Vegan Diet 101 – The Definitive Beginner’s Guide [Veganism]

Vegan Diet

Veganism practices abstaining the use and consumption of animal products. It rejects the commodification of animals. Veganism excludes all exploitation and cruelty of animal products. This includes food as well as clothing and any other purposes.

The vegan diet consumes plant products as a substitute for animal products. Meat, dairy, eggs and other animal substances are not prohibited on the vegan diet.

Scientists suggest that almost 8% of the worldwide population are now practicing veganism

More people have decided to become vegan due to the ethical, environmental and health reasons. When a vegan diet is 100% abided by and successful, there are numerous health benefits a person can attain. It can help with weight loss, blood sugar control and much more.

Although, the diet does come with some complications and risks which are important to be aware of. The vegan diet can be quite limited for many people. But, there is an exponential increase in plant based substitutes coming to the market. Eventually, it will be much easier to achieve and sustain. 

Use this as a complete guide for veganism, its history, benefits, meal planning, risks and more:

What is the Vegan Diet?

The vegan diet is one that consumes only plant based products. This includes vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits and any other food made from plants. 

This diet should not get confused with vegetarianism. Vegetarians allow the consumption of some animal products. For example, they consume dairy and eggs. 

Whereas, veganism practices the exclusion of animal produce consumption and use. Thus, the vegan diet includes no meat, dairy or eggs. Other products that contain animal products include certain sauces, honey, candy, beers and wines. More of which will be covered later in this complete vegan guide.

Ultimately, the vegan diet is now seen as a way of living. There are numerous reasons for people consuming the vegan diet. It is not consumed just for personal health benefits. But, to also improve the environment and ethics.

Also, there are numerous versions of the vegan diet. We will cover them later on. But for the most part, there are not many differences between them. Because of lack of difference, we are covering the vegan diets as a whole. 

To understand a bit more about veganism and where it stemmed from, here is more:

History of Veganism

Veganism is considered a more extreme version of vegetarianism. There is a similarity due to the exclusion of meat. Yet, veganism excludes both the consumption and use of all animal products.

Plant based diets have been dated back as far as 500BCE in the writings of Greek philosopher, Pythagors of Samos. Yet, there was not an exact definition. Nor was their research to conclude that veganism can offer health benefits. 

Veganism was better defined, understood and coined in 1944 by Donald Watson. The vegan diet is now known as a modern day diet amongst those who share the same views. It was almost coined the “non-dairy vegetarian” diet by Donald Watson and peers. But, they felt the definition did not cover the exclusion of all animal products. That is when the term veganism was found.

The vegan diet has popularised in more recent years due to better scientific research and more plant based food options. With numerous sustainable plant based foods on the market, it is now easier than ever to manage a vegan diet. 

Since 2016, the vegan population has more than doubled. It has increased from 276,000 vegans worldwide in 2016 to over 600,000 in 2019

With the historic understanding in mind, you may wonder exactly how the vegan diet works and how to practice it:

How the Vegan Diet Works

It is easy to understand that the vegan diet eliminates all animal products. But, you may wonder exactly what you should eat in replacement of those animal products, how to sustain it and make it work.

With the right balanced foods, you can easily achieve a healthy vegan diet. It is as simple as finding what foods you like. Ensuring you eat nutritiously will help you maximise results and benefits. It will also help inhibit any nutrient deficiencies and mild side effects, such as fatigue. Preventing these may help you sustain the vegan diet long term.

For a healthy and successful diet you should start with finding substitutions for meat and dairy. This will help understand what to base your meals around. 

Substitutes for meat

Plant based products are more popular than ever as meat substitutes. This includes tofu, tempeh and seitan. More and more brands are creating their own plant based substitutes. Many are now a great source of protein which acts as a great replacement. 

Another great substitute for meat are legumes and beans. You can easily replace meat or other animal produce in your meals with these. Legumes and beans are a popular vegan choice. Beans, lentils and peas are all vegan and great sources of nutrients and also protein. 

