The word “vegan” can create images of celebrities lowering their $ 10 green juice after their yoga class on Sunday morning. But the eating plan is much more than just another noisy diet trend. Lizzo is one of the most recent celebrities who agreed with the philosophy of eating, not to lose weight or make a political statement, but because she said, “health is what happens inside.”
And she is right. A vegan diet can be a smart choice for many people; one that can improve your health, prevent or help control a range of health conditions – and yes, can help you lose weight if that is your goal.
What exactly is a vegan diet? Simply put, it is one where you do not eat animals or foods that come from animals (like eggs, milk, cheese or honey). And while it is restrictive in some ways (especially for those who rely heavily on animal products), it also opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to becoming creative with nutrient-rich, plant-based foods.
What does the study say about the vegan diet?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegan food can be a healthy diet for people of all ages (including children), pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding and athletes.
Diet can help you:
- Lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI
- Promote overall health
- Prevent or control diabetes
- Improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and preventing high blood pressure
- Increase your mood
Research found that compared to eating a low-fat diet, people who ate a vegan diet lost more than three times as much weight after two years. Research also suggests that for people with type 2 diabetes, eating vegan can help them better manage their condition, as well as help boost mood and weight loss and lower cholesterol. And since you will eliminate foods associated with poor health when you eat more, such as meat, butter and cheese, a vegan diet will promote your overall health.
The data also suggest that people who eat vegan, on average, tend to have lower BMI and are less likely to develop hypertension, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome compared to non-vegetarians and other types of vegetarians.
But to see those benefits, you need to eat foods that are minimally processed, as they tend to be more nutrient-dense for calories, said Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, PhD, RD, associate professor in the Department of Promotion. Health, Education and Behavior at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina (which studies the health benefits of eating vegan). “You can make an unhealthy version of any diet.”
Is a vegan diet a good choice for you?
“Done correctly, it’s beneficial to anyone,” explained Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition in New York City. Vegan food (if you do it in a healthy way) can benefit people who have heart disease and / or high cholesterol and are looking to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diets, says Shapiro. It can also help people control diabetes and lose weight, so it is a good option for those who want to lose weight.
Vegan food (along with other types of plant-based diets) is also good for the planet. Animal farming for food is known to be one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change. And it can be friendly in your wallet as well, according to another study by Turner-McGrievy and her colleagues. “Dried beans and rice are much less expensive than beef,” she said.
If your plate is currently full of meat, fish and eggs, start eating vegan several times a week. This can make the transition easier, giving you time to experiment with vegan recipes and slowly shift your mind to building a meal around plant-based foods.
What can you eat on a vegan diet?
As long as you do not eat animals or animal products, you are following a vegan diet. But just because a food is vegan does not necessarily mean it is part of a healthy diet.
Candies, chips and potato chips can all be vegan, but they also tend to be high in fat and low in fiber, which means they won’t satiate you and you have more likely to eat more than a healthy portion, Shapiro explained. “A lot of clients come to me who gain weight after becoming vegan because fast and easy-to-catch foods are not always so healthy.”
Focus on plants and whole foods, the less processed the better, Shapiro said. Get protein from nuts, seeds, beans and other legumes. Eat healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. When it comes to carbohydrates, choose those that are rich in nutrients, such as whole grains, potatoes, legumes, and fresh fruits. Try milk and milk-free yogurt. And definitely eat lots of vegetables.
For packaged foods: check the label for ingredients you know and can pronounce, Shapiro said.
What a day on a vegan diet might look like:
I wonder what your dish might look like when you follow a vegan diet? Shapiro ruined it:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with chia seeds, blueberries and cinnamon
Lunch: Large salad with mixed greens, olives, a variety of vegetables, edamame seeds and hemp
Snack: 1/2 cup coconut yogurt mixed with cashews and goji berries
Dinner: Lentil-based pasta, tossed with vegan pesto, spinach, broccoli and peas
Dessert: Small vegan ice cream cones like the ones made by Daily Harvest or Van Lehwen
Can you get all the nutrients you need from a vegan diet?
The only vitamin you lack is vitamin B12, which is found only in animals, Shapiro explained. Consider an addition, she said.
Other vitamins you may not get enough of are iron (plants have iron, but our bodies do not absorb it like the type found in animal sources) and zinc (which is found in some but not all vegetables). Dairy products (which are not vegan) tend to be good sources of calcium and vitamin D, but many dairy alternatives (such as walnut milk and coconut yogurts) are fortified with these nutrients.
The vegan diet is similar to:
Is the vegan diet a good long-term choice?
Well done — focusing on complete and minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods — a vegan diet offers many health benefits to people of all ages and lifestyles. Educate yourself, however, before you begin. Consider talking to a dietitian, reading books, packing your pantry, taking a vegan cooking class, or watching some videos on Youtube. And as always, start with your doctor, who will be able to recommend the best meal plan for you.