Vegan Diet Overview: Types, Food Lists, Benefits, And More

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A vegan burger with lots of veggies like onion, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and burger patty in it.

What Is A Vegan Diet | Eat Vs. Avoid | Vegan Vs. Vegetarian | Types | Why Go Vegan | Benefits Vs. Drawbacks | Transitioning Guide | Essential Nutrients | Vegan Supplements | Beginners Diet Plan | Weight Loss Diet Plan | For Diabetics | For Heart Health | Tips For Dining Out

The vegan diet is gaining popularity as people recognize its health, environmental and ethical benefits. However, as a vegan diet eliminates certain food groups, it can often feel restrictive.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about the vegan diet, including vegan types, food lists, benefits, and alternatives.

What is a vegan diet?

Veganism is an ethical lifestyle choice that avoids any animal products, including food, clothing, and cosmetics.

A part of the vegan lifestyle is the vegan diet, which is a plant-based diet that excludes all animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy. It includes plenty of nutrient-dense foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

According to a recent survey, [1]Vegetarian Times: Vegetarianism In America about 7.3 million Americans follow vegetarianism, and more than 1 million among them are vegan. 

What do vegans eat and avoid?

Although the vegan diet is restrictive, a variety of plant foods provide vegan-friendly sources of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and other essential nutrients. Here is a list of foods you should eat and avoid on a vegan diet. 

Foods to eatFoods to avoid
Fruits and vegetableEggs and meat
Nuts and seedsSeafood
LegumesDairy foods
Whole grainsHoney
Dairy-free milk, yogurt, cheese, and butterRefined white sugar
Plant-based vegan proteins such as tofu and tempehAnimal-derived ingredients such as fish oil, gelatin, collagen, and whey

Vegan vs. vegetarian diets

Both vegan and vegetarian diets are plant-based diets. The main difference between the two is that vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, while a vegetarian diet may include eggs, dairy, and other animal products in their diet.

There are different types of vegetarians and vegans. Here is a list of the types of vegetarians based on their food preferences:

  • Lacto-vegetarian- Do not eat meat, fish, and eggs but consume dairy foods.
  • Ovo vegetarian- Do not eat meat, fish, and dairy foods but consume eggs.
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian- Do not eat meat or fish but consume dairy and eggs.
  • Pesco vegetarian- Do not eat meat and poultry but consume eggs, dairy, and seafood.

Types of vegan diets

Although a strict vegan diet consists of vegan foods only, there are different types of vegan diets. The vegan spectrum includes the following vegan types.

1. Whole-food vegan diet

A whole-food vegan diet focuses on consuming plant-based whole foods. This means eliminating processed foods, oils, and other refined products.

Whole-food vegans typically eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

2. Raw vegan diet

A raw vegan diet focuses on consuming only vegan foods that are raw or cooked at temperatures below 118°F or 48°C. Similar to a whole-food vegan diet, this vegan type focuses on consuming vegan foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.

According to studies, [2]ResearchGate: Pros and Cons of Raw Vegan Diet eating a raw vegan diet reduces the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

3. Raw till 4

Raw till 4 is similar to a raw vegan diet but with one key difference – cooked foods are allowed after 4 pm. So, for breakfast and lunch, you would consume raw plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, while dinner could be a cooked vegan meal.

4. 80/10/10

The 80/10/10 vegan diet involves consuming 80% of your calories from carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein. This diet limits vegan foods such as avocados, oils, nuts, and vegan meat substitutes.

5. Junk food vegan diet

A junk food vegan diet focuses on plant-based versions of unhealthy junk foods like cookies, chips, cakes, and so on.

While this type of diet may be technically vegan – since no animal products are consumed – it is not considered healthy by most experts. This is due to its highly processed sugar and fat content. 

6. Gluten-free vegan diet

A gluten-free vegan diet eliminates all animal products as well as gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, barley, and spelt.

This type of diet is often recommended for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Those following a gluten-free vegan diet typically eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, etc.

