Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Not too long ago, incorporating a vegan diet was considered a counterculture. However, with time the vegan lifestyle has entered the mainstream ways of living. In fact, it is one of the most trending types of diet. But what is a vegan diet? How is it different from a vegetarian diet?

Updated on Jul 14, 2022 07:10 PM IST  |  357.9K
Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips
Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips
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The vegan diet has been gaining popularity increasingly. Whether it’s for ethical, environmental, or health reasons, people are deciding to go vegan every day. Incorporating a vegan diet leads to a number of health benefits like a healthier weight, blood sugar management, and healthy heart and so much more. If you have always found the concept of going vegan interesting but never had a clear fact, you need to read on. Below, you will find a comprehensive beginner’s guide on a vegan diet. It strives to deliver all you need to know about a vegan diet. 

What is veganism?

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Veganism is a form of vegetarianism. It’s a little stricter than just following a plant-based diet. Some may even call it the strictest form of vegetarianism. Apart from refraining from meat, vegans also avoid consuming or using any other animal products as well as by-products. Therefore, a vegan diet is free from, meat, honey, cheese, dairy, and eggs. While a vegan lifestyle is free from the use of animal products in any form whether it is fabric or fashion. Therefore people who call themselves vegan refrain from using fur, silk, wool, or leather-based products. 

Why veganism?

While some people are inclined towards veganism because of health reasons, others feel it’s morally inappropriate to kill animals for consumption or exploit them for their produce. Not just that there are people who go for a vegan lifestyle as a symbol of respect for their religion while others support animal welfare and claim animal farming poses a serious threat to the environment which makes veganism the safest lifestyle.

What is a vegan diet?

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

A vegan diet is a plant-based diet that mainly eliminates animal-based foods and by-products. Individuals who follow a vegan diet are referred to as vegans. Vegan diets include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. If planned well, a vegan diet is a complete diet and provides a broad range of essential vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein as well. Vegans should be more mindful about adding vegan alternatives filled with iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B-12, as well as vitamin D. Studies claim that a vegan diet can significantly stabilize weight, enhance heart health, defend against cancer, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes among other amazing benefits

Again it must be noted that when it comes to veganism people incorporate it to different degrees and extends which leads to types of vegans, here are the most popular ones. 

  • Whole food vegan diet: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Raw food vegan diet: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and plant-based whole food items cooked at temperatures below 118°F (48°C).
  • 80/10/10 diet: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes a raw food diet that restricts fat-rich plants like avocados and nuts. They mostly depend on soft greens and raw fruits. This diet is also known as the raw food vegan diet, the low-fat vegan diet, or the fruitarian diet.
  • Starch solution: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes a low fat, high carb vegan diet. Quite similar to the 80/10/10 diet, this diet stresses cooked starches like rice, potatoes, and corn instead of fruit.
  • Raw till 4: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes low-fat vegan food. It is inspired by both the 80/10/10 diet and the starch solution diet. In this diet, people consume only raw foods until 4 p.m. They may or may not consume a cooked plant-based dinner.
  • Thrive diet: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes raw food. They are focussed on consuming plant-based whole foods mostly raw or minimally cooked at significantly low temperatures.
  • Junk food vegan diet: Anyone who incorporates this kind of vegan diet primarily consumes mock meats, processed cheeses, fries, vegan desserts, and other heavily processed vegan foods instead of raw food.

What is a vegan lifestyle?

For some being vegan is a complete lifestyle while for others it’s just a dietary choice. People who choose to incorporate a strictly vegan lifestyle generally avoid using clothes, soaps, and any other product that makes use of animal parts. It’s one of the most sought-after lifestyles among people who are mindful of sustainability and environmentalism. 

Vegan vs. vegetarian

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Both vegans and vegetarians incorporate a plant-based diet, however, but the diets are fundamentally different. The major difference between vegans and vegetarians is that although both steer clear of meat vegans also exclude products with animal-by products. This includes honey, milk, and all kinds of dairy products among other things. It is safe to say that a vegan diet is far more restrictive than a vegetarian diet.

