So you’ve decided that you want to eat a vegan diet in 2017? Great choice! But, you still don’t fully understand what a vegan diet is and you don’t know how to start? No problem! In this omnivore to herbivore series, I’m going to be breaking it all down as simply as I can, and providing tips to help you start your vegan journey with minimal stress, but maximum enjoyment.
What is a vegan diet?
Put simply, a vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products and their by-products. People tend to think that vegan and vegetarian diets are synonymous, but they really aren’t. Both diets have similarities, but they are very different.
The main difference between a vegetarian and a vegan diet is that in addition to removing meat, poultry and seafood from the diet, a vegan excludes every other product that come from them. This means that food such as dairy products, eggs, and honey, and everything else that comes from animals are not suitable for vegans.[table id=1 /]
People choose vegan diets for various reasons, but compassion and health are the most common reasons. Those who go vegan for compassionate (ethical) reasons do so because of their opposition to animal cruelty, animal farming and the effect it has on the environment. Since I chose to go vegan for health reasons, I feel more comfortable exploring that side of things in more detail.
What are the health benefits of a vegan diet?
A vegan diet provides a lot of health benefits as long as you don’t base your meals around junk food and frozen readymade meals. By eating whole starches, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds you will nourish your body with macro and micronutrients that will keep your immune system strong and protect you from a variety of diseases.
- Heart disease: Vegan diets contain negligible amounts of LDL (bad) cholesterol and saturated fat, which are usually present in red meat. By eating a plant-based diet, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing of developing heart disease.
- Type II Diabetes: Being overweight, and eating a diet that is high in refined sugars and fat increases your risk of developing type II diabetes. A plant-based diet is naturally low in fat, and since it advocates eating whole starches, it is also low in refined sugars. A plant-based diet therefore reduces your risk of developing type II diabetes.
- Blood pressure: Processed foods like crisps, deli meats, and noodles usually have a high sodium content. A vegan diet is naturally low in sodium, but also provides adequate amounts of potassium and other electrolytes that work in concert to maintain blood pressure at normal levels. Eating a vegan diet reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Cancer: There is a link between eating processed deli meats like bacon, ham, and hotdog sausages and certain types of cancer. Since a vegan diet eliminates these types of foods, and instead encourages the consumption of foods that fight against cancer, it can help to reduce your risk of a variety of cancers.
- Weight loss: As long as you eat a whole, unrefined foods, a vegan diet can help you lose weight naturally and maintain a normal body mass index (BMI). This is because you will be eating foods that are low in fat, but rich in fibre and unrefined carbohydrates.
What do vegans eat?
Contrary to popular belief, a vegan does not only eat salads and fruits. I mean, some people choose to only eat salads and fruits, but it doesn’t mean you only have to eat that. There are so many things you can eat as you will see in the list below. The list is not exhaustive, but it should give you a clearer idea of what you can eat.[table id=2 /]
I hope you now know what a vegan diet is, and you now have a clearer idea of all the things you can eat. In the next post in this series, I will cover what you need to know about protein and its sources.
If you’re impatient and want to read more about vegan nutrition, I would suggest getting this book “A Guide to Vegan Nutrition“.