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Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Vegan diet benefits

Your health largely relies on your diet and to enjoy a healthy life, you have to be mindful of what you feed on. Several studies [1] have shown that vegan diets are related to some health benefits, which include weight loss and improved weight management as well as protection against some chronic diseases.

While a vegan diet is highly beneficial and offers an array of additional health benefits, it’s often overwhelming and difficult to find balanced and healthy meals on a vegan diet. If not properly planned, the “beneficial” vegan diet may end up causing some health problems and nutritional deficiencies.

Hence, vegans must be fully aware of ways to obtain the necessary benefits and some certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, and iron from the vegan diet. This article will closely and carefully consider the vegan diet for weight loss, its health benefits, and important considerations to be aware of before trying out the vegan diet. This article will also provide a healthy vegan diet plan.

What is a Vegan Diet?

Simply put, a vegan diet is the type of diet that involves taking only foods that are plants, which includes fruits, nuts, grains, vegetables, seeds, beans, and foods derived from plants. A vegan diet provides an extensive range of important proteins, healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins.

A vegan diet excludes all animal products and does not include any foods obtained from animals, such as meats, eggs, dairy products, etc. Some vegans go as far as avoiding eating honey.

According to the Gallup poll [2] conducted in 2018, about 3 percent of residents in the US are fully vegan. However, these people follow the vegan diet for different reasons, some people consider being vegan as a lifestyle choice while some consider it as a dietary choice. Some chose to be vegan to protect the environment and not harm animals, while some chose the diet to improve their health.

The poll also notes that the sale of plant-based foods in the US is increasing. Typically, a vegan diet is rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats. Several studies have suggested that a vegan diet can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, protect against cancer, and improve heart health. Vegans, however, must be careful to get other necessary nutrients that come from animal products, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, protein, iron, etc. via supplements.

What You Can Eat As A Vegan

If you are on the vegan diet, here are some foods from plants that you can eat:

∎ Fruits and vegetables;

∎ Legumes – lentils, beans, peas;

∎ Seeds and nuts;

∎ Pasta, rice, and bread;

∎ Dairy alternatives such as almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk; and

∎ Vegetable oils

What You Shouldn’t Eat as A Vegan

As a vegan, here are some foods from animal sources that you must avoid:

∎ Honey;

∎ Red meats, lamb, pork, beef;

∎ Duck, chicken, birds, and other poultry;

∎ All fishes or shellfish like mussels, clams, and crabs;

∎ Eggs;

∎ Butter and cheese;

∎ Ice cream, cream, milk, and other dairy products;

∎ Mayonnaise (it contains egg yolks) and

Benefits of a Vegan Diet

A vegan diet offers lots of benefits such as supplying the necessary nutrients that are needed by the body while eliminating the likely risks associated with unsafe animal fats. Here are some of the major health benefits associated with the vegan diet.

Weight Loss

Most people are turning to a vegan diet for weight loss. Several studies [3] have shown that vegans have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and tend [4] to be thinner than non-vegans.

Another more specific study [5] revealed that a vegan diet helped participants lose about 4.2kg weight over an 18-week study period. So, if you want to shed excess weight, a vegan diet is a good alternative.

Notably, most animal foods are high in calories and fat, which may lead to weight gain. Replacing these animal products with low-calorie foods obtained from plants will help to improve weight management. Note that to avoid unhealthy weight gain, you must also avoid eating lots of processed or high-fat plant-based foods.

Better Heart Health

A vegan diet can also boost heart health in several ways. For instance, animal foods, such as butter, cheese, meat, etc., contain saturated fats. As per the (AHA) American Heart Association [6], eating such animal foods can raise cholesterol levels in the body. This will, in turn, increase the chance of stroke and heart disease. Animal products contain very little or no fiber, but foods from plants are fiber-rich, which is linked [7] with improved heart health.

Research conducted [8] in 2019 revealed that increasing the intake of plant-based foods and lowering the intake of animal foods can reduce the risk of heart disease and death in adults.