Vegetarian or vegan diet - Which one to pick? 

People frequently ask which one is better vegan or vegetarian diet. It may be noted that both diets are exceptionally healthy and prohibit the intake of meat. An individual who is switching diets due to health reasons can pick one of the two based on his/her physical needs. However, if an individual is switching diets to stand against animal slaughter along, animal cruelty, and sustainability, they usually go for a vegan diet or a vegan lifestyle altogether. It is safe to say there are no hard and fast rules, typically people pick diets based on their personal beliefs and their physical requirements.

The vegan diet food list: What to eat and avoid?

If you have always wanted to go vegan but scares you at the same time due to limited choices. Here’s a list of foods you can incorporate along with a list of food, you’d have to avoid.

Vegan Diet: What to eat?

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Typically, Vegans eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Their diets are full of fiber, plant protein, as well as minerals. Here’s a list quick list of food items vegans can consume guilt-free.

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Nut butter
  • Plant-based milk, such as almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk
  • Tofu, seitan and tempeh
  • Grains, quinoa, farro, and rice
  • Plant-based oils
  • Different kinds of seeds
  • Legumes that include lentils and chickpeas
  •  

While a number of vegans go for the healthiest alternatives in their diet, which comprises whole foods that are minimally processed, others depend on heavily processed vegan alternatives like, 

  • Mock-meat
  • Dairy-free cheeses 
  • Vegan desserts
  • Non-dairy yogurt like coconut yogurt

Vegan Diet: What to avoid?

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

If you’re planning to follow a strict vegan diet, here are the food items you’re supposed to steer clear from. As a vegan, you are supposed to refrain from anything that is derived from animals, including

  • All kinds of meat and poultry products
  • Seafood and fish
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Desserts made with eggs or dairy products
  • Food items that include lard or fish oil
  • Food items that include eggs in the making like bread
  • Gelatin-infused food items like marshmallows

 

Planning to go vegan? Here is a complete 7-Day Guide

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To ease your transition into a vegan routine, we have curated a complete seven-day guide with a number of plant-based meal ideas that will serve as a sample menu. For all you curious ones out there, here’s what you can have as a vegan.

Day 1

Breakfast: Avocado toast or avocado smoothie

Lunch: A salad bowl with potatoes and chickpeas

Evening Snack: Air-popped popcorn + Dried fruit trail mix 

Dinner: Vegan mac and cheese

Dessert Vegan yogurt with chia seeds or mixed berries 

Day 2

Breakfast: Vegan muffin

Lunch: whole-grain spaghetti with lentil “meatballs” + a side salad

Snack: Apple with peanut butter or kale chips

Dinner: Roasted broccoli + tofu

Dessert: Chia seed or any vegan pudding

Day 3

Breakfast: Kale smoothie along with vegan protein powder

Lunch: Stir-fried vegetables and rice

Snack: Pistachios, homemade granola, or guacamole

Dinner: Bean salad with tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, and onions

Dessert: Non-dairy ice cream

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Day 4

Breakfast: Peanut butter and banana toast

Lunch: Kale salad with garlic-ginger tofu + tomatoes and carrots

Snack: Celery with almond butter

Dinner: Vegan ramen soup made with zucchini noodles

Dessert: Fruit-based sorbet

Day 5

Breakfast: Sauteed broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and zucchini or a homemade vegan granola bar

Lunch: Hummus sandwich on vegan bread + salad of choice

Snack: A slice of vegan cake 

Dinner: Falafel pita taco + a lentil salad with cucumbers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and parsley.

