Veganism has become very popular over the last few years, for reasons that include environmental concerns, the realities of the meat and dairy industries, and numerous health benefits that have been associated with it.
The vegan diet consists of foods made only from plants - meaning no fish, meat, eggs, dairy or any other animal products.
But is this a healthy way to live?
What is veganism?
Veganism is the avoidance of animal exploitation, not only in regard to the food consumed, but also lifestyle choices, such as: clothing, beauty products, and entertainment. People who choose veganism for ethical reasons will exclude any form of animal exploitation from their diet and lifestyle, however, others may just simply choose to take on the diet side of veganism, otherwise known as plant-based eating, for health or environmental reasons.
What can you eat as part of a vegan diet?
Vegan-friendly foods include;
- All fruit
- All vegetables, ranging from root veg, to greens, and non-starchy veg.
- Nuts and seeds (such as cashews, peanuts, coconuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
- Grains (wheat, rice, barley, oats)
- Processed grains (flour, pasta, bread, noodles)
- Beans and pulses (kidney beans, soya, chickpeas, lentils)
- Processed or fermented beans (tofu, tempeh, cereals)
- Dairy alternatives (milk made from oats/almonds/coconut)
- Vegetable and seed oils (olive, sunflower, rapeseed, sesame)
As well as some things that might surprise you;
Known as ‘accidentally vegan’ products, there are a various of processed snacks are, believe it or not, suitable for vegans. These may not be the healthiest choices, but it does demonstrate that the vegan diet is not as restrictive as some may think:
- Biscuits & cookies (such as Oreos, bourbons, party rings, jammie dodgers)
- Lotus Biscoff spread
- Supermarket doughnuts
- Sweets (Skittles, Jelly tots, Starburst)
Be careful of sweets that contain gelatine, as there are still many out there that are not suitable for a vegan diet.
Key health benefits of the vegan diet
The risk of heart health issues is typically lowered on the vegan diet due to the consumption of high fruit, vegetable, and legume intake. This is down to the high fibre content in these foods; fibre is associated with lowering bad cholesterol, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure not to mention the reduced risk of obesity and type two diabetes.
Removing animal products from your diet will substantially reduce your saturated fat intake. Unhealthy saturated fats contribute towards high cholesterol and can cause clogging of the arteries, whereas a diet low in saturated fats means reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
This is not to be confused with the healthy unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, these fats can also help to reduce levels of bad cholesterol and contribute towards better heart health.
The combination of no animal products and lots of fresh fibre rich plant foods makes the vegan diet optimal for heart health.
Lower risk of obesity
Plant foods are typically lower in calories than animal foods. They are also much lower in saturated fats and higher in fibre, so weight loss can be a natural initial effect when switching to a vegan diet.
Although, it is important to mention that consuming too much processed foods, which is still entirely possible on a vegan diet, can still result in obesity.
A balanced diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables will naturally lead to a higher intake of antioxidants and other plant compounds that can reduce your cancer risk. For example, broccoli contains a plant compound called sulforaphane which has been shown to help kill cancer cells.
The vegan diet is also free from processed meats, which are known to be a potential risk for certain types of cancers.
In addition, soy products have been shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Soy contains isoflavones which have strong antioxidant compounds, meaning that they reduce the damage to cells which helps fight against cancer cell development.
Dietary fibre is vital for feeding a healthy gut microbiome and keeping your gut happy and functioning properly. The vegan diet is naturally high in dietary fibre.
Can the vegan diet be unhealthy?
Like all diets and lifestyle choices, the vegan diet can be unhealthy if not planned and given proper thought.
This can be the case if you are eating a diet high in highly processed foods, such as;
- Refined processed carbs (white bread, pasta, crisps)
- Processed sugary foods (sweets, chocolate, biscuits)
- Fried foods (chips, onion rings)
These foods can still be enjoyed and occasionally included in your healthy balanced diet if the majority of your nutrients and energy is coming from whole plant foods.
But where do you get your protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids and are an important component for almost every part of your body. Protein not only builds muscle, but is necessary for healthy skin, bones, and organs.
It seems to be a common concern for where vegans find their protein as they are not consuming the obvious sources, such as meat, fish, and eggs.
Rest assured there are hundreds of plant-based foods that contain protein and as long as you are including a variety of different whole plant foods, you will be able to hit your requirements.
Some of the top plant protein sources include;
Seitan - 75g per 100g
Tofu - 12.6g per 100g
Tempeh - 19g per 100g
Edamame - 11g per 100g
Chickpeas – 8.4g per 100g
Peanuts/Peanut butter - 26-27g per 100g
Walnuts - 17g per 100g
Sesame seeds - 17g per 100g
Quinoa - 14g per 100g
Is the vegan diet worth trying?
Living a life on a vegan diet is not as restrictive as you may think, and with adequate planning, it has the potential to be one of the healthiest diet options out there. With its associated health benefits and positive climate effects, I believe it will only keep growing, and accessibility will only increase.
But what could be easier than having nutritious and delicious vegan meals delivered straight to your door :P