Lowers The Risk of Cancer

It has also been found [9] that eating a vegan diet can reduce the risk of developing cancer by about 15 percent. This is because plant-based foods are vitamins rich, contain fiber and phytochemicals (compounds biologically active in plants) — that help in protecting against cancers.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer [10] reported that red meat is “possibly carcinogenic,” and may be linked to pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. It was also reported that processed meat may cause colorectal cancer. Hence, eliminating processed and red meats from your diet and adopting a vegan diet may remove these possible risks.

Lowers Type 2 Diabetes Risks

A recent review [11] showed that following a vegan diet can lower the probability of developing type 2 diabetes. The review linked healthy living with eating healthy plant foods like legumes, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.

Nutrients to consider on a vegan diet

A vegan diet eliminates some nutrients sources from your diet, so you have to plan your meals cautiously to avoid nutrition-related deficiencies. People might prefer to consult a dietitian or doctor prior to adopting a vegan diet, particularly if they are experiencing any health conditions.

Vegan diet for weight loss – Getting the Needed Nutrients

Most people believe that a vegan diet for weight loss is void of some necessary nutrients and choosing the vegan diet for weight loss may lead to the deficiency of these necessary nutrients. However, with good preparation and knowledge about what creates a balanced and healthy vegan diet, you can find all the nutrition your body needs from a vegan diet. If you don’t plan your vegan diet properly, you might miss some of these essential nutrients.

The main nutrients that can be low in a vegan diet include:

Vitamin B12: this nutrient protects red blood cells and nerves. You can get this nutrient from plant milk, fortified cereals, yeast spreads and nutritional yeast.

Iron: this nutrient is vital for blood health. You can get it from beans as well as dark leafy greens like watercress, broccoli, and spring greens, pulses, wholemeal bread and flour, breakfast cereals fortified with iron, figs, prunes, nuts, apricots, and other dried fruits.

Calcium: this nutrient is very important for bone health. You can get calcium from tofu, tahini, sesame seeds as well as leafy greens vegetables like okra, cabbage, broccoli (but not spinach), pulse, dried fruit like figs, raisins, dried apricots and prunes, rice, oat drinks, fortified unsweetened soya, brown and white bread

Vitamin D: this nutrient protects from cancer and other chronic health diseases. It also helps in strengthening the teeth and bones. The main source of vitamin D is foods with fortified vitamin D and resting sometime in the morning sun.

Omega-3 fatty acids: this nutrient is important for the effective functioning of the brain, eye, and heart. There are 3 main types of omega-3 fatty acid, which are ALA, DHA, and EPA. You can get this nutrient from flaxseeds, walnuts, seaweeds, algae, linseed oil, rapeseed oil, soya oil, walnuts, and soy-based foods like tofu

Zinc: this nutrient is vital for building the body’s immune system as well as for repairing damaged DNA. You can get this nutrient from oat, nuts, nutritional yeast, and beans.

Iodine: this nutrient is very important for proper thyroid functioning. You can get it from seaweed and iodine-fortified foods.

Since these nutrients are naturally low in these plant sources, you can include more of these foods in your diet or seek the advice of your doctor on whether you should take fortified foods or supplements.

Healthy Vegan Diet

As stated above, you can get all the nutrients your body needs from a vegan diet with good planning and an understanding of what constitutes a healthy, balanced vegan diet. In that respect, here is a varied, balanced, and healthy vegan diet:

∎ Eat a minimum of five portions of a variety of veggies and fruits daily;

∎ Base your meals on pasta, rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, or other starch-rich carbohydrates (where possible, choose wholegrain);

∎ Drink some dairy substitutes, which include yogurts (low-fat and low-sugar) and soya drinks;

∎ Eat pulses, peas, beans, and other proteins;

∎ Consume unsaturated spreads and oils, and eat them in sparingly; and

∎ Drink lots of fluids (about 6-8 glasses daily), especially those low in sugar and salt.

