Step away from the fad diets, crash weight loss plans, and all those diets with fancy names. Before you get to any of them, there is vegetarianism and veganism. Both of these are similar, but there are some substantial differences. Veganism is the strictest of the two diets and cuts out all animal products, whether the animals were allowed to remain alive or not.
If you want to follow a vegan diet, you will need to make major changes to your diet. The type of changes will depend on the exact type of diet that you follow right now. This is a way of life and not just one of those diets that you follow for a few weeks to lose some weight.
There are certainly many health benefits to following a vegan diet. You could find you have a new lease on life, and there are many restaurants now offering vegan-only dishes to help you continue this way of life. However, there are dangers and problems that you will need to be aware of.
In this article, we’ll look at everything you could possibly need to know about following the vegan diet and dangers that you need to look out for a while on it. We’ll also take a look at steps to take to start following the diet, so you don’t shock your body or make too many changes too quickly that you find almost impossible to keep up with.
Veganism vs. Vegetarianism: What’s the Difference?
It’s easy to get the two types of diets confused. In fact, as you start searching for vegan diets, you may have had vegetarianism in your mind.
Vegetarian diets consist of anything where animals haven’t been killed to eat or drink. Vegetarians won’t eat any animal flesh, whether it comes from a chicken, cow, or even fish. Anything that doesn’t involve the killing of the animals is allowed. This means that eggs and milk are allowed.
Meat substitutes are perfectly fine to eat, as they don’t contain animal flesh. There are some vegetarians who will take things slightly further and not have eggs but will have meat. Others will choose not to have red meat but eat poultry or fish. It all depends on the spectrum of the diet.
Veganism is a form of vegetarian and takes this diet to the extreme. All animal products are banned from the diet—and even from clothing and lifestyle. It’s not just meat that is banned, but you also have to get rid of the milk, eggs, and butter from the diet. The lifestyle goes into fashion, where leather belts can’t be used and anything tested on animals isn’t used.
There’s only one type of vegan diet, which differs from the vegetarian way of life. You can’t pick and choose which foods you have or products you cut out of your life. However, you can incorporate other diets into your lifestyle. Some vegans will also opt for the raw food diet at the same time, which is something that Gwyneth Paltrow is known for following. There are also Paleo Vegans, who will follow the paleo diet but without any of the meat products. Really, it means they don’t eat any processed foods as well as animal products.
How deep you get into the world of dieting is completely up to you. If you want to follow another diet while being a vegan, that’s your prerogative. Right now, we’ll just focus on following the traditional vegan diet, which involves the cutting out of all types of animal products.
Myth vs. Fact of the Vegan Diet
There are so many health benefits of following the vegan diet. The problem is there are some dangers, and people tend to exaggerate the downsides and dangers to the point where it’s difficult to tell what is a myth and what is fact. It’s worth taking in all the possible information to help you make an informed decision over the diet you will follow for the rest of your life.
Fact: You’ll Absorb So Much More Nutrition Than Ever Before
When you cut out all the animal products, all you’re left with is food that is extremely nutritious for your body. You’ll also be able to absorb far more nutrients than ever before, which means you can focus on improving the health of all your organs.
Let’s just start with the carbohydrates that you get. Just because you’re cutting out animal products doesn’t mean that you have to focus on processed carbs that lead to high blood sugar and the potential of developing Type II diabetes. There’s still a focus on getting the right types of carbohydrates.
Carbs are a necessary part of the diet, as much as some of the crash or fad diets will have you believe. They help to offer the body energy it needs, so there is no need to take the calories from the muscles. You’ll find it easier to maintain a toned and strong body.
Your diet will also be high in fibre thanks to all the fruit and vegetables you’ll be eating. High fibre diets are extremely beneficial for supporting your digestive system and bowels. You’ll find that your bowel movements are softer without being too loose, especially as you’ll intake a good mixture of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Fibre has also been linked to reducing the risk of colon cancer because it helps to keep the cells working and reduces the chances of tumours growing.
There are some people who find that too much fibre upsets their stomach, causing cramping and bloating. You will still need to balance it out with all the other food groups, which is why meat substitutes are recommended, along with soy milk.
You’ll also get a great intake of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and folate. These three minerals are all often overlooked and avoided because we don’t get the right type of food, but they play extremely important roles in the regular workings of our bodies.
For example, magnesium is essential for helping the body absorb more calcium. The two minerals work together to help create strong bones. Potassium helps to balance the acidity levels within your body and supports the kidneys so they get the toxins out of the body. It can help to ward off cardiovascular disease while helping to reduce the risk of some cancers. As these two minerals do this, folate helps to repair the cells and generates all blood cells. It helps the amino acids to metabolise, which helps to create energy and repair the muscles after a workout.
