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Vegan Diet 101 for Beginners

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Summer is the best time for switching to a vegan diet. The abundance of fruits and veggies in local stores is mouthwatering, and filling your Buddha bowl with vivid colors is more affordable than ever. Going vegan is easier than you think and can bring you multiple benefits! Check out our simple guide on a vegan diet and see if it fits your goals and suits your needs.

What is a vegan diet?

The vegan diet is abstinence from any products derived from animals. Some people who choose veganism because of ethical reasons also sort waste and don’t wear fur and leather. The plant-based or vegan diet has plenty of scientifically proven benefits(1) for health and waist-line, making it quite popular among people who want to lower cholesterol levels and improve their health. Along with vegetarianism, when people refrain from eating the flesh of animals but are allowed to consume foods derived from animals, there are some other types of a vegan diet(2).

Strictly vegan diet

As a rule, a strict plant-based eating system means a healthy vegan diet deprived of animal products and junk food. A dirty vegan diet, on the contrary, can be filled with alcoholic beverages and vegan junk snacks like chips, crisps, and candies. A plant-based meal plan filled with substitutes for animal products like vegan meat or vegan cheese is also not as healthy as a strict wholesome vegan diet, as it is filled with sugar and overly processed foods. 

Raw vegan diet

If you’re looking for a starter vegan diet plan, going raw might not be the best option for you. This kind of veganism means that you eat only raw or minimally processed foods and choose the sprouting(3) of grains instead of cooking. 

It is true, you receive more vitamins and minerals from raw fruits and vegetables. However, in the case of a raw vegan diet, you decrease the variety of foods you can eat. For example, beans, other legumes, and most of the grains are better digested when they’re cooked, and if you eat them raw, this can result in gases, bloating, and other unpleasant feelings in your stomach.

Fruitarianism

This kind of vegan diet primarily consists of fruits, berries, with occasional nuts and seeds. As it is even more restricted than common veganism, it has more chances to result in basic nutrients deficiency. Moreover, with fruitarianism, you obtain most of your calories from fructose, which can be harmful to people with diabetes and can worsen other health conditions. For instance, as fruits are rich in acids, their consumption can deteriorate your dental enamel and result in tooth sensitivity. 

Ovo-vegetarian diet

If you need an easy way to start veganism, you can try an ovo-vegetarian diet. Its only distinction from a vegan diet is that it doesn’t exclude eggs. Being a diverse, complete, and nutrient-rich product, eggs(4) are a great food to add to your diet. Moreover, their consumption might eliminate the risk of getting deficiency in most animal-derived amino acids and proteins.

Benefits and risks of going vegan

Knowledge is power! Check out these scientifically proven benefits and possible downfalls of veganism to see if this eating system can fit your needs. Remember, though, that the best way to determine if a vegan diet suits you is by asking your health provider, especially if you have some chronic conditions like diabetes or disrupted eating behavior. 

Scientifically proven benefits for your health

Multiple studies show that a vegan diet has many health benefits. The main criticism of these surveys is that, as a rule, vegans and vegetarians are more prone to other healthy habits. This criticism presumes that, maybe, vegans’ good health condition is not a result of their eating habits, rather their engagement in physical activity, no-smoking, abstinence from alcohol, and stress management. 

Studies referenced below excluded other lifestyle diversities between vegans and omnivores for the validity of their research. 

Weight loss. Multiple studies on a vegan diet for weight loss(5) prove that people who follow a strict plant-based eating system, which excludes animal products, lose more weight. Moreover, if we compare various plant-based diets, like pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and vegan diets, we will see that a vegan diet is more efficient(6) for weight loss. This might be explained by the fact that plant-based products are less calorie-dense and, as a rule, have a low glycemic index. This means that they fill you up faster and don’t lead to insulin spikes and the following hunger cravings. 

Reduction of type II diabetes. According to research, a vegan diet can lead to an almost 40% reduction(7) in type II diabetes and higher insulin sensitivity(8). Scientists explain this by the number of antioxidants(9) vegans consume with food and the minimized consumption of saturated fats.