A healthy vegan diet should include the following:

Vegetables – zucchini, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, peas, green beans, spinach, potatoes, onions, kale, garlic, cauliflower, carrots, corn, butternut squash, cabbage, broccoli, bell peppers, vegetable medley, asparagus, etc.

Fruits – strawberries, pomegranates, pears, mangoes, peaches, oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit, raspberries, grapes, pineapples, blackberries, cherries, blueberries, bananas, kiwis, and apples.

Whole grains – teff, sorghum, quinoa, oats, farro, bulgur, buckwheat, brown rice, and barley.

Bread and pasta – brown rice wraps, sprouted bread, wheat (whole) pasta, brown rice, and pasta.

Protein sources:

Legumes – pinto beans, navy beans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans.

Seeds – sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds.

Nuts – walnuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, and almonds.

Protein powders: hemp protein, brown rice protein, and pea protein powder.

Soy products – tofu and tempeh

 

Dairy alternatives:

Yogurt and milk substitutes – soy milk, rice, oat, almond, flax, coconut, and cashew milk.

Egg alternatives – silken tofu, prepackaged egg substitute vegan, flax meal, cornstarch, chia seeds, arrowroot powder, and aquafaba.

Healthy fats – unsweetened coconut, tahini, olive oil, avocados, flax oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.

Snack foods – trail mix, seaweed crisps, roasted chickpeas, popcorn, pita chips, nut butter, hummus, fruit leather, edamame, dried fruit, and dark chocolate.

Sweeteners – stevia, monk fruit, molasses, maple syrup, dates, and coconut sugar.

Spices & condiments – turmeric, thyme, rosemary, pepper, paprika, nutritional yeast, ground ginger, garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.

Please note that most processed vegan foods and meat substitutes sold at your local store are often enriched with additives, fillers, sodium, and other items that are harmful to your health.

Sample Vegan diet plan

According to Healthline, here is a sample 1-week [12] vegan diet plan that contains some of the nutrition-rich foods that are necessary and could be taken on a vegan diet. Following this vegan diet plan will not only help you to reduce weight but also live a healthy life.

Sunday

Breakfast: whole-grain toast with nutritional yeast and avocado with a vegan protein shake

Lunch: lentil chili with baked potato and grilled asparagus

Dinner: vegetable paella with chickpeas, artichoke, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and brown rice.

Snacks: carrots, fruit salad, and almonds with hummus

Monday

Breakfast: wilted arugula, avocado, tempeh bacon, and sautéed mushrooms

Lunch: Pasta (whole grain) and lentil “meatballs” with salad

Dinner: chickpea tacos and cauliflower with pico de gallo and guacamole

Snacks: trail mix, popped popcorn, and kale chips.

Tuesday

Breakfast: chia seeds, walnuts, and berries with coconut yogurt

Lunch: Sauteed red cabbage with baked tofu, herbed couscous, and Brussels sprouts

Dinner: Italian green beans and garlic cauliflower with a mushroom lentil loaf

Snacks: Seaweed crisps, fruit leather, and bell peppers with guacamole

Wednesday

Breakfast: potato (sweet) toast topped with banana and peanut butter

Lunch: Avocados, quinoa, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and beans with tempeh taco salad

Dinner: Mushrooms, Swiss chard, and butternut squash with oat risotto

Snacks: Walnuts, protein shake vegan, and mixed berries

Thursday

Breakfast: Broccoli, silken tofu, spinach, and tomatoes with eggless quiche

Lunch: Spinach and chickpea curry with brown rice

Dinner: Lentil salad (Mediterranean) with olives, cucumbers, dried tomatoes, peppers, parsley, and kale

Snacks: sliced pear, roasted edamame, and energy balls prepared from chia seeds, oats, dried fruit, and nut butter

Friday

Breakfast: Apple slices, cinnamon, nut butter, and pumpkin seeds with overnight oats

Lunch: Veggie black bean burger with sweet potato wedges and steamed broccoli

Dinner: mac & cheese with collard greens and nutritional yeast

Snacks: Homemade granola, coconut chia pudding, and pistachios

Saturday

Breakfast: breakfast skillet with zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, kale, and tempeh

