The Vegan Diet: Basics and Benefits
What is veganism, and why do people support it?
According to a 2018 Gallup Survey, 3% of the U.S. population identified as vegan. However, roughly 40% of the U.S. population prefers eating and shopping plant-based foods over conventional meat and dairy products whenever they have the option (Nielson 2018). In fact, the 2020 Oscars made headlines, not because of the usual buzz surrounding the film industry, but for the first time, the menu was mostly vegan.
There are numerous reasons why people choose to follow this diet. Today, Tastermonial is diving into those details and how veganism can potentially benefit your overall health and wellness.
What is Veganism?
Veganism is the practice of forgoing any products that are made or produced by animals. While veganism is mainly attributed to a vegan diet, it can also be applied to clothes, cosmetics, and other consumer products.
When it comes to the diet, people often use “vegan” and “plant-based” interchangeably. While this may be true in certain situations, veganism emphasizes the exclusion of animal-based products while “plant-based” emphasizes the incorporation of vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc.
Foods Not Included in a Vegan Diet:
- Dairy (animal’s milk and anything made with that milk)
- Meat and Poultry
- Fish and Seafood Products
- Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly
Animal-Based Ingredients to Avoid:
- Gelatin (Carrageenan is a great alternative)
- Confectioner’s glaze (can be made by material secreted from the lac insect)
- L. Cysteine (often found in bread products, made from feathers or hair)
- Casein, Calcium Caseinate, or Sodium Caseinate (can be found in certain coffee creamers or cheeses claiming to be non-dairy)
- Isinglass (clarifying agent often found in beers and wines)
- Animal-derived Vitamin D3 and Omega-3 fatty acids
Why Go Vegan?
The main reasons why people choose to go vegan are for health, the environment, animal rights, or for all. As with any diet, it can be difficult navigating through all of the information spread across the internet. Today, Tastermonial will be breaking down each of these variables to help you better understand the vegan diet as a whole.
According to a 2019 systematic review on the effects of a plant-based diet on the body, it was found that individuals who switched from the conventional Western diet to a plant-based diet experienced positive results in weight loss, increased metabolism, and decreased inflammation. More specifically, individuals who suffer from obesity, poor bone health, a cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, may see an improvement in their overall health if they follow a plant-based diet.
Because a vegan diet is 100% plant-based, it tends to include fewer trans fats, saturated fats, and more dietary fiber. Because trans and saturated fats are often found in processed foods, which are also high in sugar and empty calories, this increase in fruits and vegetables is especially beneficial for individuals who suffer from obesity, a cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.
A common rebuttal used against becoming vegan is the potential lack of calcium, and therefore poor bone health, caused by not consuming cow’s milk. However, studies have shown that there is no correlation between excluding cow’s milk and an increase in bone fractures. Rather, because the vegan diet encourages consumption of fruits and vegetables, and therefore high consumption of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K, retention of calcium in bones is increased.
In addition, contrary to popular belief, vegans are usually not protein deficient. This is because protein can be obtained from numerous plant-based foods.
Foods High in Protein:
- Nuts and seeds
- Tofu, tempe, edamame
- Chickpeas, beans
- Quinoa, amaranth, wild rice
- Chia seeds, hemp seeds
- Some vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts)
For the Environment
It is no secret that the world is facing a climate crisis. Many believe there is nothing they can do to make a meaningful impact. However, everyone can take steps to living a more sustainable lifestyle. No matter how small it is, remember that it is still doing something.
One way to reduce your carbon footprint is by eating a vegan diet or by adopting more plant-based principles. According to the University of Michigan, meat accounts for 56.6% of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by food production while dairy accounts for 18.3% of it and fish and seafood only account for 5.8% of it. Minimizing your intake of animal products can reduce your carbon footprint by decreasing the amount of space livestock take up, the amount of resources (water, feed) diverted to maintaining livestock, the amount of pollution that is drained into the soil, and the amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, that is released by cows. Your impact can be as simple as opting for a veggie burger over a beef burger or asking for plant milk in your coffee over cow’s milk.
