A vegan diet consists of purely plant-based foods. This diet is predominantly based on fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains, and seeds. Vegans do not consume any animal products, including eggs, fish, and dairy. Vegans also avoid animal byproducts like gelatin and honey.
People choose veganism for a range of reasons, including health, religion, and concern for animal welfare and/or the environment.
How the Vegan Diet Works
- Eat a range of high-fiber plant-based foods
- Plenty of fresh and dried fruits and vegetables
- Drink the recommended six to eight cups of water per day
- Maintain a healthy sleeping schedule
- Aim to exercise regularly
The Diet Plan
The vegan diet can provide all the nutrients the body needs. However, formulating a diet plan is the best way to keep track of dietary requirements as a vegan. Protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals are the foundations of any diet.
Many vegans and non-vegans alike can miss some vital nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, and iron. These can all be sourced from plant-based foods, and are readily available in a well-planned vegan diet.
Fruit and Vegetables
A healthy vegan diet includes at least five servings of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day.
Meals should have a basis of carbohydrates like bread, rice, pasta, or starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Other options include couscous and quinoa, ideally wholegrain varieties.
To source additional fats, calcium, and probiotics, vegans should aim to include dairy alternatives like plant-based drinks (including soy and oat) and vegan cheeses. Those fortified with extra calcium and B12 can help to provide essential nutrients. Women may also consider plant-based milk designed for females, fortified with iron, folate, and omega-3.
To obtain necessary healthy fats like omega 3, include foods like avocado and chia seeds in meals throughout the day.
Rich protein sources such as legumes, especially beans, grains, and pulses should form a significant part of the daily vegan diet. Including a range of protein sources in each meal will help to provide the full set of essential amino acids the body requires.
Additionally, vegan yogurts with added probiotics can help to support healthy gut function. These can replace traditional dairy yogurts. To make healthier choices, select low-sugar options when possible.
When cooking, aim to use small quantities of oils and spreads, ideally those low in saturated fats.
Like any diet, the vegan diet should include lots of fluids. Water is the healthiest way to hydrate, and it is recommended to drink roughly 6 to 8 cups per day.
A healthy vegan diet does not have to be expensive. Sourcing ingredients from local markets and buying in-season can help to reduce the cost of groceries.
Making meals from scratch at home can be an effective way to save money, as convenience food in any diet can be costly. Basic vegan staples like tofu, rice, pasta, and beans are generally low-cost and can form the basis of many healthy vegan meals. Buying whole foods in bulk can also help to reduce expenses.
Dos and Don’ts
- Eat a variety of foods from different food groups
- Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day
- Seek foods that will provide essential nutrients like B12, calcium, and iron
- Source foods from local markets and wholefood stores
- Rely on heavily processed vegan products
- Miss key nutrients like B12, iron, and calcium
- Fail to replace animal proteins with equivalent vegan sources
- Forget that any diet needs to be well-planned to be effective
Sample Diet Plan
Oatmeal (ideally wholegrain) with additional fruit. Breakfast is a great time to add in some fruit like berries and bananas.
Try a roast vegetable salad with roasted chickpeas. Add avocado for a healthy fat source. For vegan salad dressings, opt for ingredients like tahini (made from sesame seeds) and avoid sauces high in saturated fat.
Lentil pasta dish with additional seasonal vegetables. A quarter of the dish should consist of vegetables like broccoli, carrot, and kale.
Health Benefits and Drawbacks of the Vegan Diet
There are many potential health benefits of the vegan diet. As veganism becomes increasingly popular, research on the subject is growing. Current studies suggest a vegan diet that is done well may:
- Help with weight loss and management
- Reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol
- Reduce the risk of some cancers
- Significantly reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure
- Help manage diabetes by lowering insulin levels
A vegan diet is often linked to weight loss. Eating high-fiber whole foods can help maintain fullness throughout the day. This way, it is easier to remain in a calorie deficit and lose excess weight.
When the vegan diet is done well, there can be many benefits. But as with all diets, it can be easy to overlook key nutrients and become an unhealthy vegan. Because B12 (the type humans can absorb) is not readily available in plants, vegans who do not seek out B12 fortified products may develop a deficiency.
- Vitamin B 12
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Other concerns for people adopting the vegan diet can relate to food restrictions at social events. Because the vegan diet excludes many food groups, it is likely that vegan options at social events will not be vegan-friendly. It can be helpful to let friends and hosts know about any diet change to ensure there will be some vegan options available.
The Bottom Line: Is Vegan Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
Anyone can benefit from eating a wider variety of plant-based foods. Veganism is one way to make lasting changes that will aid long-term weight loss and management. Vegans tend to have lower BMI (body mass index) scores and are slimmer on average compared to non-vegans.
Veganism alone does not ensure weight loss. It is about making the healthiest choices possible. Many vegans can rely on high-sodium, high-sugar processed foods, which will not aid weight loss.
A healthy lifestyle involving a plant-based diet, regular exercise, sleep, and hydration can all help to maintain a healthy weight.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.