Terry is a nationally registered dietetic technician with a degree in dietetics from Pennsylvania State University. She has written numerous articles, blogs and e-books on health and food-related topics.
A vegan diet, also known as a strict vegetarian diet, excludes animal products of any kind, including eggs and dairy products. The diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Processed foods that are vegan friendly can also be included in the diet.
The vegan diet was first officially recognized in 1944 when Donald Watson, an Englishman and staunch supporter of animal rights, not only coined the term vegan but started the first vegan society. Even though the word vegan did not officially exist until then, a vegan diet was surely practiced by many before that time. Early man and many religions and ancient cultures focused their diet primarily, if not completely, around plant-based foods. Today the statistics tell us approximately 2% or 8 million people in the United States alone are following a vegan diet. The trend towards veganism is still growing for many reasons. More and more people are becoming aware of the benefits associated with a vegan diet, packaged vegan foods are showing up everywhere, and many celebrities have jumped on the vegan bandwagon too. While a vegan diet is appropriate for losing weight and restoring health, many practice veganism for ethical reasons. Ethical vegans are concerned about the suffering of animals and the environmental destruction which comes from raising animals for food.
A vegan diet is relatively easy to follow due to the wide variety of foods the diet provides. There are also many processed alternatives available to replace the animal products some dieters may miss when embarking upon this way of eating.
A healthy vegan diet is a cost-effective approach to losing weight. Vegan foods can be purchased at the local grocery store, farmer’s market, or in bulk. If processed foods make up a large portion of the diet shopping trips could become quite costly.
A healthy vegan diet requires planning and shopping. Food preparation can be as simple and quick as making a salad or quite involved and time-consuming when attempting certain recipes. The key is to balance out these approaches based upon individual time constraints.
As supported by the American Dietetic Association, an appropriately planned vegan diet that focuses on healthy foods can meet all the nutrient needs of an individual.
A vegan diet is largely accepted in society as a reasonable approach to health and weight loss. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly The American Dietetic Association), the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, published a position paper in 2009 on vegetarian and vegan diets. The paper states: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Benefits: A vegan diet dependent upon fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds (as opposed to processed foods) will decrease the risk of chronic disease due to the elimination of cholesterol and saturated animal fat and protein. The diet’s high fiber content and abundance of antioxidants and phytochemicals support the body in losing weight and fighting off disease.
Downsides: It’s easy to slip into the “junk food” vegan diet. Vegan junk food is still junk food after all, e.g., those little chocolate cookies with the “cream” in the middle are actually vegan. When following this kind of vegan diet there are very little health benefits and achieving a weight loss goal is nearly impossible.
The Bottom Line: The vegan diet when embraced as a whole foods diet is a good approach to weight loss and overall health. With all the cookbooks, recipes, and on-line support available (as well as easy to find foods), the diet is not only doable, but also enjoyable, and offers a lifetime approach to weight loss, not a quick fix.