There are many advantages to eating a whole food plant-based or vegan diet. Lately, more and more people have been changing their way of eating and switching to a healthier vegan diet.
Advantages of a Vegan Diet
There are several advantages of eating a vegan diet or plant-based diet that include:
- Better health that can prevent and reverse many illnesses like heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
- It’s better for the environment and the planet.
- Less animal cruelty
What to Eat on a Vegan Diet
A vegan diet is strictly a plant-based diet. Some say that a vegan diet is too restrictive, and you will starve on a vegan diet.
That’s not true, there are all kinds of foods that include:
- All types of potatoes
- Whole grains, oats, quinoa, and barley
- Beans, legumes, and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
Among these food groups are hundreds of foods to eat, and as many different recipes to enjoy.
What Not to Eat with a Vegan Diet
With this type of diet, you will not eat any animal foods such as meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, or seafood. Furthermore, anything that has animal products in the ingredients is prohibited.
You will have to read ingredients until you get used to which packaged foods you like to buy. For example, foods with gelatin in the ingredients would not be vegan because gelatin comes from animals. Other foods that are not considered vegan that you have to look for include:
- Dairies like milk, cheese, yogurts, ice cream, and butter
- Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly
- Whey and casein
- Fish oil
- Egg whites
Eating a Healthy Vegan Diet
Just because you eat a vegan diet doesn’t automatically mean that you’re eating a healthy vegan diet. There are plenty of overweight and unhealthy vegans. A vegan diet can be the healthiest diet on the planet if you choose your vegan foods carefully.
There are many unhealthy vegan foods that you should avoid for optimal health. Adding oil to everything is unhealthy and can lead to diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Oil is basically just liquid fat, and oil and fat have more than twice the calories per gram than either protein or carbohydrates have. This causes weight gain.
Vegetable and seed oils have a lot of saturated fat that can clog arteries, which leads to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is what happens when fatty deposits cause plaque to build up along the walls of your arteries. This affects not only your heart but the entire circulatory system of the body.
Too much dietary fat, especially saturated fat from oils, can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Circulating fat restricts insulin from entering the cells. Insulin is like the key that allows glucose to enter cells, called glucose transport. Too much fat in the bloodstream gums up the lock or the cells, and insulin cannot do its job. This creates more insulin as the cells become resistant to what insulin is trying to do.
A healthy vegan diet should be high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat. Complex carbs include whole grains and not the overly processed simple carbs like white flour products.
The one nutrient you cannot get from a vegan diet is vitamin B12, which only comes from animal foods. You should take a vitamin B12 supplement. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin B12 is only 2.4 mcg (micrograms) per day.
Most plant-based doctors say that we should take between 500 and 1000 mcg per day. When you have blood tests, make sure to tell your doctor you are a vegan and to test your vitamin B12 levels.
Other than B12, a vegan diet provides all other essential nutrients. What you don’t get from food, your body makes by combining amino acids and other nutrients to form non-essential nutrients.
Vitamin D can be a concern depending on where you live and the time of year. Sitting in the sun for 10-20 minutes is enough to get plenty of vitamin D. During the winter months, you can consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement of 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day.
Iodine is possibly another concern. But vegans will get plenty of iodine if they include sea vegetables (seaweed) or iodized salt in their meals. You don’t need very much iodine since too much isn’t healthy. You can buy dulse or kelp flakes for iodine and add it to foods or soups.
How to Get Iron
Iron from plant foods is healthier than iron from animals. There is growing evidence that iron (heme iron) from animal foods raises the risk for several types of cancer, including breast and colorectal cancer. Heme iron is only found in food from animals. Plant foods have plenty of non-heme iron.
Combining foods that have vitamin C with green leafy vegetables will increase iron absorption. Do not drink caffeine with meals as that can hinder iron absorption.
Eating the following foods will ensure you get plenty of iron.
- Organic blackstrap molasses
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Pumpkin seeds
How to Get Protein
How do you get enough protein is a question you will often hear when you start a vegan diet. You can calculate the amount of protein you need per day by the following formula, 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight). The following foods are excellent vegan sources of protein:
- Pinto, kidney and black beans
- Brown rice
- Peanut and almond butter
Like other nutrients, getting enough calcium on a vegan diet is not a problem. And remember, the animals also get their calcium from the plants they eat.
Vegan foods that offer sufficient calcium include:
- Navy and great northern beans
- Collards and other greens
- Blackstrap molasses
Don’t Let Others Dissuade You
When you tell others that you’re going to eat a vegan diet, some may discourage you from doing so. They would say to you it’s unhealthy, or you need meat or other vegan myths.
Do not let them talk you out of being vegan. Many studies are now showing that eating a plant-based or vegan diet is the healthiest diet we can follow.