Reduction of cholesterol levels. A vegan diet is shown to decrease the level of all kinds of cholesterol(10), which, in its turn, reduces the risks of heart and cardiovascular diseases, particularly ischemic heart disease.

Lower risks of total cancer. Studies show that a vegan diet is linked to a lower incidence of total cancer(11). However, no correlation between a plant-based diet and some particular types of cancer has been found.

Possible downfalls of veganism

Please, consider that veganism is a restrictive diet, and only a doctor can tell if this eating system suits your medical condition. Consult your health advisor before you decide to go vegan. Here are some of the possible flaws of a vegan diet.

Orthorexia and other eating disorders. Too severe restrictions can lead to orthorexia(12), an obsession with healthy, clean eating. Let veganism be your ally in building a better lifestyle, not a governor that totally controls your life. 

Social isolation. Some new vegans say that they can’t enjoy the company of their friends as much as they used to, as there are no more barbecue parties or pizza nights. However, you can deal with it by paying a bit more attention to planning your nights out. Check out the vegan options in the cafe you’re going to, and don’t be too pushy trying to convert your friends and family into veganism. This annoys people and seriously undermines vegans’ image.

Amino acids and vitamin deficiency. As veganism is a restrictive eating system, you have to think of a proper meal plan that will include all the necessary nutrients, otherwise, you might face essential vitamins and amino acids deficiency.

What to eat on a vegan diet?

If you’re new to veganism, you might think that it’s a restrictive diet that abandons you to eat a whole variety of foods. It is true, your diet might be a bit limited in standard products, but just think of the entire new variety of foods you’ve never tried before!

Vegetables

When was the last time you’ve eaten artichokes? Or aubergines? Vegetables are not only potatoes, onions, and tomatoes! There are carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, marrow squash, cucumber, corn, and fennel, to name just a few! Some vegetables will add new tastes to your meals, like garlic, ginger, galangal, and chili peppers.

Herbs and leafy greens

Enjoy your leafy vegetables: bok choi and spinach, ramson, kale, and morning glory. Add flavor to your dishes with some fragrant herbs like cilantro, coriander, dill, rosemary, marjoram, basil, and lemongrass.

Legumes

Lentils, mung beans, chickpea, haricot, and runner beans: They’re the best source of protein for vegans. If you haven’t eaten beans before, don’t add too much of them all at once. Legumes might be stodgy for your gastrointestinal tract. Start with several full spoons per day and add a bit more beans now and then.

Mushrooms

They contain protein and vitamin D; that’s why you shouldn’t forget about mushrooms when planning your meals. Don’t stop on champignons alone! There are also porcini, morel, cep, oyster, and chanterelle, shiitake, enoki, and even black truffle! Remember, though, that not all mushrooms are edible, and make sure you cook them right.

Grains

They are an indispensable source of calories, carbs, and protein for your body. Wheat, oat, rice, buckwheat, millet, rye, bulgur: You’ve probably even haven’t tried some of them before! Also, don’t refrain from vegan products made of flour: noodles, spaghetti, cereals, and bread.

Fruits 

Everything, from apples to melons, from oranges to kiwis, and from mangosteen to jackfruit: Embrace these juicy sweet treasures and add more of them to your meal plan.

Berries

Grapes, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, black and red currant, bilberry, watermelons, raspberry, cherries, mulberries, gooseberries, and many, many more! They’re all delicious and filled with vitamins. 

Seeds

Seeds are a great source of fats, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids. All of these will come in handy when you stop eating fish. Pay attention to sunflower and pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, hemp, sesame, and chia seeds. 

Nuts

Cashews, almonds, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts are fatty, tasty, and very calorie-dense. If your goal on a vegan diet is to lose weight, don’t make nuts your main foods.

Oils

They’re necessary to absorb oil-soluble vitamins and minerals and to add more taste to your food. Try sesame, sunflower, and corn oils, and don’t forget about the olive oil.

Algaes

Wakame, spirulina, chlorella, nori, kombu, dulse, kelp: If you haven’t eaten them before, you should start now. In algae, you will find manganese, vitamin K, magnesium, iodine, as well as smaller portions of omega-3 and omega-6.

