plus examples):

  • Meat: Poultry, beef, pork, fish
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Eggs: Whole eggs, egg whites
  • Animal-Derived Ingredients: Honey, gelatin

Foods that are included in the Vegan Diet (plus examples):

  • Grains: Wheat, barley, rice, oats
  • Produce: Fruits, vegetables, legumes
  • Vegetable Oils: Olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil
  • Nuts: Almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts
  • Soy: Tofu, soymilk, soybeans

Why follow the Vegan Diet?

Although many choose the Vegan Diet for ethical reasons, others become vegan because the diet offers a number of health benefits. Find the most noteworthy health benefits you can expect from following the Vegan Diet below.

Vegan Diet – Weight Loss

A few extra pounds aren’t just an aesthetic problem. The measure of one’s weight to height, BMI (Body Mass Index), may be the most important indicator of overall health and likelihood of developing disease. A high BMI (defined by a BMI greater than 25) has been strongly correlated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and sudden death.

Scientists have touted the Vegan Diet as an effective way to lose weight – and keep it off. A review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the weights of people who were vegan and those that were meat eaters. They found that “The body mass index (BMI) of the vegans was significantly lower than that of the non-vegetarians….”. 1

Many dieters find that even if they are able to lose weight, the weight slowly creeps back on. Indeed, this is a problem that had stymied researchers for decades. Enter the Vegan Diet. A study published in the journal Obesity found that a Vegan Diet worked better than a typical low-fat diet for helping people lose initial weight, and maintain their lost weight over a 2 year period.2

Vegan Diet – Chronic Disease

Scientists now know that the underlying cause of every chronic disease, from arthritis to diabetes, is inflammation. It turns out that a Vegan Diet is one of the most effective ways to reduce inflammation and the risk of developing these deadly chronic diseases.

A Vegan Diet has been shown to help people with rheumatoid arthritis reduce the levels of inflammation in their joints. Also, a paper published in Medical Hypotheses concluded that a vegan diet can greatly reduce of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease -3 of the leading killers in the Western world.3

Guidelines for following the Vegan Diet

Many people start the Vegan Diet, love it, and never look back. Here are 6 critical guidelines to keep in mind that will greatly increase your chance of success.

1. Educate yourself

There’s more to being vegan than just avoiding all animal products. To make sure that you get all of the nutrients that you need in the proper ratios, it’s important to design a diet that will ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients from each vegan food group. A Vegan Food Pyramid can be helpful in this process.

2. Eat a variety of Protein Sources

Because many people rely on meat, dairy and eggs as their protein sources, there’s a certain level of warranted concern about protein when switching to the vegan diet. However, it’s entirely possible to get enough protein and be vegan at the same time.

Complement: The most important “skill” to develop as a vegan is to learn how to complement your protein sources. While animal protein tends to be a complete protein, meaning it has all the amino acids that your body needs, most plant-based foods do not.

Making sure you get all the amino acids you need is as simple as eating a variety of protein sources. For example, eating rice and beans together gives your body the necessary complement of amino acids.

Here are some common pairing of protein sources to ensure a complete protein:

  • Legumes and Grains
  • Legumes and Nuts
  • Legumes and Seeds
  • Nuts/Seeds and Legumes

Soy: Soy is one of the few complete protein sources in the Vegan Diet. Fortunately, more and more foods are adding soy. Take advantage of this fact by incorporating 2-3 servings of soy into your diet everyday.

3. Supplements

Even if you design a perfect Vegan Diet, it’s still possible to fall short of meeting the recommended amounts of certain nutrients. The following supplements are a wise investment for all vegans:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Omega-3

4. Read Labels

While it may be easy to make vegan dishes at home, you may be surprised to find out how many foods contain traces of animal-derived ingredients. That’s why it’s important to become a “label sleuth” and read the ingredients list of every product that you buy – it’s the only way to know for sure that the food is really vegan.

5. Substitute

Instead of completely turning your current lifestyle upside down, be sure to include vegan versions of your favorite foods. That way you can indulge in vegan versions of foods like pizza while staying true to the Vegan Diet.

6. Support

Although you may feel like the only vegan in town, it’s likely that there are many others around you who are also following the Vegan Diet. Research shows that having a support group helps immensely when starting a new diet. If you can’t find a group in your neighborhood, there are a number of vegan online forums, discussion boards, and communities that are happy to help you.

References:

  1. Ella H Haddad. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 3, 586S-593S, September 1999
  2. Gabrielle M.  Turner-McGrievy. A Two-Year Randomized Weight Loss Trial Comparing a Vegan Diet to a More Moderate Low-Fat Diet. Obesity (2007) 15, 2276-2281; doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.270
  3. M. F. McCarty. Vegan proteins may reduce risk of cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease by promoting increased glucagon activity
    Medical Hypotheses, Volume 53, Issue 6, Pages 459-485