Dessert: Baked apple

Day 6

Breakfast: A burrito with tofu

Lunch: Chickpea and spinach curry + brown rice

Snack: Carrot sticks + hummus

Dinner: Cauliflower steaks

Dessert: Vegan pumpkin pie 

Day 7

Breakfast: Vegan granola made with almond milk + fresh/frozen berries

Lunch: Spinach-filled mushrooms

Snack: Roasted chickpeas

Dinner: Oat Risotto with healthy ingredients like Swiss chard, mushrooms, and butternut squash - Topped with vegan cheese (optional)

Dessert Vegan chocolate pudding

Other Vegan Recipes

While there are a number of vegan recipes online, here is a list. 

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Savory vegan recipes:

  • Vegan mac ‘n’ cheese
  • A buddha bowl
  • Tofu scramble
  • Vegan falafel burgers
  • Red lentil stew with butternut, and sweet potato
  • Curries like Coconut cauliflower curry
  • Tacos with quinoa and black bean
  • A vegan pasta salad

Sweet vegan recipes:

  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Vegan pancakes
  • Vegan brownies
  • Peanut butter cookies
  • Vegan ice creams, yogurt, and sorbet

Healthy vegan snacks:

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

  • Fresh fruits with nut butter
  • Vegetables + hummus or peanut butter
  • Popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Nuts and dried fruit trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Chia puddings
  • Vegan muffins
  • Vegan pita bread + salsa and guacamole
  • Cereal with plant-based milk
  • Beans like edamame
  • Whole-grain crackers + a healthy spread like cashew nut spread
  • A plant based-milk latte or a cappuccino

Vegan Diet: Health benefits of a vegan diet

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Although following a vegan diet sounds extraordinarily hard, it is worth every bit of effort because of its endless benefits. People who follow a vegan diet claim that they literally feel the difference in their bodies. When it comes to the benefits of a vegan diet it is so much more than just anecdotal evidence. Several studies support the health benefits associated with following this way of eating. It is important to note that several benefits of a vegan diet overlap with the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Here is a list:

  • A vegan diet or as a matter of fact any plant-based diet is innately lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. This reduces the risk of obesity and helps in better management of weight. 
  • Not just that, it lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and a number of heart-related diseases.
  • Incorporating a vegan diet also reduces the risk for various types of cancers.
  • Following a vegan diet delivers better skin. Possibly because of giving up on dairy and animal products. It helps in the prevention of acne, prevent various kinds of skin care issues, and delays aging. 
  • A vegan diet is full of fat-free and healthful nutrients.
  • Incorporating more plant-based food items and eliminating animal-based food improves kidney function and can significantly reduce the risk of developing arthritis as well. 

Potential drawbacks of a strict vegan diet

As soon as you announce you’re planning to go vegan, people begin to ask questions like won’t that make you weak? What about the essential protein intake? Here is all you need to know.

Monitor your daily protein intake

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

While its true animal products are incredibly rich in protein, there are several plant-based alternative sources of protein to balance your diet. Right from soy protein, and nuts to quinoa and legumes, there are endless vegan protein-rich sources. So, the only drawback of a vegan diet here is it requires you to monitor your daily protein intake. In case you have a strict workout regimen, protein management only becomes even more essential. 

Watch your everyday iron intake

Another nutrient you must pay special attention to is iron. Animal-rich food is super rich in iron. However, when switching to a completely plant-based diet you must incorporate vegan substitutes rich in iron. Plus, you must incorporate more vitamin C-rich food which helps in better absorption of iron. 

 

Do vegans need any supplements?

It is important to understand that if not managed well, every diet can be nutritionally deficient. The same goes for a vegan diet. Read on for a list of supplements vegans should consider adding to their diets.

Vitamin D: Milk and fish are rich in vitamin D. Since these food items are refrained by vegans, it is wise to look for vegan vitamin D supplements. It must be noted that sunlight is a great source of vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D can lead to weak bones and several other serious disorders.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, individuals on a vegan diet must pick breakfast cereal, nutritional yeast, and tempeh that are rich in vitamin B12. Lack of vitamin B12 can lead to dementia and many other disorders. 