Substitutes for dairy

There are even more substitutes for dairy than for meat. For milk you can choose from a variety of soy based or nuts milks. This includes soya, almond, coconut, oat, rice, hazelnut and cashew milk

For replacing other dairy products such as cheese, creams and yoghurts, there are many vegan products. All of which are made from these soy or nut based products. 

To find out more on the food you can eat on the vegan diet:

What Foods To Eat On The Vegan Diet

Finding the right substitutes to replace animal products is key. From there you can begin to discover new foods and your favourite meals. Then, it will feel more of a lifestyle to be vegan. Eating the right foods will help you reap the health benefits veganism offers. Below is a list of the healthy and nutrient dense foods to consume whilst being on the vegan diet:

  1. The meat substitutes: all foods mentioned above which includes tofu, tempeh, seitan, legumes, pulses and beans.
  2. The dairy substitutes: all non-dairy alternatives shared above are good to consume for the vegan diet. Non-dairy milks, yoghurts, cheese, creams and more are perfect. Most contain similar fat and protein content to natural dairy products. If you feel you may lack calcium due to lack of natural dairy products, a good alternative are calcium-fortified plant milks and yoghurts. They help increase your calcium intake and provide you with a good source of vitamin D and B12. 
  3. Algae: algae is a great alternative source of protein. Vegans cannot consume whey protein, which many meat eaters use to increase their protein intake. So, algae is an ideal source of plant protein. It also contains an impressive amount of amino acids. Algae can be added to juices, smoothies and salads.
  4. Whole grains: complex carbs are a great addition to any diet. Vegans benefit from them well as whole grains offer many essential nutrients, that they may be deficient in. This includes fiber, iron, vitamin B’s and minerals. Spelt, cereals and quinoa are great options as they contain the most nutrients in a small serving. Whole grains are healthier than white grains as they hold more nutrients such as complex carbs, proteins and fibers. 
  5. Fruits and vegetables: all fruits and vegetables are allowed on the vegan diet. They are a great way to increase your nutrient intake. It is recommended to consume 5 fruits or vegetables per day.
  6. Nutritional yeast: this particular yeast is very popular amongst vegans, due to the lack of vitamin B’s in the diet. Nutritional yeast adds protein and flavour to any vegan dish. Studies demonstrate that it has many health benefits. Including reducing cholesterol, improving immunity and holds powerful antioxidants. You can use it by sprinkling over food and stirring into sauces and soups to add flavour and thicken them.
  7. Nut, seeds and nut butters: research suggests it is best to consume unroasted nuts and seeds. This is so that you attain the essential nutrients they contain. Nuts and seeds are high in protein, iron, fiber, selenium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E. Nuts and seeds are also good to top your meals with for additional flavour, nutrients and healthy fats. Hemp, chia, sesame and flax seeds are a great source of protein.
  8. Fermented plant foods: fermented foods are often added to diet to improve mineral absorption. Plant based fermented foods work in the same way non-vegan ones do. They contain probiotics which is great for improving gut health and digestion. These foods include miso, sauerkraut, natto, kimchi and kombucha. Add these to the sides of your meals for better mineral absorption.

Eating all of the above foods will make it easier to consume all of the essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and function properly. They are easy to incorporate into all meals of the day. Keeping up nutritiously dense foods will maximise health benefits as well as sustain the diet long term.  