Lunch: garlic & ginger tofu with stir-fried quinoa and veggies

Dinner: bean salad with tomatoes, black-eyed peas, onions, bell peppers, and corn

Snacks: Frozen grapes, celery, and roasted pumpkin seeds with almond butter

The Vegan Keto Diet

The keto diet is a diet low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in fat. It has powerful effects on weight loss and overall health. Although the keto diet is often associated with animal foods, it can also be adapted to vegan diet plans s. That is, vegans can follow a ketogenic diet as well and reach ketosis by relying on high-fat, plant products, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut oil.

Although no studies have been conducted specifically on vegan keto diets, there are several health benefits associated with vegan diets and ketogenic diets individually. Just as the vegan diet is known to reduce weight, the keto diet is also known to [13] improve weight management as well as provide other [14] health benefits, which include reduced inflammation, reduced heart disease, improve blood pressure, better blood sugar control, lower risk of obesity-related diseases, etc.

Foods on the Vegan Keto Diet

The vegan keto diet includes healthy foods that are very low in carbs but very high in fat. Such foods include:

Coconut products – unsweetened coconut, coconut cream, full-fat coconut milk

Oils – Avocado oil, MCT oil, coconut oil, nut oil, and olive oil

Nuts and seeds – pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and almonds

Nut and seed butter – cashew butter, sunflower butter, almond butter, and peanut butter

Non-starchy veggies – mushrooms, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, and leafy greens

Vegan protein sources – tempeh and full-fat tofu

Vegan full-fat dairy alternative – vegan cream cheese, cashew cheese, vegan butter, and coconut yogurt

Avocados – whole avocados and guacamole

Berries – Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries

Condiments – spices, pepper, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and nutritional yeast.

While a vegan diet includes whole grains and starchy vegetables, these are no longer included in the vegan Keto diet.

Foods to Avoid Under the Vegan Keto Diet

Here are some foods that must be completely avoided under the vegan keto diet:

Avoid all animal products including seafood, dairy, poultry, meat, eggs, and all animal-based foods like egg white protein, honey, and Whey protein.

Foods that you should not consume under the Vegan Keto Diet

Here are some foods that you should significantly reduce your intake of when following the vegan Keto diet:

∎ Grains and starches like pasta, rice, and baked goods

∎ Sugary drinks

∎ Sweeteners

∎ Starchy vegetables, such as peas, winter squash, beets, sweet potatoes, and potatoes

∎ Beans and legumes, including kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans

∎ Fruits: All fruit intake should be limited

∎ High-carb alcoholic beverages like wine, sweetened cocktails, and beer

∎ Low-fat diet foods

∎ High-carb condiments and sauces, such as marinades, sweetened salad dressings, and barbecue sauce

∎ Highly processed foods – as much as possible, limit packaged foods

Normally, when you choose to follow a vegan Keto diet, you must reduce your carb intake significantly and replace it with healthy fats or vegan sources of protein.

Conclusion

A Vegan diet is nutritious, healthy, and provides several health benefits, which include weight loss, blood sugar regulation, and improved heart health. Although following a vegan diet plan may help you lose weight, you should properly plan your vegan diet to avoid the deficiencies of some vital nutrients. It’s important to consult your dietician or doctor before switching your diet and adding supplements to your meal.

 

 

References:

1. http://www.eatingwell.com/article/289418/4-health-benefits-of-a-vegan-diet-and-a-few-potential-drawbacks/

2. https://news.gallup.com/poll/238328/snapshot-few-americans-vegetarian-vegan.aspx

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26853923

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19279075

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23695207

6. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats

7. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber

8. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865

9. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447?journalCode=bfsn20

10. https://www.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/pr240_E.pdf

11. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2738784?guestAccessKey=5e8aaedb-e77d-4bc1-9d52-b626e406138e&utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_content=tfl&utm_term=072219

12. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegan-meal-plan#meal-plan

13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23155696

14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4109424/

 

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