It’s very easy to forget about all of them when you consider that they come from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Before a vegan diet, you’re more likely focusing on the meat to get your nutrients, when really all this does is add saturated fat to your diet.
And saturated fat is bad. It’s not just found in meat products but in all animal products. While our bodies need some fat, the fats that saturate end up created blockages in the arteries that lead to heart disease and stroke. The saturated fats can stop many of the vital vitamins and minerals from absorbing into the body.
We’ve not even finished touching on all the vitamins and minerals that you’ll get by focusing on a vegan way of life. You’ll get far more antioxidants and vitamin C than ever before. Both of these are vital for the immune system and fighting off various infectious diseases.
Vitamin C is one of those that can’t be developed by or stored in the body. The only way you can get it in is by eating more foods that have it in on a daily basis. While oranges are good sources, they’re not the only sources. You can also get it from other red and orange fruits and vegetables, including peppers and carrots.
Vitamin C is actually a type of antioxidant. You may have already heard that antioxidants can help to fight against cancer, but they’re also excellent for protecting the body from the development of dementia, gum disease, and many other conditions. You see, they help the cells heal faster and grow without abnormalities. The antioxidants fight the free radicals that are within the body, helping to prevent all the conditions that they cause.
Antioxidants will also help to support the immune system, meaning that you fight off infections much easier. If you are suffering from cancer or autoimmune conditions, you have a much better chance of surviving them and fighting them off because you have the right type of vitamins and minerals within your body.
While on the topic of cancer, let’s remember that the vegan lifestyle also helps you get more phytochemicals into your body. These heal the body from the likes of cancer by releasing protective enzymes within the system. The antioxidants then work with the enzymes to reduce the free radicals and stop the cells from mutating and cancer spreading around the body.
Fact: Cancer Isn’t The Only Disease You’ll Prevent
We’ve focused a lot on cancer so far, but that’s because it is one of those diseases that is at the top of diseases to ward off and fight. It doesn’t have a cure yet.
However, it’s not the only disease that you’ll fight when you switch to a vegan diet. You’ll also fight against cardiovascular disease. It’s not just the reduction of saturated fats that does this. You’ll focus on more whole grains and nuts, which offer the healthy fats that your body needs for support. Studies have shown that those who go vegan have a lower chance of stroke or heart attack.
The studies have also shown that there is a lower risk of developing Type II diabetes. You may initially think that this study has to be wrong: you’re getting more simple carbs, aren’t you? Doesn’t that mean more foods that sugar? Well, not quite. The vegan lifestyle will cut out the likes of cheese, yoghurt, milk, butter, and other similar products. That means you’re cutting out the main ingredients used in cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats. Your sugar levels drop and some simple carbs you eat during the day won’t affect your body as much.
In fact, people have found following the vegan diet is much easier than following the diet put forward by the American Diabetic Association. It’s more cut and dry, and easier to follow the levels set out.
When you do have pasta, rice, and even bread, you can focus on the whole grain options. These contain more fibre, which means they don’t have as many carbs that will sugar within the body. The diet isn’t just about cutting out all animal products from your lifestyle, but about focusing on a healthier way of life.
Along with all this, your blood pressure is likely to be lowered, along with your cholesterol levels. Remember that you’re cutting out all that saturated fat. Bad cholesterol is mostly from the animal products. You’ll be putting the good cholesterol into your body, and your heart will really appreciate that.
And yes, we’ve already touched on cancer, but it’s worth looking at it quickly again. What I didn’t tell you when looking into the vitamins and minerals that you get is that studies have shown vegan diets help to prevent and even treat cancer. There have been some cases where prostate cancer has been completely stopped because of a chance in the diet. Women are less likely to develop breast cancer when following a vegan diet because of the lack of animal products within the diet.
The health of the eyes also benefits thanks to this change of diet. Those who eat more fruits and vegetables will reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration, especially when it is age related. This is because of all those vitamins and minerals that you’re getting. Focus on more orange-coloured foods for this benefit in full, including pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
Worried about cataracts? Like macular degeneration, they can be warded off by chance to your diet. Studies are still being conducted, but so far the same types of fruits and vegetables could help to prevent the condition from developing. You can also focus on foods that have a large amount of antioxidants to help protect the cells and prevent them developing the film over your cornea.
With the extra vitamins and minerals, you can also strengthen your bones. This means a lower risk of developing diseases like osteoporosis and arthritis. Both of these are connected to age and the diet. Arthritis, in particular, can benefit from a diet that doesn’t cause as much inflammation in the body. The lower amounts of sugar mean that the body doesn’t have the same inflammatory response, which is linked to arthritis and even chronic pain. You can benefit even more if you switch to a gluten-free vegan diet.
