What is a Vegan Diet?
Most of us Americans have grown up eating the four food groups: Fruits and vegetables, dairy, grains, and meats. As we discover more about disease processes, obesity, and decreasing our carbon footprint in the world, many are looking more closely at what they consume. Eating a Vegan diet addresses several different areas of concern—health, environmental, and even ethical issues like animal cruelty.
So just what is a Vegan diet?
Strict Vegans do not eat any animal products, including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. This also includes foods like honey and royal jelly. Veganism is a lifestyle that tries to exclude all forms of animal cruelty and use of animal products for food, clothing, or any other purpose.
What are the advantages of eating a Vegan diet? Proponents of this way of eating claim a variety of different improvements to their health. Many experience weight loss. Those on a Vegan diet usually lose more weight than people who are on calorie-restricted diets because they are allowed to eat until they feel full. They do end up consuming less calories, probably because of their increased fiber intake.
Another benefit of the Vegan diet has been seen in studies of those with type 2 diabetes. This diet helps to lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. This could be due to both weight loss that occurs and also the higher fiber intake which tends to decrease blood sugar response. There is a very high percentage of not developing type 2 diabetes if you are a Vegan.
Those on a Vegan diet have a much lower risk of heart disease—they have naturally lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. It has been shown in studies that Vegans have a slightly lower chance of developing cancer, and this diet is very effective at reducing arthritis symptoms like joint swelling, pain, and stiffness. Substituting plant protein for meat may improve kidney function and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
What should I eat if I am going to go Vegan?
Good sources of protein include the following: Tofu, seitan (wheat gluten), and tempeh (fermented soy protein in cake form). Beans and legumes, like lentils, chickpeas, and peas, are a versatile option. Nuts and nut butters, amaranth, quinoa, spirulina (blue-green algae), spelt, and teff are other protein options. Be aware that you may need nutritional supplements, especially B12, zinc, and selenium, which are not found as plentifully in non-meat proteins. You also may want to take a calcium supplement, but be aware that you may be able to get adequate calcium from dark green, leafy vegetables. You may also need an iron supplement, but do not take iron supplements unless you have had your iron levels checked by your doctor first. Hempseed, which is from the same family as marijuana but only contains trace amounts of THC, contains 10 grams of complete and easily digestible protein per ounce. It also contains healthy amounts of magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
Nutritional yeast is an interesting protein source. It has a cheesy flavor, and it is sold in flakes or powder. It can be sprinkled on popcorn, potatoes, or vegetables.
Sprouted and fermented plant foods like Ezekiel sprouted bread, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha are good food choices that can help improve mineral absorption and contain probiotics, which are good for your gut. Of course, all fruits and vegetables are allowed on the Vegan diet. Substitute nut or soy milk, yogurt and cheese for dairy.
Some people go for a raw Vegan diet. They feel that they can get more nutrients from uncooked food, or food that has only been cooked at temperatures under 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
What foods should I avoid?
Any meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. All dairy including butter. All eggs. Bee products such as honey bee pollen, and royal jelly. Any supplements such as animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega 3 fatty acids. If you need or want to take EPA and DHA oils (omega 3), you can take algae oil or flaxseed oil.
Eating out can sometimes be a challenge, but if you plan ahead you can have many options. Call ahead and ask about Vegan options on the menu. Opt for ethnic restaurants, which tend to have more Vegan dishes.
A Vegan diet just may be the one for you, so give it a try!
Blessings to you,
As noted in Brandy’s article, Probiotics, Prebiotics and Food Sensitivities, taking digestive enzymes like those found in Digestyme V (for vegans) can help you digest food well and prevent food from staying too long in your digestive track and letting your body develop an immune (IgG) response to food.