Calculate your carbon footprint here.
Calculate your ecological footprint here.
For the Animals
Fighting for animal rights was the catalyst for solidifying the vegan diet as a widely recognized diet option. Animal cruelty may be a difficult subject to discuss, but it is important to recognize that this is an ongoing issue.
In terms of agriculture, the main problem surrounding livestock management is the use of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), large-scale facilities that raise livestock at high density. CAFOs are problematic because they increase the spread of animal diseases, increase the need to use antibiotics and hormones, and amplify pollution from manure and other agricultural activities.
If you choose to purchase meat or dairy products, it is in your best interest to buy from farms that have livestock that are pasture raised, antibiotic/hormone free, pesticide free, and grass-fed (for cows). These factors ensure that the livestock are living a comfortable life, not being fed unnecessary medications, and not heavily polluting the environment. Not only is it good for the livestock and the environment, but it is important for your health.
Nuts and Bolts of a Vegan Diet
No matter what drives you to pursue a vegan lifestyle, it is important to stay vigilant and educated on maintaining the basic nutrition your body needs. While plants are amazing, there are some nutrients that cannot be found in plants.
Nutrients Not Found in Plants:
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps maintain blood and nerve cells. Those who have a vitamin B12 deficiency may develop anemia, numbness, and overall weakness. Vegan products that can provide this nutrient are fortified plant milks, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Creatine helps build and maintain muscles. Unfortunately, there are currently not a lot of plant-based foods, if any, that are fortified with creatine. The optimal way to obtain recommended amounts of creatine for vegans is by taking a supplement.
Carnosine is another nutrient that helps maintain muscle function. Because carnosine is primarily found in meat, poultry, and fish, the optimal way to obtain recommended amounts of carnosine for vegans is by taking a supplement.
It is widely known that vitamin D can be obtained from sunshine. However, during the winter months, it may be necessary to take vitamin D supplements. Unfortunately, most vitamin D3 supplements are made from cholecalciferol, an animal-based dietary vitamin D3 ingredient. When purchasing vitamin D supplements, make sure to purchase vegan vitamin D3, which is made from lichen, or vitamin D2, which is also plant-based but not as effective as vitamin D3.
DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that aids brain function. Therefore, it is often found in fatty fish, such as salmon and trout. Fortunately, foods such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts, are all high in DHA.
Iron helps maintain red blood cell function. Heme iron can be found in meat, poultry and fish but non-heme iron can be found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Even though iron is naturally occurring in many plant foods, vegans are still more likely to become iron deficient. If this becomes the case, vegan iron supplements may also be helpful.
Taurine is an amino acid that can be found in various body tissues. While Taurine is not essential for the human diet, it does play a role in muscle function and other bodily functions. Vegans can incorporate more taurine into their diet through supplementation.
If well-planned, these nutrient deficiencies can be avoided. It never hurts to reach out to a medical professional or licensed dietitian to receive advice and guidance on how to structure your vegan diet to maximize your health.
How the Vegan Tasterbox Can Help
The Tastermonial Vegan Tasterbox is filled with full-size food products from trustworthy brands perfect for the whole family. All grocery items in this box are free from any animal products and sourced from natural food brands. Our team and certified dietitian ensures that the foods are good for you AND taste delicious.
Our goal at Tastermonial is to introduce you to good-for-you brands while expanding your options so you never feel limited in choices. Who said vegan can’t be delicious? No matter where you are in your healthy journey, whether you have been vegan for years or just starting out, the Vegan Tasterbox is a great way to discover new products while supporting emerging brands.
Each month, a new combination of groceries are placed into each Tasterboxes – the fun never ends. This June, the Gluten-Free Tasterbox is also 100% vegan. If you fall in love with a product from a previous box, you can find them at the Tastermonial grocery store.
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Tastermonial content is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Take necessary precautions when handling information regarding food and nutrition. If you are ever unsure about pursuing a particular diet, make sure to consult a medical professional or licensed dietitian for more individual guidance.