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           Article written by Moneeba Younis — medically reviewed by Rohini Prasannan and Cosimo Simeone

Introduction:

Veganism, as a distinct philosophy and lifestyle, originated in the mid-20th century. The term “vegan” was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, a British animal rights activist and founder of The Vegan Society. He used the term to describe individuals who chose to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their diet and lifestyle.

However, it is important to note that plant-based diets and the avoidance of animal products have historical roots that predate the term “vegan”. In 2023, there are approximately 88 million vegans worldwide. This number is increasing as more people are adopting a vegan lifestyle. A vegan diet is a plant-based diet that excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey.

People choose a vegan diet for various reasons, including ethical, environmental, and health concerns. Vegan dieting has gained popularity in recent years. Certainly, the increase awareness of animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and health benefits has made plant-based eating more popular. 

Advantages of vegan diet:

A vegan diet can offer numerous health benefits that can improve overall well-being. In fact, eating a plant-based diet including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. It can also improve digestion and support the immune system. 

Plant-based diets are naturally lower in cholesterol and saturated fat. Higher consumption of these has been linked to heart disease.  In addition to this, plant-based diets have been linked to decreased likelihood of developing certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and obesity (1).

Is the vegan diet good for weight loss?

In addition vegan diets can be an effective way to manage your weight. In fact the vegan diet often emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods and discourages or eliminates highly processed and calorie-dense options such as fried foods, sugary snacks, and fast food. By focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods, you naturally reduce calorie intake and improve the overall quality of your diet.

Moreover, vegan diets are often higher in fiber, which can help you feel fuller for longer periods of time and reduce overall calorie intake. Also, plant-based diets can help improve insulin sensitivity. This can regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (1).

In addition, a well-balanced vegan diet can provide essential nutrients while being lower in unhealthy saturated fats and cholesterol. By prioritizing nutrient-dense foods, you not only support your weight management goals but also enhance your overall health.

Other benefits:

Furthermore, a vegan diet can provide a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that can help support overall health. Plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants too. These antioxidants can help protect against cellular damage and reduce inflammation in the body (1).

Also, a vegan diet can provide a variety of nutrients that can help support gut health. Plant-based diets are typically high in fiber, which can help promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria and improve digestion.

Moreover, plant-based foods are rich in prebiotics, which are compounds that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This can help improve the balance of bacteria in your gut and reduce the risk of developing certain digestive disorders (1). Vegan diets can also be lower in inflammatory foods that can contribute to gut inflammation and digestive issues.

Disadvantages of vegan diet:

Despite all the health benefits a vegan diet requires careful planning to ensure all nutritional needs are met. The plant-based diet can be low in certain nutrients, such as iron. Certainly plants contain iron but the type of iron they contain is non-heme iron.

In addition, plant foods contain phytates and oxalates which can stop the body from absorbing iron. This type of iron is less absorbable by the body than iron found in animal-based products. Consequently, the lack of iron can cause anemia, which can lead to further health complications. 

Other important nutrients found in animal products and lacking in a vegan diet are vitamin B12 and calcium. Lack of vitamin B12 can cause serious health concerns when missing from a diet, as well as the lack of calcium. This is why it is necessary for vegans to consume B12 and calcium supplements alongside their diets. 

Furthermore a vegan diet may have consequences on your mental health. Recent studies have drawn a connection between veganism and depression (4). The lack of omega-3 fatty acids may present vegans at an increased risk of developing depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and fish oils. They have an important role in mental health. A vegan diet may leave people more susceptible to depression if these fatty acids are absent.

Additionally, some people may find it difficult to get enough protein on a vegan diet, especially if they are very active. However, there are many plant-based sources of protein that can help meet your needs. It’s important to plan your meals carefully to ensure that you are getting enough of these nutrients.

Veganism vs Vegetarian, which one to choose? 

The question of whether a vegan or vegetarian diet is the “right” choice depends on various factors, including individual preferences, ethical considerations, health goals, and nutritional needs. Vegetarians and vegans both steer clear of meat, however, vegetarians are permitted to consume dairy and eggs. Although both diets have their advantages and downsides, veganism may be more challenging due to the restrictive nature of the diet. 

Compared to vegetarian diets, vegan diets can offer some advantages. As we already said vegan diets often include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This can result in a higher intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Also vegans have lower cholesterol levels than vegetarians. This reduces their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, a vegan diet is more eco-friendly since it requires fewer resources to produce plant-based foods than animal-based foods.

A vegetarian diet also has some advantages over a vegan diet (3). For example, vegetarians have a wider range of food options since they are allowed to consume dairy and eggs. This can make it easier to get enough protein and nutrients, especially for those who are new to the diet. Vegetarians have an easier time adjusting to their diet. This is because there is a wider range of options available. This makes it simpler to maintain the diet over time. 

