Vegan Diet: Types, Pros and Cons

A lot of people are gradually turning towards the vegan diet. Be it for ethics or for health benefits, the plant-based diet is gaining popularity for multiple reasons. With a balanced vegan diet, you may get all the proteins, minerals, and vitamins required by your body. But, as much as it is beneficial, there are also a few shortcomings that may cause deficiencies.  Read on and know all about the vegan diet before you choose it, as it is always wise to make an informed decision.

What is the Vegan Diet?

The vegan diet is a plant-based diet that does not include any food items sourced from animals. These cover meat, eggs, and dairy products. Some people also avoid honey as they believe it to be sourced from the labor of bees. While the vegan diet is largely adopted to stop the exploitation of animals to obtain food, many even consider it for the health benefits it possesses. Besides, a study has also suggested that an increase in consumption of plant-based foods and a reduction in consumption of animal products, contributes towards environmental sustainability.

Types of Vegan Diet

You may think that you do not have many options with a vegan diet, but there are more than 10 different varieties for you to explore. Take a look at a few of the popular ones. 

  • Whole Food Vegan Diet – This includes a wide variety of whole, unprocessed plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and seeds. Being a nutrient-dense and fiber-rich diet, it is best known to prevent and cure chronic diseases.
  • Nutritarian Diet – While many may not know about this variety, it is the vegan diet you may choose if you are aiming to lose fat. It promotes the inclusion of green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, onions, mushrooms, and fruits in your meals while restricting the intake of potatoes and rice that are a rich source of starch. 
  • High Fat Raw Vegan Diet – This vegan diet includes food that is always cooked at temperatures below 115 degrees Fahrenheit or 46 degrees Celsius. Due to this, followers mainly use blenders, dehydrators, and juicers to prepare their meals, while keeping fruits, nuts, and seeds as their primary source of calories. 
  • The Starch Solution – Designed by Dr. John McDougall, this is a starch-based program in which you are encouraged to have all kinds of starches such as corn, wheat, rice, quinoa, barley, billet, and more. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are, by default, your go-to options. Following this vegan diet variety, you are discouraged from having high-fat vegan food like nuts, seeds, and avocado. 
  • The 80/10/10 Low-Fat Raw Vegan Diet – This is the most favorite amongst vegan-diet followers. All fresh fruits including apples, bananas, oranges, mangoes, berries, dates, and more form the basis of this diet. The diet name takes its inspiration from the idea that 80% of calories should come from carbs, 10% from protein, and 10% from fats.  
  • Junk-Food Vegan Diet – This is the vegan diet to choose if you were a junk-food gobbler from the past. You can devour vegan burgers and fries, soy ice cream, vegan cookies, as well as bread and pasta.
  • Raw Till 4 Diet – As the name suggests, you have to consume raw food until 4 PM, while keeping the option of cooked plant meal for dinner. This makes fresh fruits and starches like corn to form the basis of your meals. 

Besides these, the Low Carb Vegan Diet, the Esselstyn Heart Healthy Diet, the High Carb Low Fat Vegan Diet, and the Detox Vegan Diet are a few other varieties that you can follow.       

What Food Items are Included

Following is the wide range of food items that you may include in your vegan meals.

  • Fruits and vegetables – Following a vegan diet, all varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables are your best bet to form the base of your meals. They are a great source of minerals and vitamins required for your body.
  • Legumes – Legumes such as peas, beans, peanuts, and lentils are a rich source of protein and fiber. Boasting to be one of the best plant-based sources of nutrients, they are also very pocket-friendly which makes them a favorite amongst many.
  • Nuts and seeds – While nuts are your best option to source fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamin E, seeds provide you Omega-3 fatty acids and proteins. 
  • Non-dairy vegan milk and yogurts – With no consumption of dairy products, many fear a lesser supply of calcium to their bodies. But, you can compensate for it with the consumption of almond milk, coconut milk, macadamia nut milk, oat milk, and many other varieties. The coconut yogurt and oat milk yogurt are an absolute favorite amongst many vegan diet followers. 
  • Whole grains and cereals – Wholegrain cereals such as wheat, barley, millet, oat, rice, and corn are your carbohydrates, multiple nutrients, and dietary fiber. 
  • Tofu and tempeh – If you are looking for alternatives to meat and paneer, then tofu and tempeh are your go-to options. Besides being protein-rich, they can be included in your meals in a variety of ways.   