7. High-carb, low-fat vegan diet

The high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) vegan diet focuses on eating a higher amount of carbohydrates and lesser amounts of fat. This type of diet is rich in fiber and antioxidants. The vegan food list includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts.

Studies [3]National Library of Medicine: A Plant-Based High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet in Overweight Individuals in a 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial: The Role of Carbohydrates on a plant-based HCLF diet indicate that it is associated with beneficial effects on body composition and insulin resistance.

8. Low-carb vegan diet

A low-carb vegan diet focuses on consuming vegan foods that are low in carbohydrates. This diet is beneficial for those vegans who want to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and low cholesterol levels.

Why go vegan

People adopt vegan diets for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the potential reasons for going vegan.

  1. Improves health: Studies have indicated that vegan diets may reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes [4]National Library of Medicine: A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. This is because vegan foods generally do not contain any cholesterol or saturated fat.
  2. Environmental friendly: Vegan diets eliminate all animal foods. This helps protect the environment from the damage associated with animal agriculture.
  3. Animal cruelty: Vegans oppose animal exploitation and cruelty. A vegan diet is one way to show compassion and respect for animals. Vegans are also against animal testing and exploitation for food or clothing.
  4. Weight management: Vegan diets are generally low in calories and can be helpful for weight management. They are also fiber-rich, which helps keep you full and satisfied.

Health benefits of a vegan diet vs. drawbacks of a vegan diet

Although a plant-based diet is associated with several health benefits, a poorly planned vegan diet can lead to some health risks. 

Here is a quick glance at the vegan diet’s pros and cons.

BenefitsDrawbacks 
Low bad cholesterol level Nutrient deficiencies 
Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancerLow energy levels 
Helps in weight lossJoint pains 
Improves kidney functionDigestive problems 

Note: Following a healthy vegan diet can prevent the above-mentioned drawbacks. It is important to consult with a qualified nutritionist before switching to a vegan diet.

How to become vegan: A step-by-step guide

Switching from an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. This step-by-step guide can help you make the transition with ease.

1. Educate yourself

Before making any big changes to your diet, it is important that you understand what a vegan lifestyle entails and why people choose to follow it. Vegan diets come with a lot of benefits and a few drawbacks.  

Unlike other diets, veganism is not just a diet but a major lifestyle change. Thus, educate yourself about vegan diets before making a decision to opt vegan lifestyle. 

It’s also important to research any dietary needs specific to your age group or health condition to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs. 

2. Start slow

Making big changes overnight can be overwhelming and discouraging when progress isn’t seen right away. Instead of jumping straight into a fully vegan diet, start by removing animal products from some meals each week or trying out meatless Mondays.

You can also try replacing some animal products with plant-based alternatives such as tofu or tempeh instead of meat in dishes like stir fry or tacos.

Once you feel comfortable with these small changes, begin introducing more vegan recipes into your meal plan until you are eating only plant-based foods at every meal.

3. Know your food

It is important to know where your vegan food is coming from. Eating vegan doesn’t always mean eating healthy. Processed vegan foods like vegan burgers and vegan ice cream can be high in added sugars, fats, and sodium.

Be sure to read nutrition labels carefully and get the majority of your vegan food from whole, unprocessed sources like legumes, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

4. Experiment with plant-based foods

Exploring new flavors and ingredients is one of the most exciting parts of transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. 

Expanding your palate will help make this transition easier by introducing foods you may not have tried before and giving old favorites a facelift with veganized versions.

Meals should still be enjoyable, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different spices, herbs, and flavors in order to create delicious dishes that will keep you motivated on your journey toward becoming fully vegan. 

However, always remember to read labels and sources of foods to ensure they are vegan. 

5. Plan a balanced diet

A vegan diet isn’t just about eating vegan substitutes for animal products. It’s important to ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients your body needs. 

Proper vegan nutrition requires careful planning and education. Be sure to include foods from all the major food groups in your vegan meal plan. 

6. Speak to your personal nutritionist

Speak to your personal nutritionist before making any major changes to your diet. They can help you create a vegan meal plan that fills in any nutritional gaps. 