While both diets have their benefits they have their disadvantages as well. A vegan or vegetarian diet requires careful planning to ensure all nutritional needs are met and to prevent any health complications. This often involves taking supplements or allowing some leniency with animal products. Certainly, vegan diets come with extra restrictions. This can add extra pressure on vegans, making it hard to stick to the diet in the long run. 

30 days vegan diet for beginners:

If you want to start your journey in veganism and you want to try a type of vegan diet, we recommend this one if you are a beginner. Certainly, this is a general diet but if you want to have a specific diet tailored to yourself and your needs you can book an appointment with our nutritionists here, https://mundushealth.com/make-appointments/.

Week 1:

Day 1:

  • Breakfast: Scrambled tofu with sautéed vegetables (spinach, bell peppers, onions) and whole-grain toast.
  • Lunch: Quinoa and black bean salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, corn, and a lime-cilantro dressing.
  • Snack: Carrot and celery sticks with hummus.
  • Dinner: Chickpea and vegetable tagine served with couscous.
  • Dessert: Vegan chocolate avocado mousse.

Day 2:

  • Breakfast: Vegan banana walnut pancakes with maple syrup.
  • Lunch: Mediterranean wrap filled with hummus, roasted vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers), and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
  • Snack: Trail mix (almonds, cashews, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chips).
  • Dinner: Spaghetti aglio e olio with roasted cherry tomatoes and a side of steamed broccoli.

Day 3:

  • Breakfast: Overnight chia pudding with almond milk, topped with mixed berries and a sprinkle of shredded coconut.
  • Lunch: Lentil and vegetable soup served with whole-grain bread.
  • Snack: Rice cakes with almond butter and sliced banana.
  • Dinner: Vegan mushroom and lentil burgers on whole-grain buns, served with sweet potato fries.
  • Dessert: Vegan apple crumble with a scoop of dairy-free vanilla ice cream.

Day 4:

  • Breakfast: Vegan protein smoothie bowl topped with granola, sliced kiwi, and hemp seeds.
  • Lunch: Asian-style tofu and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice.
  • Snack: Roasted chickpeas with a dash of smoked paprika.
  • Dinner: Spicy vegan buffalo cauliflower tacos with avocado-cilantro sauce and a side of black beans.
  • Dessert: Vegan raspberry almond thumbprint cookies.

Day 5:

  • Breakfast: Avocado and tomato toast on whole-grain bread, sprinkled with nutritional yeast.
  • Lunch: Mexican-inspired quinoa bowl with black beans, roasted corn, avocado, salsa, and a squeeze of lime.
  • Snack: Fresh fruit salad with a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Dinner: Vegan Thai green curry with tofu, mixed vegetables, and jasmine rice.
  • Dessert: Vegan mango coconut chia pudding.

Weekends:

Use the weekends to explore new recipes or enjoy vegan options at local restaurants and cafes. Also, try dishes like vegan sushi rolls, chickpea salad sandwiches, vegetable paella, lentil shepherd’s pie, or vegan pizza loaded with veggies. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and consider incorporating a variety of herbs, spices, and condiments to add flavor and variety to your meals.

Following 3 weeks:

Week 2-4: Follow a similar structure as Week 1, but continue to experiment with different recipes and ingredients. Explore cuisines from around the world, such as Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, or Mediterranean, to keep your meals exciting and diverse. Incorporate a wide variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and plant-based proteins to meet your nutritional needs.

Remember, this is just a sample plan, and you can customize it to suit your preferences. For easy vegan recipes we recommend this youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KjKKiOI4a8. Enjoy your vegan journey and the amazing flavors that plant-based eating has to offer!

Conclusions:

In conclusion, a vegan diet can provide many health benefits, such as improved weight management, gut health, and reduced environmental impact. But it can be difficult to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs. A vegan diet, carefully planned, can provide all essential nutrients.

We recommend having a varied and balanced diet such as the Mediterranean one. However, if you want to try the vegan diet we advise also to speak with your GP before or if you see any side effects. Adopting a vegan diet can benefit your health and well-being but can be also challenging.

References: 

  1. ‌Rosi A. Mena P. Pellegrini N. Turroni S. Neviani E. Ferrocino I. Di Cagno R. Ruini L. Ciati R. Angelino D. Maddock J. Gobbetti M. Brighenti F. Del Rio D. & Scazzina F. (2017). Environmental impact of omnivorous ovo-lacto-vegetarian and vegan diet. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 271-273.
  2. Jain R. Larsuphrom P. Degremont A. Latunde‐Dada G. O. & Philippou E. (2022). Association between vegetarian and vegan diets and depression: A systematic review. Nutrition Bulletin, 47(1), 27–49.
  3. Jang E. & Parsh B. (2022). Vegetarian vs. vegan diets. Nursing, 52(9), 10–11.
  4. Craig W. J. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), 1627-1633.

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