What Food Items are not Included

While following a vegan diet, you cannot eat the food items listed below.

  • Dairy products – Milk and milk products such as yogurt, ice cream, butter, and cheese are not included in a vegan diet as it is believed to be obtained by the exploitation of the mammals. 
  • Meat and fish – Being a plant-based diet, you cannot have any kind of meat including beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, and quail, along with all varieties of fish. 
  • Eggs – A vegan diet does not include consumption of eggs laid by chickens, quails, ducks, or ostriches. 
  • Animal-sourced ingredients – Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, Vitamin D-3 from animal meat, gelatin, whey, and lactose are a few of the many animal-based food ingredients that you have to let go while following the plant-based diet. 
  • Bee products – As mentioned at the beginning, many people also avoid the consumption of honey or royal jelly as they are believed to be harvested from the labor of bees.  

Benefits of the Vegan Diet

Besides supporting your ethics, morals, and being environment-friendly, the vegan diet also offers many health benefits as given below.

  • Improves the health of your heart – According to a 2019 study, it is stated that there is a lower risk of suffering from heart diseases with an increase in the consumption of plant-based foods. Since dairy products such as butter and cheese, along with meat, are a primary source of saturated fats that raise your cholesterol levels, there is an increased risk of suffering from cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. But with more consumption of plant foods, you increase your intake of fiber that is said to keep your heart healthy. 
  • Aides weight loss – With no consumption of animal and dairy products, you reduce your intake of calories and fats. Most of the plant-based foods are low in calories that further help you in managing your weight. 
  • Lowers blood sugar levels – You stand a lower risk of type-2 diabetes by following a plant-based diet. This is supported by a systematic 2019 review wherein a majority of participants following a plant-based dietary showcased lower blood sugar levels. 
  • Lowers the risk of cancer – The biologically active compounds in plants such as vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals are known to protect against cancer. So, the increase in consumption reduces your risk of suffering from cancer. This is also backed by a 2017 review which states that individuals benefit from a vegan diet with as much as 15% of significantly reduced risk of total cancer. 

Shortcomings of the Vegan Diet

Although the benefits of the vegan diet may certainly seem very encouraging, it also has certain drawbacks as given below.

  • Risk of developing certain micronutrient deficiencies – Without a balanced vegan diet, you may develop deficiencies in some vital nutrients, including Vitamin D, Omega 3 fatty acid, calcium, zinc, and Vitamin B-12. With the inadequate supply of these, there is a possibility of suffering from bone loss, fatigue, muscle loss, and high blood pressure.
  • Potential dip in iron level – Heme iron and non-heme iron are two types of iron found in your body. Of the two, heme iron comes from hemoglobin and myoglobin in animal-sourced foods, whereas non-heme iron can be found in plant food and animal tissues. Without consumption of meat, you will have to rely only on non-heme iron which is also, usually, less absorbed as compared to heme iron. This can create a shortage of iron levels that may further lead to lethargy and the risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia. 
  • Insufficient intake of protein – Meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products are a rich source of protein. But, vegan diet followers have to turn to tofu, nuts, and beans for their protein intake. As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the daily protein intake for women should be 46 grams, while that for men should be 56 grams. Without the daily consumption of tofu, nuts, and beans, you might find it difficult to meet these recommended levels.

Besides the drawbacks stated above, you might also find it very difficult to stick to the vegan diet when you are away from home.

Conclusion

Be it on ethical grounds or for health reasons, following a balanced vegan diet may help you in achieving your fitness goals. A lowered risk of cancer and cardiovascular morbidity, due to reduced consumption of saturated fat and increased intake of dietary fiber, are a couple of key benefits that the vegan diet may offer you. But, you also need to consider that increased consumption of highly cooked and processed plant food may lead to a rise in the intake of saturated fats. This, in turn, would cancel out the apparent benefits of the vegan diet. So, considering all the pros and cons of the vegan diet, make an informed decision that is the best for achieving a healthy body.  

About the Author : Ketki H is a wandering soul who loves travelling solo, and firmly believes in enjoying the journey rather than hurrying to the destination. Although a graduate in Mechanical Engineering, she took to writing for reaching the masses.

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