As well as foods to enjoy, they are a few you should be aware of that you should avoid:

Foods To Avoid On The Vegan Diet

It’s obvious that animal products are to be excluded on the vegan diet. Yet, there are a few foods you may be unaware that are not allowed on the vegan diet, those include:

  • All animal meat: this includes meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Although some non-meat eating diets allow fish and seafood, the vegan diet does not. All meats from animals should be excluded.
  • Dairy: all dairy products are prohibited on the vegan diet. This includes milk, cream, cheese, yoghurt, butter and ice cream.
  • Eggs: eggs are a food that comes from an animal. Thus, is not accepted on the vegan diet. All eggs are excluded such as duck, chicken, quail, fish and ostrich eggs.
  • Bee products: products from bees are animal produce. This includes honey, bee pollen and royal jelly. Bee products are often added to candy, such as sweets and ice creams, to add flavour. Thus, should be avoided.
  • Animal based ingredients: as well as the above, there are more animal based ingredients that need to be avoided. This includes whey, lactose, egg white, gelatine, fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids, islinglas, shellac, carmine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and L-cysteine. These ingredients can often be added to alcoholic beverages, candy and chocolate. Always check your food packaging labels to check for these ingredients. All products will be labelled as vegan if free from all animal produce. 

With the foods in mind you should consume and avoid, here is more on a vegan diet plan to get you started:

Vegan Diet Plan

All vegan dieters like to choose their meals depending on preference. It is difficult to suggest a full meal plan because of this. Yet, there is some brief guidance to suggest to help you get started with the vegan diet.

Nutritionally planning is key and ideal for everyone. Ensuring you are eating balanced meals will help you attain the essential nutrients many vegans can be deficit in.

When you have found your favourite plant based substitutes, you can begin with meal planning. 

Typically, each meal should contain the essential nutrients. This includes protein, fiber, carbohydrates and minerals.

A healthy balanced meal could include whole grains, fiber, fruits, vegetables and plant based proteins

For breakfast, it does not need to include all of these food groups. So, oatmeal, pancakes and cereals are a good whole grain and high fiber option. These can be topped with fruits. 

Then for savoury options, plant based proteins and vegetables are perfect. Tofu scramble is a great substitute for scrambled eggs. This can be topped with roasted or fresh vegetables. 

Both are a great source of essential nutrients and energy. They are both nutritious balanced and can be swapped each day to change between sweet and savoury. 

For lunch, whole grains or plant based proteins should be in equal amounts. Then vegetables and fermented foods can be used on the side or on top. An example is couscous with chickpeas, topped with spinach and kimchi. 

Dinner can be similar to lunch. But, if you have not consumed a lot of protein then it should be consumed here. A substantial dinner should provide all essential nutrients. A good example is sweet potato with beans, salad and avocado. This can be topped with nuts or seeds of choice. 

Snacks can be aligned to personal preference. The best options are nuts, seeds, fruits and drinks. Water, teas and juices are a good option for drinks to control hunger. 

With the repetitive mention to the benefits the vegan diet can offer, let us share more:

The 7 Benefits of The Vegan Diet

There are more benefits to a vegan diet than most may assume. Many associate vegan dieting with weight loss. The decline in protein consumption mixed with healthy meals is a simple way to cut excess weight and fat. Yet, there is an array of other benefits the vegan diet offers:

1- Aids weight loss

Many people turn to the vegan diet to shed excess weight. Even if a person does not have weight concern, it can help diminish excess weight with healthy nutritional vegan meals. Most studies state that vegans are naturally lower in weight and BMI than non-vegans. These studies also suggest that the vegan diet is the best for weight loss than most other popular diets.

A diet it was compared to was a calorie restricted diet. The study concluded that even when a vegan ate until full, they lost more weight than those who controlled their calories. The main reason to explain this is down to vegans typically choosing healthier lifestyle choices. Such as more exercise, less junk food and healthier behaviour.

Moreover, vegan meals tend to be higher in fiber. Fibrous foods typically help you feel fuller for longer which helps with appetite control.

2 – Lowers the risk of cancer

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around one third of all cancers can be reduced or prevented by diets. 

The vegan diet includes many cancer reducing foods such as legumes, fruits and vegetables. Vegans typically consume more of these foods than non-vegans as they work as substitutes for non-vegan foods. 

Scientific studies have researched legumes and concluded that they can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 18%. Moreover, fruits and vegetables can inhibit death from cancer by up to 15%.  

