Evidence suggests that plant-based diets are superior to all others for maintaining good health when it comes to long-term health.
One misconception about veganism is that people assume it’s the same as eating healthy or plants.
While veganism excludes animal products, some vegans can still eat highly processed foods that lack essential nutrients, including refined sugars and flours, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), white potatoes, large amounts of salt, or highly salty condiments like mustard or soy sauce.
This is called junk food veganism. On the other hand, a plant-based diet is a whole-food, plant-based diet, which excludes all animal products and highly refined ingredients.
What is a Plant-based Diet?
Vegetarian diets consist of those that don’t include meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish, pork, or veal. This means vegetarians exclude some or all of the above-listed animal products from their diet.
A whole food plant based eating excludes all animal products but can include honey and processed foods using animals like refined sugars with bone char, white flour with lard or whey, beer with isinglass finings, or refined sugar with cows blood.
What is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan is an individual who practices living solely on plants for food while avoiding animal products. A vegan lifestyle includes not wearing or buying anything made from animals, such as leather, wool, and silk.
There are many reasons why someone might choose to become a vegan, but most people do it out of concern for the environment, animals, and health.
A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat (including fish), dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as foods that are processed using animal products, so things like refined sugars with bone char, white flour with lard or whey, beer with isinglass finings or refined sugar with cow’s blood.
The Right Meal Plan to Follow
Everyone is an individual and has a different constitution, genetics, and health concerns. This means everyone needs a slightly different meal plan to reach optimal health.
Whether your goal is weight loss, digestive issues, heart disease prevention, autoimmune disease management, every person should consider their unique circumstance when choosing an appropriate recipe.
For example, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut, or another digestive disorder, it’s essential to focus on foods that support digestion and reduce inflammation.
On the other hand, focusing on foods that provide satiety and reduce cravings should be a priority if your goal is weight loss. There are also nutrients like iron which should be consumed in higher amounts by menstruating women, while pregnant or breastfeeding women need an appropriate increase of other nutrients, including iodine.
When following a vegan or plant-based diet, it’s crucial to plan menus and take certain precautions to get all the nutrients you need. Some nutrients of concern include protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.
Protein: Vegans may have trouble getting enough protein daily if they aren’t careful about their choice. That’s because some of the best protein sources such as meat, fish, and poultry are off-limits in these diets.
To help ensure adequate intake, vegans should focus their meals around beans, soy products (like tofu), lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like quinoa.
Comparable amounts of protein can be obtained from a plant-based diet and a vegan diet. However, plants provide a more comprehensive range of nutrients than those found in meat.
For example, the protein in soy is “complete” because it has all of the amino acids our bodies need. In contrast, animal products lack certain essential amino acids that we must obtain from other sources, such as beans or grains.
Iron: It is recommended that men consume 8 mg of iron daily and menstruating women consume 18mg daily. Iron deficiency anemia is common among vegans and vegetarians due to the low intake of dietary sources of iron, which are primarily derived from animal products (e.g., red meat).
To improve absorption, pair vitamin C-rich foods with plant sources of iron. Some good options include tomatoes, citrus fruits, strawberries, and other dark, leafy greens.
Calcium: A vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t automatically mean that you will be getting enough calcium in your diet. Vegans commonly consume milk and low-fat cheese sources, but it is possible to obtain the same amount of calcium (about one cup) by serving broccoli or tofu.
Grains such as quinoa can also help you meet your daily requirements for this nutrient.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is usually found in animal products such as beef, chicken, and fish. However, dairy and eggs may also contain vitamin B12, depending on how the animals were raised. Vegans could have difficulty getting enough B12 if they aren’t careful about their diet since it is naturally found in only a few food sources.
Therefore, vegans should consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a supplement containing at least 25% of RDI daily.
Talking to Your Doctor About Your Diet
Everyone with any health concerns should talk to their doctor before making any drastic changes to their lifestyle primarily related to their diet, even if they are not considering switching from a plant-based diet to veganism.
This includes everyone who is currently dieting and wants to switch to a plant-based lifestyle, as any drastic change can worsen medical conditions and existing health concerns. It’s also essential for anyone considering veganism to talk about their doctor’s decision, especially people who take medications or have pre-existing medical conditions.
Is a Vegan or Plant-based Diet Healthy?
In short: “Yes.”
In more detail, every person is different, so there are no universal yes’s, or no’s regarding health. Everyone should experiment with nutrient tracking, mindful eating, elimination diets and determine if a vegan or plant-based diet works for them by monitoring how they feel after eating a particular food.
If a person decides to follow a vegan or plant-based diet, it’s essential to focus on nutrient-dense whole foods that provide satiety and reduce cravings. The nutrients of relevance for people following a vegan or plant-based lifestyle are Protein, Iron, Calcium, Iodine, Zinc, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Folate, Vitamin K, and Magnesium.