Vegan Diet-Pros and Cons

A vegan diet involves eating only foods comprising plants. Vegan’s avoid all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. Some people also avoid eating honey. When people follow it correctly, a vegan diet can be highly nutritious, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and aid weight loss.

For some, being vegan is a dietary choice, while for others, it is a lifestyle choice. People who choose to live this lifestyle may also avoid clothes, soaps, and other products that use or contain parts of animals, such as leather and animal fur. Some adopt this lifestyle for its environmental benefits as a sustainable diet. Vegan’s tend to consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. Eating a variety of these foods will provide a wide range of important vitamins, minerals, healthful fats and proteins.

People following this diet should, however, take care to get key nutrients that people usually consume in animal products. These nutrients include iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D. Increasing numbers of people are moving toward vegan diets due to health, animal welfare, or environmental concerns. 

Different Types Of Vegan Diet

There are different varieties available. The most common include:

  • Whole-food diet: based on a wide variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Raw-food diet: based on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or plant foods cooked at temperatures below 118°F (48°C)
  • 80/10/10: The 80/10/10/10 is a raw-food vegan diet that limits fat-rich plants such as nuts and avocados and relies mainly on raw fruits and soft greens instead. Also referred to as the low-fat, raw-food vegan diet or fruitarian diet.
  • The starch solution: A low-fat, high-carb vegan diet similar to the 80/10/10 but that focuses on cooked starches like potatoes, rice and corn instead of fruit.
  • Raw till 4: A low-fat vegan diet inspired by the 80/10/10 and starch solution. Raw foods are consumed until 4 p.m., with the option of a cooked plant-based meal for dinner.
  • The thrive diet: The thrive diet is a raw-food vegan diet. Followers eat plant-based, whole foods that are raw or minimally cooked at low temperatures.
  • Junk-food vegan diet: lacks in whole plant foods that relies heavily on mock meats and cheeses, fries, vegan desserts and other heavily processed vegan foods.

What You Can Eat

You can eat food made from plants, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Breads, rice, and pasta
  • Dairy alternatives such as soymilk, coconut milk, and almond milk
  • Vegetable oils

What You Can’t Eat

You can’t eat any food made from animals, including:

  • Beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat
  • Chicken, duck, and other poultry
  • Fish or shellfish such as crabs, clams, and mussels
  • Eggs
  • Cheese, butter
  • Milk, cream, ice cream, and other dairy products
  • Mayonnaise (because it includes egg yolks)
  • Honey

Vegan vs. Vegetarian

The main difference between vegetarians and vegans is that although vegetarians do not eat meat (including cows, pigs, chicken, and fish), they consume dairy products, eggs, or both. The vegan’s excludes all products with animal-based ingredients.

This type of diet is more restrictive, so people will need to think more about where their nutrients are coming from to ensure that they meet their daily dietary requirements.

Health Benefits

Vegan diets can provide all of the nutrients that a person needs, and they can eliminate some of the possible risks that research has associated with harmful animal fats. Research has linked the vegan diet with a range of health benefits, including those below.

  1. Better heart health:

Vegan foods can boost heart health in several ways. A large scale 2019 study has linked a higher intake of plant-based foods and lower intake of animal foods with a reduced risk of heart disease and death in adults.

Animal products — including meat, cheese, and butter — are the main dietary sources of saturated fats. According to the American Heart Association(AHA), eating foods that contain these fats raises cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Plant foods are also high in fiber, which AHA link with better heart health. Animal products contain very little or no fiber, while plant-based vegetables and grains are the best sources.

2. Lower cancer risk:

According to a 2017 review, eating a vegan foods may reduce a person’s risk of cancer by 15%. This health benefit may be due to the fact that plant foods are high in fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals — biologically active compounds in plants — that protect against cancers.

Research into the effects of diet on the risk of specific cancers has produced mixed results. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer report that red meat is “probably carcinogenic,” noting that research has linked it primarily to colorectal cancer but also to prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The agency also report that processed meat is carcinogenic and may cause colorectal cancer. Eliminating red and processed meats from the diet removes these possible risks.

3. Weight loss:

People on a vegan diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those following other diets. The researchers behind a 2015 study reported that vegan diets were more effective for weight loss than omnivorous, semi-vegetarian, and pesco-vegetarian diets, as well as being better for providing macronutrients.

Many animal foods are high in fat and calories, so replacing these with low calorie plant-based foods can help people manage their weight. It is important to note, though, that eating lots of processed or high fat plant-based foods — which some people refer to as a junk food vegan diet — can lead to unhealthful weight gain.

4. Lower risk of type 2 diabetes:

According to a large 2019 review, following a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The research linked this effect with eating healthful plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

Risks Associated With Vegan Diet

A vegan diet is healthy overall, but avoiding animal protein can shortchange you on a few nutrients, like protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin B 12. You need protein to power all the chemical reactions in your body. Calcium strengthens your bones and teeth. Omega-3 fatty acids keep your cells healthy and protect your heart by shielding against heart disease and stroke. These nutrients are especially important for children’s growing bodies and for pregnant women.

You can find substitutes for most of these essential nutrients in plant-based foods like:

  • Protein: nuts, soy, beans, quinoa
  • Calcium: soy milk, fortified orange juice, tofu with calcium, broccoli, kale, almonds
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: flaxseeds, vegetable oils, plant-based supplements
  • Iron: tofu, soy nuts, spinach, peanut butter, fortified cereals

One nutrient that’s impossible to get from plant sources alone is vitamin B12, which your body uses to make red blood cells and DNA. You’ll only find B12 in animal products. If you are on such diet, you may need a supplement to make up for what you don’t get from your diet.

Keep in mind that a vegan diet is only as healthy as you make it. Products like “vegan” ice cream, cookies, and candy are tempting, but you don’t want to overdo. If you eat high fat and processed foods and supersize your portions, you’ll gain weight and might end up with many of the same health problems you’d have on a meat-based diet. 

How To Go Vegan

Does the idea of a vegan diet interest you, but you’re not sure how to start? If you want, you could plunge right in and cut out all poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy at once. Or, take a more gradual approach and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat at each meal.

Your doctor or a dietitian can help you choose the right foods as you start . It’s very important to get help from an expert if you have a long-term condition or you’re pregnant, to make sure you get the right mix of nutrients in your new eating plan.

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