Other studies suggest that soy products can reduce the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers. Soy products increase hormone receptors, which help lower the chance of developing these cancers. Or, they can slow the progression and decrease the severity. 

Science has not yet concluded how much of each vegan friendly food you need to consume to lower the risk of developing such cancers.

3 – Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

The high fiber intake of the vegan diet reduces the need for sugary and high carb foods. The reduction in sugary foods lowers the risk of insulin issues. High fiber foods can also blunt the effects sugar can have on insulin.

Studies suggest that vegan diets increase insulin sensitivity. This is highly beneficial for type 2 diabetic patients as they suffer with poor insulin sensitivity. This study concludes that the vegan diet may be able to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 78%. 

4 – Improves heart health

The vegan diet seems to be able to regulate and lower blood pressure. Which is highly beneficial for improved heart health. 

A study on random individuals who adopted the vegan diet reduced their blood pressure by up to 78%. The same study found that the lowering of the blood pressure may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease by almost half. 

With these impressive conclusive results, it shows that the vegan diet does have great effect on heart health.

Research also reveals that vegans naturally have a lower LDL reading. LDL is known as the bad cholesterol and a lower LDL helps improve cholesterol. This study shows the results are maximised with low sugar intake alongside the vegan diet.

5 – Reduces symptoms of arthritis

There have been new studies investigating the effects of the vegan diet on arthritis. Most reports show that the vegan diet can reduce the symptoms and pain that arthritis can cause. This is due to vegan diets being rich in probiotics, which are highly effective at reducing arthritis symptoms.

One study in particular studied 40 individuals that adopted a vegan diet for 6 weeks. All participants found an increase in energy and improved functioning of arthritic joints after consuming a vegan diet.

Arthritis patients report reduced swelling, pain and improved mobility of the affected joints.

6 – Decreases the risk of poor kidney function

For those with current diabetes, the vegan diet may decrease the risk of poor kidney function. 

One study found that diabteic patients saw a decrease in the risk of poor kidney function when changing to a vegan diet. In particular, soy protein substitutes contributed to the efficacy of the vegan diet having an effect.

The vegan diet may not decrease the risk of poor kidney function as effectively to those who are non-vegan. Yet, it may still have some effect.

7 – Reduces the risk of Alzeihmer’s disease

The rate of Alzeihmer’s disease is increasing rapidly worldwide. Many scientists are researching the best methods for reducing the risk of developing the neurological disease. Especially dietary changes.

These studies investigated the vegan diet to see the effect it has on the disease. It was found that plant based products are better for neurological function than animal products. In particular, vegan diets are the most reliant on plant products. Hence, the vegan diet can help lower the risk of Alzeihmer’s disease.

The disease is often associated with high intake of animal products and high fat dairy. As the vegan diet prohibits the consumption of these foods, this further justifies why the diet is beneficial for reducing the risk of this disease.

As mentioned earlier, there are several types of vegan diet. Although there is not much to differentiate them, it is worth covering in case you wish to know more or pursue a more unique diet:

Different Types Of Vegan Diet

The vegan diet is pretty standard. Yet, there are a few different versions of the diet some like to partake in. Some for health reasons and some because the different types may offer increased results. There is not yet enough evidence to suggest if any of these offer more health benefits than another. But, it is important to be aware of the different types to have full knowledge of veganism.

We are only covering those that are beneficial and popular. As there is not yet enough evidence to suggest all vegan variant diets are safe and sustainable. Some are even still considered to be myths and not ever sustained for longer than a few weeks.

Whole food vegan diet

The whole food vegan diet means only whole foods should be consumed. This is typically known and considered as the original vegan diet. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. This version of the diet is what most people associate with being the vegan diet. Plus, it promotes the most and risk-free benefits. 

