Some of you may not know but there is a difference between vegan and vegetarian. A vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet that excludes all foods derived from animals like meat, eggs and dairy products. Some of the common vegan diet options are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, rice, corn, quinoa, etc. Though Donal Watson first coined the term ‘vegan’ in 1944, the vegan diet has found more and more takers in the recent years. With celebrities like Beyonce, Jay Z, Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Silverstone leading the charge, many more people are converting to veganism now. Let us learn what is vegan or veganism, different types of vegan diets and their health benefits.
What is vegan or veganism?
Veganism is a way of life that excludes all items of animal origin. A vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry. In addition to this, vegans do not consume or use eggs, dairy products, leather, fur, silk, honey, wool, cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products.
In 1944 a small group of vegetarians broke away from the Leicester Vegetarian Society to from the Vegan Society. This society became a registered charity in 1979 and updated the definition of veganism as:
A philosophy and a way of life which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
Overall, it promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment.
In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals (1).
Why do people choose to be vegans?
People choose to be vegans for a variety of different reasons. Many people believe animal farming is cruel, while others feel it is harmful to the environment. Others choose this way of life to be healthy. Here are some common reasons why people go vegan.
1. Health and nutrition
The meat industry uses numerous animal feed additives, including antibiotics, tranquilizers, pesticides, animal drugs, artificial flavors, industrial wastes and growth-promoting hormones, with no concern about their toxic and carcinogenic effects.
2. Environmental protection
Industrial animal farming has had a significant impact on the environment. This has made people question their food choices and the effect it is having on the environment.
According to a UN report, animal-based products require more resources and lead to higher greenhouse emissions as compared to the plant-based products (11).
At virtually every step of the livestock production process, substances contributing to climate change or air pollution are emitted into the atmosphere.
These include burning fossil fuels to produce mineral fertilizers used in feed production, land use changes for feed production and fossil fuels used in the transport and refrigeration of animal products.
Animal agriculture is also putting a strain on the water resources. Almost 5,200 gallons of water is needed to produce one pound of beef (12). This is nearly 43 times more than the amount of water required to grow one pound of grain.
3. Ethical reasons
People who firmly believe that all creatures have a right to freedom opt for a vegan lifestyle. These people made a conscious decision not only to eat meat or have milk or consume products made from the skin of the animals.
Ethical vegans are actively against the animal farming industry practices like grinding live male chicks or force-feeding of ducks and geese. Most of these animals are kept in terrible conditions in cages.
These people abstain from animal products as they find animal farming cruel and inhumane.
Types of vegan diets
If you think vegans do not have much to choose regarding their diet, you could not have been more wrong. There are as many types of different vegan diets as there are non-vegetarian ones. Here are some of the most common vegan diets.
1. Whole food based vegan diet
This diet allows you to eat a wide variety of whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seed. The advantage of this diet is that you don’t have to count calories or focus on macronutrients.
Since this diet contains unprocessed plant-based foods, which are rich in fiber and nutrients, you feel full quickly without consuming too many calories.
2. The starch solution
This is a low fat, high-carb diet that focuses on starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, corn, wheat, barley, quinoa, millet and more. The diet also allows vegetables in all colors. Fruits can be included as a dessert, in addition to a meal.
3. Raw food vegan diet
This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds as its primary source of calories. People who follow raw food vegan diet, do not cook their food above 118 degrees Fahrenheit as they believe that cooking destroys the enzymes and vitamins in the food.
This diet can include fruit and dried fruit of all kinds. You can also sprout grains and legumes and have them.
4. 80/10/10 Low fat, raw food vegan diet
This diet focuses on eating a lot of fresh, ripe, whole, organic fruit along with some leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. This raw food diet limits the consumption of fat-rich plants like nuts and avocados.
It is also called the fruitarian diet. Fruits like bananas, berries, mangoes, dates, apples, and oranges are the basis for most meals.
5. Junk food vegan diet
People who follow this diet are most likely ethical vegans who have not decided to pursue a vegan diet for health reasons. These people don’t care if they are eating healthy food, they don’t want their food coming from an animal source.
This diet consists of mock meats, fries, vegan desserts and other processed vegan foods. Glazed doughnuts, soy latte, vegan pizza and mock meats are some of the favorite foods of this diet.
6. Raw till 4 diet
This diet involves having raw food till 4 pm and a cooked meal for dinner. The ‘raw till 4 diet’ is low in fat and proteins and in super high in carbs.
Though, in the beginning, there was no emphasis on vegetables, but now this has changed. You are also encouraged to drink a gallon of water per day.
7. Detox vegan diet
In this diet, 80 percent of the foods are eaten raw. It includes foods like sprouts, spirulina, fresh juices, and smoothies. People follow detox vegan diet drink a lot of water and herbal teas and cut out coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
Benefits of vegan diets
Here are some science-based health benefits of vegan foods.
Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and legumes that make a large chunk of the vegan diet are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and plant compounds.
These provide you with all the nutrients while you consume few calories and this helps in weight loss (13).
2. Improves heart health
Eating a daily diet which is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is linked to lower risk of heart disease (14). According to some observational studies, vegans have a 74 percent lower risk of developing heart disease.
3. Lower risk for diabetes
Vegans have lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin sensitivity and up to 78 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (15).
4. Prevents cancer
Having a vegan diet can also reduce the risk of certain cancers. According to studies, eating legumes can lower your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent (16).
Some other studies have also indicated that having soy products can also reduce the risk of breast cancer (17).
5. Reduces arthritis symptoms
Having a vegan diet can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis, like joint pain, swelling, and stiffness (18).
Drawbacks of eating vegan food
As is the case with any restrictive diet, vegan diets also have their disadvantages. According to nutritional experts, vegans may not get enough nutrients like calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Children and pregnant women are more susceptible to these deficiencies. One way to limit these deficiencies is to limit the amount of processed vegan foods and eat nutrient-rich plant food instead.
Final thoughts on what is vegan
Vegan diets exclude all animal-based products, but vegans still have a wide variety of foods to choose from. Other than weight loss, vegan diets provide numerous health benefits like lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Though these diets can lead to some deficiencies, one can make up for these with fortified foods and supplements.