As for the osteoporosis, a low sodium diet also helps to lower the risk of this. By getting less sodium, your body will absorb more nutrients. However, you will need to make sure you get enough protein in your diet. This is one of the dangers that we’ll touch on later in this article.
Fact: Your Weight and Skin Will Thank You
Finally, there are numerous physical ways that you will benefit from the vegan lifestyle. Those vitamins and minerals do far more than just protecting your organs.
One of the biggest parts of your body is often forgotten about as an organ: your skin. This needs blood, water, and nutrition to look and feel great. If you don’t get the right balance, you can end up with dry, flaky, red, and inflamed skin. With the wrong type of diet, it can be full of acne, and you could suffer from a rough complexion.
You need vitamin E, which your body will get plenty of with a vegan lifestyle. The diet also helps you intake more water, which improves circulation and hydration for the skin. Vitamin A is also something your skin needs. While you won’t get the vitamin A from the meat products, you will still get some from the vegetables that you’ll be eating. You may be surprised at how blemish-free your skin looks.
Your weight will also thank you. Deep down you know that all that meat is just adding calories to your plate. Add in the milk, cheese, chocolate, and cake, and you’ll soon realise just why you’re gaining so much weight. You’re taking in far more calories than your body is burning off.
This doesn’t happen with a vegan diet. Sure, you’re still getting calories. You will still get them from the potatoes, pasta, and other carb-rich foods, but you won’t get as many throughout the day. You certainly won’t get as many empty calories: the calories that just bring all the unnecessary harm at the same time.
Fruits and vegetables will make up the majority of your diet, and definitely, don’t have as many calories. Instead, they’re full of water and fibre to help you feel fuller.
Not only do you eat fewer calories, but you’ll feel like you’re eating more. You’ll not even notice yourself eating less, so losing weight comes naturally to you!
Worried about your energy levels? Well, there’s really no need to do that. Even without the meat, you will still get your energy from good sources. You’ll get plenty of fibre and protein through your lentils, legumes, and even nuts. You’ll get carbohydrates to burn through, and plenty of healthy fats that will get your liver to create ketones.
You’ll feel like you can do more on a daily basis!
At the same time, your vegan diet helps to eliminate bad breath and body odour. Your hair will look healthier, and your nails will grow through stronger. Any migraines you once had will start to disappear as you’ll no longer be nutrient deficient. You may even find that your allergies clear up or you don’t have as many symptoms, as you cut out the foods that tend to create them.
But doesn’t a vegan lifestyle lead to too many of certain nutrients and not enough of other necessary food groups? Isn’t there a risk of deficiencies in other areas?
Well, this is certainly the case. There are dangers that you need to understand. The best thing about these dangers is that you can find ways around to prevent them. This is where knowing about the myths comes in.
Myth: You Don’t Get Enough Protein
There’s a common misconception that you don’t take in enough protein when you follow a vegan lifestyle. Too many people believe that protein only comes from meat—or that it is the best source.
The truth is you can get protein from so many other foods. You get it from legumes, lentils, some whole grains, and even certain vegetables. Yes, protein is an essential food group, but you don’t have to get overly creative to fit it into your diet.
If there are certain foods that you don’t like or can’t eat—for example, you may have a nut allergy, but nuts are excellent sources of protein—then you could always opt for some supplements. Protein powders can be made with vegan recipes, just avoid casein and whey ones!
Myth: You Won’t Get Enough Calcium
Another misconception is that you can only get calcium from dairy products. Your body definitely needs calcium if you want to get strong bones.
But haven’t we already looked at how a vegan lifestyle can help support your bones and teeth? Surely this has to be a myth then.
Yes, it is a major myth. As I said, it’s a misconception that calcium only comes from dairy. In fact, dark leafy greens are excellent sources of calcium. It’s worth adding more spinach, broccoli, and kale to your diet.
While we’re on the subject of these types of vegetables, another myth is that you won’t get enough iron into your diet. Yes, there are certainly some vegans who suffer from anaemia. This is often linked to the problem with not balancing the diet just right; not getting the right types of vegetables in the diet.
The truth is that dark leafy greens are essentials. They should be added to any type of diet that you follow because they are so full of necessary vitamins and minerals.
If you really struggle with getting more calcium, iron and other minerals in your diet, you could always consume supplements to help you. See your doctor if you’re worried about any deficiencies that your diet may be leading to.
Myth: It Doesn’t Support My Gluten-Free Lifestyle
I’ve already mentioned that a gluten-free vegan diet is something that you can follow. This could be viewed as a paleo-vegan lifestyle since the Paleo diet cuts out gluten as much as possible.
Being a vegan doesn’t mean that you have to stop following the current diet that you’re on. In most cases, the vegan lifestyle will support your current one. All you’re doing is cutting out the animal products. You can substitute them for others, including soy milk in place of normal milk or tofu in place of meat.
