The vegan diet has become wildly popular, with many people committing to a vegan lifestyle due to health reasons, ethical decisions, or to reduce their environmental footprint. Whatever the reason, many have reaped the benefits of adapting to a vegan way of eating.
The plant-based diet dates back to ancient times, advocated by Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, who is believed to be a founding father of the spiritual lifestyle. More so, Buddhists and Hindus also practiced vegetarianism. Founder of the Vegan Society, Donald Watson curated the word “vegan” to describe a vegetarian diet without dairy and egg consumption. Compared to the vegetarian diet, the vegan diet is more restrictive and extends to an ethical lifestyle, as it also excludes consumption for animal products such as fur clothing or bags.
While there are various benefits to following a vegan diet, there can be an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies. That is why it’s important when exploring a vegan diet to incorporate a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods and nutritional supplements to best benefit the body.
The diet heavily consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds providing nutrients, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein. However, the diet may lack essential nutrients such as iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B12, etc. Protein can be found in nuts, soy, beans, quinoa; Calcium can be found in soy milk, orange juice, tofu, broccoli, kale, almonds; Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseeds, vegetable oils, plant-based supplements; Iron can be found in tofu, soy nuts, spinach, and peanut butter. B12 can only be found in animal products and is necessary to generate red blood cells and DNA. With that said, it's important to take additional supplements on a vegan diet: Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, EPA and DHA, Iron Iodine, Calcium, and Zinc.
How it works: Veganism is a diet, along with a way of living, that completely cuts out all forms of animal products. While vegetarian diets cut out meat, vegan diets take this a step further, cutting out not only animal meat but also any animal byproducts - eggs, dairy, and even honey.
There are different varieties of vegan eating that people can partake in. Two of the most common are a whole-food vegan diet, and a raw vegan diet.
The whole-food vegan diet consists of a wide variety of unprocessed, plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
A raw vegan diet takes eating whole foods a step further, and adheres to the belief that food should be eaten completely raw, or heated at a temperature below 118 degrees Fahrenheit/48 degrees Celsius.
Benefits: Although there is a risk for nutrient deficiencies on a vegan diet, there are also many benefits. One of the most common is weight loss, likely due to the integration of many more nutrient and fiber-rich foods and grains.
Vegan diets are also reported to lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin sensitivity, thus improving kidney function and supporting healthier kidneys overall. It’s also a helpful diet to follow as it improves many of the symptoms and risk factors associated with diabetes.