Zinc: Shellfish and meat are rich in zinc which lacks in a vegan diet. That is why vegans must consider adding zinc supplements. Minerals like zinc are naturally found in beans, whole grains, as well as nuts.

Omega-3 fatty acids: While seafood and eggs are excellent examples of animal products for non-vegans, vegans should consider adding omega-3 supplements to make up for it. 

Vegan diet: Commonly faced challenges 

Social pressure: Incorporating a vegan diet comes with its own set of challenges and contradictions. One of the most common challenges newly turned vegans face is pushback or discouragement from family and friends. Despite its growing popularity veganism is widely accepted by everyone which makes social pressure a very big challenge for anyone trying to incorporate a vegan diet. The trick is to not draw too much attention and understand the benefits of veganism and explain if pressed. 

Eating out: Another challenge vegans face is going out or eating at restaurants. While there are several vegetarian restaurants out there, there are very few vegan ones. The trick is to announce beforehand that you are a strict vegan and will not consume any animal products which include honey and cheese. In fact, vegans also need to be careful about the dressing in their salads as well as sauces because they usually contain animal by-products. Also, vegan dairy and mock meat are comparatively pricier than regular meat and cheese which is also a challenge. 

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Buying groceries: While it’s not actually a challenge but a precaution really. Vegans need to keep up with the labels of groceries they are buying because most of the commonly consumed brands contain animal by-products.

Vegan Diet: benefits, food, risks, challenges & beginner’s tips

Vegan diet: Beginner’s tips 

For anyone who’s a vegan newbie, it’s always advised to look for interesting vegan meals. After all, vegetables and fruits don’t have to be boring. You can get creative or look for vegan recipes online. You don’t have to give up on your daily latte, just switch to soy milk or almond milk. 

  • There are a number of apps that recommend vegan-friendly restaurants and cafes. It’s always cool to explore those places. 

  • When going out, salads are always a good bet. Also, always inform beforehand you are a strict vegan and wouldn't want any animal by-product even butter. 
  • Dining out as a vegan can be challenging, it is always wise to go through the menu online before visiting to make sure they have vegan options. You can even call ahead of time or while booking a table and inform your dietary restriction to help them be prepared. Go for vegan appetizers or side salads when you face a lack of options.
  • When flying, you must inform about your dietary restrictions before or as soon as you are seated.
  • When it’s uncertain, you must pick ethnic restaurants like Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, or even Indian restaurants. They offer a variety of vegan dishes. 
 

People may incorporate veganism for personal, ethical, moral, environmental, health, or even religious reasons. Although it might seem complicated at first, a vegan diet can be fairly easy to follow and may provide various health benefits. With just a little bit of consistency and monitoring, it can be one of the healthiest lifestyles out there. 

While a vegan diet has the power to deliver an all-around positive impact on one’s lifestyle and health, it should be noted that it is important to manage well. Entirely eliminating animal-based food items may lead to nutritional deficiencies only if suitable substitutes are not added. Also, vegans face a number of challenges that include social challenges and challenges when going out, it is only challenging when you’re starting out. Although your non-vegan friends and family members might scare you, a vegan lifestyle is a completely normal way of life and is not boring at all. There are a number of interesting vegan recipes out there, all you need to do is decide. People like to call veganism the strictest form of vegetarianism, however, there are a number of vegan ingredients to experiment from. 

FAQs

Can vegans only eat raw food?
There are different types of vegans while one category only eats raw foods others eat all kinds of cooked food along with vegan alternatives like mock meat and vegan cheese.

Will a vegan diet help me lose weight?
If planned well, a vegan diet definitely helps you lose weight very efficiently and in a healthy manner.

What is the best vegan milk substitute?
When it comes to plant-based milk, soy milk is rich in protein which makes it a good substitute. People also go for almond milk.

Which is better vegan or vegetarian diet?
Both vegetarian and vegan diets are exceptionally healthy diets if planned well. However, what to pick is a personal choice and is chosen according to personal beliefs and physical demands.

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