This is especially important if you are veganizing a diet due to a medical condition. Your dietician can provide valuable insight and advice on ensuring you get all the essential nutrients you need.

The vegan lifestyle is an accessible way to live a healthier, more sustainable life. With careful planning and preparation, veganism can be a delicious and nutritious dietary choice.

7. Be mindful of common animal-derived additives

When you are switching to a vegan diet, you must also be aware of animal-derived additives in vegan food and other products. Here is a list of commonly used additives you need to watch out for:

  • Gelatin (made from animal bones, cartilage, and skin) is used in capsules, cosmetics, ointments, and foods like candies, gummy bears, and marshmallows.
  • Collagen (made from animal tissues, bones, and skin) is used in cosmetics and skincare products.
  • Carmine (made from beetles ) is a red dye used in foods, drinks, and cosmetics.
  • Whey (a dairy protein) is found in vegan cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.
  • Rennet (an enzyme derived from the stomachs of calves and lambs) is used in cheese.

Getting your nutrients on a vegan diet

One of the major drawbacks of a vegan diet is nutrient deficiencies. As you eliminate animal products, you may miss important vitamins and minerals. Therefore, it is important to consume vegan foods rich in essential nutrients. 

Here is a list of nutrients you should be mindful of on a vegan diet and their vegan sources.

  • Vitamin B12: Fortified foods, nutritional yeast, plant-based meat, and dietary supplements
  • Vitamin D: Mushrooms, fortified cereals, and milk
  • Vitamin A: Apricots, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, and pumpkin
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts
  • Calcium: Broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified foods
  • Protein: Nuts and seeds, legumes, tofu, edamame, and quinoa
  • Iron: Legumes, tofu, fortified cereals, and lentils
  • Zinc: Whole grains and breakfast cereals
  • Iodine: Kale, strawberries, green beans, and potatoes. 

Supplements to take on a vegan diet

While some vegans can meet their nutritional needs with vegan foods, some vegans may need to take dietary supplements. Here is a list of popular vegan supplement brands:

  • Now Foods
  • VegLife
  • Mary Ruth’s Multivitamins
  • Ora Organic
  • Garden of Life

Vegan diet for beginners

Switching to a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily have to be hard. However, with a lot of mixed information and opinions, it can be difficult to know where to start. To make it easy for you, we have curated an easy meal plan to start your vegan journey.

1-week sample vegan meal plan for beginners

DayBreakfastLunchDinner 
SundayAvocado toast with peanut butterChickpea quinoa bowlWild rice with mushroom pilaf
MondayOatmeal with almond milkRed pesto pasta with spinach and cherry tomatoesQuinoa pasta with walnut pesto
TuesdayCoconut chia seed puddingHummus bowl and fried tofuCoconut rice with turmeric and spiced chickpeas
WednesdayApricot and blueberry breakfast crumbleChickpea salad sandwichVegan cream spinach with brown rice
ThursdayBlueberry and banana oatmealBlack bean burrito bowlAvocado pasta with spinach
FridayBanana bread with almond butterBaked sweet potatoes with brown ricePeanut butter apple nachos
SaturdayVegan bagel sandwich with tomatoes and avocadoQuinoa with sauteed veggiesSpicy rice noodles with crispy tofu

Weight loss with a vegan diet

A well-balanced vegan diet low in fat and processed vegan foods can help you lose weight. According to studies, weight loss [5]PubMed: Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: a randomized controlled trial of five different diets in a vegan diet is significantly higher than in other diets. This is because most vegan foods are low in calories.

1-week sample low-calorie vegan meal plan for weight loss

DayBreakfastLunchDinner 
SundayOatmeal pumpkin barsCrispy teriyaki tofu, and broccoliCreamy vegan mushroom risotto
MondayFlaxseed pancakeGreen bean curry with brown riceKorean bibimbap fried tofu bowl
TuesdayFudgy protein browniesThai quinoa salad with chickpeas, and peanut sauceVegan ribbon pasta with arrabbiata sauce
WednesdayVegan protein cookiesChinese eggplant in garlic sauceSweet potato bean salad
ThursdayOatmealQuinoa burrito bowlCrispy baked tofu with veggies
FridayBlackberry muffinsVegan sloppy joesZoodle with black bean meatballs
SaturdayCornmeal porridgeBlack bean burritosQuinoa stuffed bell peppers

Eating vegan as a diabetic

A balanced diet is important for managing diabetes. Plant-based diets are effective for the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. However, vegan diabetics need to monitor their food intake and focus on foods that are high in fiber and low in glycemic index.

