Do you experience daily sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain, heart burn, or high cholesterol? A plant-based diet can assist you in lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, losing weight, and giving you more energy and vitality. Why? Plant foods are full of beneficial chemicals called phytonutrients that speak to our genes and signal detoxification pathways, reduce inflammation, halt cancer cell development, and feed beneficial microorganisms in the gut. Diets high in plant foods can reverse diabetes, heart disease, and stop or slow the progression of certain cancers, however, a vegan diet may not be adequate during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood. Our bodies are biologically designed to be consuming a small amount of animal foods, or at the very least, supplementing with the nutrients found in them.
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What is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet is a diet based solely on plant foods, no animal foods are allowed. This diet is actually very simple to follow once you get accustomed to revolving your meals around whole grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. A vegan diet doesn't even need to be followed strictly to start seeing health benefits. You can try eating a plant-based diet 3 days a week, or choose 4 nights a week where you'll serve a full vegan dinner. Starting the process of incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet is key.
Foods excluded from a Vegan Diet:
- All meats and poultry, as well as wild game (pork, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, elk, etc)
- Fish and seafood
- Dairy products (goat and cow milk products)
- Eggs (be sure to check labels to find eggs hiding in different products)
- Honey (though not all vegans restrict honey)
Foods you can eat on a Vegan Diet:
- Replace milk with nut milks or coconut milk
- Replace cow milk yogurt with coconut milk yogurt or cashew yogurt
- Replace meat and seafood with legumes and whole grains, including organic tempeh and tofu
- Replace eggs in baking with "flax eggs" or "chia eggs"
- Focus on fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes
What are the Benefits of a Vegan Diet?
A true vegan diet based upon whole plant foods, not processed vegan foods, offers a wide variety of beneficial plant chemicals that signal our genes for health and disease-prevention, as well as a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, except for vitamin B-12 (this is a nutrient that requires a supplement if you are on a vegan diet). A vegan diet is also a rich source of fiber, which helps to feed beneficial microorganisms in the gut and expand their diversity. A diverse and complex microbiome in the gut is a healthy one, which builds host resilience, disease-resistance, and longevity.
If you experience any of these health conditions, then a vegan diet may benefit you:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Weight loss resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Chronic inflammation
- Hormonal imbalances
- Cancer or genetic risk of cancer
Vegan Diet Benefits:
- High in fiber
- Helps to diversify your microbiome
- High in plant phytochemicals
- High in potassium
- Reduction in all-cause disease mortality
- Increase quality of life
- Increase longevity
What are the Drawbacks to a Vegan Diet?
Fresh, organic, plant-rich vegan diets are indeed beneficial as they provide a wide array of miraculous compounds that are protective against numerous diseases. However, our bodies are not biologically designed to eat solely a vegan diet over a lifetime. Our bodies have specific requirements for vitamin B-12, essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble nutrients that are not possible to get from entirely plant-based diets.
Vitamin B-12, which can only be found in animal foods, is likely to be low in long-term vegans. Vegans who don't supplement with vitamin B-12 often have higher levels of homocysteine, a potential risk factor for heart disease and stroke. One study showed that 68% of vegetarians and 77% of vegans had B-12 deficiencies. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get B-12 in tempeh, seaweed, or from unwashed organic vegetables. Therefore, vitamin B-12 supplementation is essential when planning a vegan diet.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are also often low in essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are found in wild Alaskan cold-water fish, and in other animal fats in smaller amounts, and include the hard to come by EFAs, EPA, DHA and CLA. It is extremely difficult to attain higher therapeutic amounts of these fats from plant foods unless you are taking an algae supplement rich in DHA. The conversion rate from omega-3's (ALA) in plants (like flaxseeds) to DHA is small, and 7% of woman have genes that do not allow them to convert much at all. Infants and children with low DHA are showing memory and brain abnormalities. Although new research is showing that the fats from chia seeds can be converted into EPA at a decent rate in the body (up to a 60%), the conversion rate to DHA is nominal. The brain of a developing fetus and young child needs these fats for proper development, especially DHA. At least during pregnancy and early childhood, dietary sources of DHA from animals (like wild salmon, purified fish oil, and krill oil), or algae may be helpful.
What Can I Eat on a Vegan Diet?
Revolve your meals around whole plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits. For example, you might have a bowl of Creamy brown Rice Cereal and a mug of green tea for breakfast. For lunch, try taking a thermos of leftover Black Bean and Vegetable Soup and a Vegan Corn Muffin to work with you. Pack a container of radishes and sliced cucumbers to snack on as well. For dinner, try making a large Quinoa Salad and a platter of Hummus, raw vegetables, and Gluten-Free Pita Bread.
Other examples of quick plant-based meals include things like Quick Curried Chickpeas and Potatoes served over brown rice or quinoa. This easy Red Lentil Dal recipe is delicious served with Curried Red Rice and Broccoli stir-fry. Try serving any Indian-inspired vegan meal with these Indian Tempura Vegetables as a fun appetizer! Try taking a Tofu, Brown Rice, and Veggie Bowl to work for lunch! This Black Bean and Yam Casserole is a perfect plant-based dinner recipe for a chilly winter evening. Take the leftovers to work the next day and enjoy for lunch!
These Buckwheat Banana Muffins are full of flavor and egg-free! Add the recipe as "meal prep" on a weekend day so you can enjoy one for a quick breakfast for the next several days! These Oatmeal Blender Brownies are a delicious and nutritious way to enjoy chocolate! Or try a Vegan Lemon Cheesecake for a birthday treat and top with with fresh fruit. There are so many delicious and nutritious recipes you can enjoy when embarking on a vegan diet!
How do I Start a Vegan Diet?
- If you are not yet a member on this site, you can join now.
- Begin by stocking your kitchen with whole grains, dry beans, canned organic beans, raw nuts and seeds, and organic spices and dried herbs.
- Add some of our sample Vegan meal plans to your user profile or create your own!
- Schedule your meal plans onto your meal plan calendar and create shopping lists.
- Get inspired with new Vegan recipes added to this site weekly! Join our Nourishing Meals Community Facebook Group to get notified with new recipes and more! Everyone is welcome.