Raw Food Vegan Diet

This type of vegan diet eats only raw, fresh or dehydrated foods. This includes raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It is also referred to as the thrive diet. This diet allows consumption of plant based foods cooked at 48 degrees celsius or lower

The risks of the raw vegan diet are much greater than the original vegan diet. This is because it can be hard to consume calories and can cause bowel problems due to overconsumption of dried foods. 

Keto Vegan

Vegan diets can also be combined with the keto diet for additional health benefits. The keto diet is a low carb and high fat diet. 

This can be fairly restrictive for vegans seeing as the vegan diet is already limited. Yet, it is achievable and very beneficial. Meals should consist of high fat, plant based proteins and low carbohydrates. 

Learn more about Vegan Keto Diet here

Plant based vs vegan

Most people confuse the plant based diet with the vegan diet. They are often different and unique to the individual. 

The vegan diet eliminates all animal products. Yet, the plant based diet solely bases itself on plant based products. But some plant based eaters consume the occasional animal product. The vegan diet is stricter than plant based and accepts no animal commodification. 

Intermittent fasting with a vegan diet

Fasting is a historical eating method. Some associated fasting with dieting and some practice fasting for religious reasons.

Intermittent fasting is a profound dieting technique that promotes weight loss, improved heart health and more. It actually offers very similar benefits to the vegan diet. 

This type of fasting can be complete in several different ways. All methods involve a fasting window and eating window. Some are daily whilst some are less frequent. The vegan diet is safe to consume alongside fasting. So long as you are eating nutritiously dense meals, you will not attain any side effects or health complications by partaking in fasting. 

Not all diets are known for being healthy. A healthy diet is beneficial for the mind as well as the body. Many question whether the vegan diet is healthy and what risks it poses. Here is more:

Is Veganism Healthy

One big question surrounding a new diet is: is it actually healthy? Many wonder if the diet is only safe and effective to sustain short term to achieve goals, such as weight loss. 

Yet, the vegan diet is not one to only partake in short term. Veganism is more of a lifestyle and a choice. It is an environmental and ethical way of living as well as eating. Thus, it is a healthy diet to have.

As long as a vegan eats nutrient-dense meals and ensures they are keeping their key nutrients in check, it is just as healthy as any other dieting lifestyle. 

Avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat, like red meats and dairy products, is actually healthier for you. Eliminating these from your diet reduces the risk of heart disease and obesity. 

An unbalanced and unhealthy vegan diet can lead to those health conditions. So, it is vital to keep up a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

For those with health concerns, let’s take a look at the potential risks the vegan diet can pose:

Risks of The Vegan Diet

Following a healthy and well balanced diet, vegan or not, eliminates risk of poor health. Ensuring you get all of the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals is key to reduce or inhibit health conditions. Such as poor heart health, digestive issues, reduced brain health, cancers and more. 

A poorly planned vegan diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Poorly planned refers to eating lots of carbohydrates and not getting enough plant based protein and healthy fats and fiber. To eat well and prevent risks, a vegan must get enough of the key nutrients. 

Studies show that vegans are at most risk of being deficient in many key nutrients and minerals. This includes iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 long chain fatty acids. To avoid this there are two things a vegan can do. First, eating enough nutrient enriched meals is key. Eat enough fat, protein and fiber in each meal if possible.

Then, adding supplements to avoid nutrient deficiency is useful. It is useful for any diet and is highly recommended. For the vegan diet in particular, it is recommended to take any of the following supplements:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – ensure they are not from fish and are vegan friendly
  • Iodine
  • EPA and DHA – sourced from algae

Aside from nutrient deficiencies, the vegan diet does not pose any other risks. So long as you get the right vitamins and minerals and eat well, you will avoid any mild side effects that occur in other diets. 

Now, to weigh up the positives and negatives of the diet for each individual’s lifestyle and health:

Pros and Cons of The Vegan Diet

Like any diet, there are pros and cons of the vegan diet that everyone needs to be aware of. For the most part, the vegan diet is sustainable for your health and the environment. But, there are some cons such as nutrient deficiency and weight issues to be aware of.