Here are three macronutrients you need to consider and consciously add to your vegan diet if you are diabetic.

  • Proteins: Soy products such as soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lentils, peas, peanuts, seeds, and plant-based meat alternatives.
  • Healthy fats: Avocado oil, avocado nuts, seeds, coconut, chia seeds, flax seeds, and olive oil.
  • Carbohydrates: Whole grain flour bread, rice, quinoa, potatoes, corn, and oats.

Benefits

Diabetics can reap several benefits by moving over to a vegan diet. Here are three important benefits of the same:

  1. Blood sugar management: According to studies, [6]PubMed: Effect of a Brown Rice Based Vegan Diet and Conventional Diabetic Diet on Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A 12-Week Randomized Clinical Trial the vegan diet resulted in better glycemic control than the conventional diet. This is because vegan diets are high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and contain more plant-based proteins.
  2. Insulin sensitivity: Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance. Increasing insulin sensitivity can help reduce blood sugar and insulin levels. People who follow a vegan diet are less likely to take insulin injections.
  3. Weight management: Losing weight plays a key role in improving insulin sensitivity. As vegan diets are typically low in calorie and fat intake, type 2 diabetes patients can rely on vegan diets to manage their weight.

Vegan diet and heart health

Studies [7]ResearchGate: Mean Differences of Total Cholesterol Levels among Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians at Maha Vihara Maitreya Duta Palembang, Indonesia have shown that vegans tend to have significantly lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol than non-vegetarians do.

This is likely due to the fact that plant-based foods are naturally low in saturated fat and contain low cholesterol. In addition, consuming more plant foods has been associated with lower blood pressure and better glycemic control (i.e., better regulation of blood sugar).

Vegan diets can also provide protection against certain lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of heart disease. For example, vegans tend to consume less processed food than non-vegetarians, which may help reduce inflammation in the body and protect against oxidative damage.

Vegans also consume fewer calories overall than people who eat animal products — another factor that contributes to healthier weight management and improved cardiovascular health.

Good sources of plant-based nutrition for heart health

If you’re considering transitioning to a vegan diet for improved heart health, there are a few key nutrients you need to make sure you get enough from plant sources:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (found in walnuts and flaxseed oil)
  • Magnesium (found in legumes like lentils and black beans)
  • Potassium (found in sweet potatoes, bananas, and leafy greens)
  • Vitamin B12 (found in fortified cereals or supplements)
  • Iron (found in dark green vegetables)
  • Vitamin D (found in fortified milk alternatives or supplements)
  • Calcium (found in fortified soy milk or tofu)
  • Zinc (found in whole grains)


By ensuring you get enough of these key nutrients from plant sources regularly, you can support your overall health and heart health while following a vegan diet. 

Tips for eating out/dining out as a vegan

Eating out as a vegan can be challenging. However, vegan dining is possible with little effort and planning.

Here are some tips to make vegan meals when eating out.

1. Do your research before going

Look up vegan-friendly restaurants before you go out, and call ahead to ensure vegan options are available

2. Ask questions

Ask your server what vegan options they have and if they can make substitutions or modifications to their existing dishes.

3. Order side dishes

If you’re stuck with limited vegan options, order sides, like salads, steamed veggies, potatoes, etc., to make a full and satisfying meal.

4. Carry your own condiments and toppings

Carry your vegan condiments and toppings if you’re worried about non-vegan ingredients being used in the restaurant’s sauces or dressings.

Conclusion

A vegan diet is an excellent way to stop animal cruelty and improve overall health. A well-planned vegan diet can help you manage your weight, protect your heart health, and get all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. However, talk to your personal nutritionist before making any drastic dietary changes.

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