Following the vegan diet doesn’t mean that you need to eat more gluten foods. In fact, you’ll be cutting out the refined sugar foods that tend to contain most of the gluten. You’ll also cut out some of the meat products that have hidden amounts of gluten in them. All you’ll need to do is keep cutting out all the other foods. These don’t include the staples like vegetables, fruits, and lentils.
Myth: I Won’t Get Any Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is one of those nutrients that is mostly found in animal products. It is in a few other foods, but you’ll get most of your daily intake from meat products.
This is the one that most vegans are deficient in. Make sure you take a supplement or stock up on the allowed foods that have plenty of vitamin B12 in.
Why is it so important? This is the nutrient that keeps your DNA developing and repaired. It helps to keep the nervous system in check. Without it, your whole body could shut down. Some of the symptoms include rapid weight loss, shaking, tiredness, and nerve issues.
It’s Time to Follow Your Vegan Diet: 5 Steps to Accomplish It
Now that you know all about the vegan diet, it’s time to start following it. Just how do you do it? Should you go cold turkey on meat or introduce it slowly.
Step 1: What Type of Person are You?
Really, this will depend on the type of person that you are. For some, the cold turkey approach is the best. Pick your last day of eating animal products and really enjoy it. After that opt for your vegan lifestyle. Other people need to cut things out a little at a time. Too much change is just too much for them. What type of person are you? It’s okay to be one or the other!
Think about the changes that you’ve made in the past. Think about how you feel when someone tells you that you can’t have something on a diet.
Don’t worry about making the wrong decision. You may think you can do it cold turkey and then find you slip up. Take it a day at a time, but do really think hard about the type of person you are.
Step 2: Be Prepared for the Questions
This is a major change to your lifestyle. It’s not just going to affect you but everyone else around you. If you’re a vegan, then people will need to think about whether there is something for you to eat at family meals or get-togethers. They’ll need to make sure that any gifts they buy you don’t include animal products or weren’t tested on animals.
Family members may also be worried. There will be a lot of questions and concerns. Try not to get angry with them. It’s not the fact that they don’t want you to look after yourself, but just the opposite. They want to make sure that you’re looking for every part of you—that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.
They’ll bring up some of the myths we’ve covered and question you about why you’re making these changes. They’ll want to know what it means for them and those who live with you. And they’ll be interested in the other changes you’re making in your life: like your clothes you wear and the skincare products you’ll use.
It’s easy to get defensive and try to make excuses, but remember that this is for you. Make it clear that it is working for you and it’s the end of discussion if you want to move the conversation on.
Step 3: Decide on Your Substitutes
Think about the substitutes that you’re going to add into your diet. Will you switch completely to soy and tofu or are you going to look at some of the other ways of getting protein, vitamin B12, and iron?
Don’t forget to do your research into all your options. While soy is considered a dairy alternative, there are still studies being conducted into it. We don’t know all the damage it could do to the heart or the effect that it has on cancer development.
You’ll also need to look out for the sodium levels in your meat substitutes. They tend to be high, which cause some of the same problems as eating meat!
Step 4: Assess How You Feel
After a few weeks on a diet, think carefully about how you feel on it. Do you feel any better or is it actually causing you some discomfort, pain, and mental health issues?
Sure, you may want to push past it, but you’ll need to make sure that you’re not depriving yourself of certain nutrients. If you do feel at all ill from it, discuss your diet with your doctor and have tests conducted.
This is sometimes while a gradual change is good. You can add more plant-based products first and then start taking out meat and dairy. With gradual changes, you won’t realise that you miss items as much and are more likely to notice benefits to your health a lot easier since you don’t focus on what you can’t have and more on what you can have.
Step 5: Read the Labels
When you first make the switch, be prepared to read the labels and do a lot of research into what those strange words mean. There will be foods that don’t look vegan initially that actually are.
Gelatin is meat-based, while whey and casein are milk-based! Suet is another meat-based product, and all of these tend to be found in granolas, sweets, and cereals. Make sure your favourites don’t include them, or you could end up accidentally not following your vegan lifestyle.
Oh and don’t forget the food colourings! Natural Red 4 is derived from dried beetles—yes, really! Some foods will be labeled synthetic, which means that they could come from some animal products, while cattle bones could be used as processing agents. You’ll need to get in touch with some manufacturers if you’re not certain. This is why some people stick to the raw vegan diet! It’s just so much easier!
Are you ready to start your vegan lifestyle? There are certainly numerous major benefits to following the lifestyle, whether you want to protect your heart, bones, or overall health. Sure, there are myths, and there are some dangers, but you’ll be able to work your way around them, whether it means finding other sources of nutrients or taking vegan-friendly supplements. Take the steps above and start following your vegan diet to improve your life.