Substitutes

If you can’t imagine your life without cheese, milk to your coffee, or sausages, you don’t have to refrain from them. Modern manufacturers of plant-based products use tofu, seitan, and beans to make substitutes for your favorite dairy or meat products.

Vegan diet facts

  • Almost 3% of adult Americans are vegans. 
  • Talking about the worldwide population, it’s not that easy to calculate an exact percentage of vegans. This number is believed to be between 0,1% to 5%.
  • The United Kingdom is a country that has shown a growing interest in veganism in recent years.
  • Among vegan celebrities are Moby, Natalie Portman, Bill Clinton, Joaquin Phenix, Miley Cyrus, Michelle Pfeiffer, Pamela Anderson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gisele Bundchen, Jessica Chastain, Alicia Silverstone, Olivia Wilde, Woody Harrelson, and Liam Hemsworth, to name a few.
  • November the 1st is International Vegan Day. It was established in 1994.
  • On average, one vegan saves 30 animals each year. 

General guidelines to start veganism

If you don’t want to go cold turkey all at once, you don’t have to. Here are some simple tips that will help you with the transition from omnivore to vegan.

  • Start with small steps. Minimize the amount of meat and poultry you consume and substitute them with beans, tofu, or seitan. Add restrictions one at a time.
  • Learn how to cook. Veganism can be amazingly tasty, however, you will have to learn some cooking techniques. Try making stews, vegetable stir fry, mushroom cream soups, baked lentils, and Buddha bowls. They’re all cozy, comforting foods you will surely enjoy.
  • Focus on what you get, not what you lose. The whole new universe of new tastes and aromas is opening in front of you! Don’t know what you will eat at a party? Bring humus and phalaphel! Show your friends how good vegan food can be!
  • Plan your meals. To get all the health benefits of a vegan diet, you should keep it balanced. This will be easier to do if you prepare your meals beforehand. If you don’t know how to do that, order a customized vegan meal plan composed by Unimeal experts, with all the calories and macros calculated for you.
  • Always have snacks with you. Not all vending machines have vegan options. Always have a pack of nuts or some fruits with you not to feel hungry while surrounded by non-vegan food.
  • Find vegan shops. Vegan substitutes for standard animal products can be of great help; however, they might be hard to find in average supermarkets. Fortunately, today there are vegan shops in almost every town: Find one in your neighborhood and get ready to try new plant-based alternatives to your favorite foods.
  • Don’t make a religion out of veganism. Don’t try to attract new adepts by telling them how great it is to be a vegan, and don’t make a tragedy if you’ve incidentally eaten some non-vegan food. Don’t blame yourself if you’ve eaten a slice of Quatro Fromagio pizza and, what’s more important, don’t blame the others if they don’t want to refrain from animal products.

Summing up

Developed in 1944, veganism is now popular worldwide, with 3% of Americans being vegan. This diet has numerous adepts among celebrities, politics, and athletes (even bodybuilders who prove that building muscle on a vegan diet is possible).

Veganism is a great diet that can help you lose weight. It is also proven to provide multiple health benefits. It fills your body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, however, the deficiency of some nutrients is still possible if you don’t pay much attention to balancing your meals.

Remember that choosing a vegan diet doesn’t make you better than your pals-omnivores. Otherwise, your imperious behavior can leave you with fewer friends.

Sources

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  • Gojda J., Patkova J., Jacek M., et al. (2013, December). Higher Insulin Sensitivity in Vegans Is Not Associated with Higher Mitochondrial Density. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2013.202
  • Carlsen M. H., Halvorsen B. L., Holte K., et al. (2010, January 22). The Total Antioxidant Content of More Than 3100 Foods, Beverages, Spices, Herbs and Supplements Used Worldwide. Nutrition Journal. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-9-3
  • Wang F., Zheng J., Yang B., et al. (2015, October 27). Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.115.002408
  • Dinu M., Abbate R., Gensini G. F., et al. (2017, November 22). Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447
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