PROS CONS
Promotes weight loss If the diet becomes carb heavy, it can result in weight gain
Reduces the risk of illnesses and disease Can lack in essential nutrients
Lots of substitutes which are often healthier than animal products Some plant based proteins can be harder to digest and can cause bowel discomfort
It’s getting easier to source vegan products
Environmentally sustainable

With those pros and cons in mind, here are some answers to the top asked questions about the vegan diet:

FAQ

Do vegans lose weight faster?

Vegans are known to be naturally thinner with a lower BMI. This is usually down to the high fiber intake which helps curb cravings and control appetite. Also, plant based substitutes can be healthier than the animal product options. The vegan diet is among those with the quickest weight loss results. Research has concluded that the vegan diet is a more effective weight loss tool than meat eating diets. 

What is a good vegan breakfast?

There are numerous good vegan breakfast options. If you want it to be healthier and a good energy source then pancakes, oats and tofu are good options. You can easily make meals dairy-free with dairy substitutes. Any foods high in fiber will help increase energy and is sustainable.

Is peanut butter vegan?

Most peanut butter is vegan. It is typically made with ground peanuts and salt. Yet, some are not vegan friendly as they use dairy butter. Always check the ingredients and labelling.

Can vegans eat cake?

Yes vegans can eat cake. As long as the dairy products typically used to make cakes – milk, butter, eggs and cream – is substituted with non-dairy options.

Do vegans eat cheese?

Vegans can eat dairy-free cheeses. There is an abundance of them on the market. From dairy-free mozzarella and cheddar to vegan cream cheeses. 

Can vegans eat bread?

Bread is typically made with vegan friendly products. Most are made with yeast, flour, water and salt. But, there are some brands that add dairy, whey or eggs which makes them non-vegan. Always read the labels to check for non-vegan ingredients.

Do vegans live longer?

According to studies, vegans have a 15% lower chance of dying without cause. The plant based diet can increase longevity due to the exclusion of animal chemicals and toxins. 

Vegans typically choose healthier lifestyle choices, which may add to this.

Can vegans drink alcohol?

The majority of alcohol is vegan. All spirits are vegan. But, some wines and liquors can be non-vegan due to the addition of animal based ingredients. Such as honey or isinglass. Or, some companies use a non-vegan friendly filtering process before bottling which involves animal products.

Do vegans eat potatoes?

All potatoes are vegan friendly. They are a ground vegetable. All vegetables are vegan friendly. 

Do vegans poop more?

Vegans typically consume more fiber than non-vegans. Fiber is a nutrient that can increase bowel movement. Thus, vegans may experience going to the toilet more often. It is not a bad thing. Fiber makes bowel movements more regular which is a positive sign of a healthy digestive system. 

Do vegans age quicker?

Protein is the key source to improve skin’s elasticity. A lack of protein can cause poor elasticity and therefore, excel the aging process. Ensuring you eat enough plant based protein will reduce the aging process and improve your skin.

Now that all areas of veganism and the vegan diet has been covered, let’s share our final thoughts:

Conclusion

Veganism is quickly growing in popularity. It is a worldwide diet that is more commonly seen as a lifestyle. The elimination of all animal products for consumption and use is a more environmentally sustainable and ethical way of living. Hence, why many choose the diet for their body as much as the sustainability of the earth.

The vegan diet offers numerous health benefits from improved heart health, weight loss and reducing neurological conditions. A well balanced nutrient dense vegan diet is a very healthy way of eating. Plant based foods are now, more than ever, easy to purchase. There are a multitude of protein substitutes which allows a vegan to attain their essential protein requirements. 

With the right knowledge and plan, it is simple to practice veganism. 

If you have any more concerns or comments, please share them with us. If you have like minded peers that wish to pursue a vegan diet, feel free to share this definitive beginners guide with them.

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