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A Whole Food Vegan Diet for Health and Vitality

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I commonly see people who are brand new to veganism/plant-based eating or, for that matter, healthy eating of any kind.  You don’t have to change overnight but the more you understand the benefits (and experience them), the more you fall in love with this type of eating!

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is a strict version of the “plant-based diet,” being void of all animal products (including animal flesh of any kind, dairy, eggs and honey).  There are, however, many versions of a vegan diet. 

For the sake of this post, I am referring to a whole food vegan diet.  This means that it does not include vegan processed food such as breads, chips, crackers, muffins, cereals etc., but it can include countless combinations of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

And don’t worry, I don’t believe in deprivation…  You can still have pizza, tacos, chips, desserts, crackers, etc… They are just from whole food sources!

 

Who is this diet good for?

A vegan diet (assuming it’s a balanced whole food version) is great for all stages of life including pregnancy, lactation and infancy.2  This means that it is both safe and effective for your toddler as well as your grandparents and everyone in between!

 

What’s so great about the vegan diet?

There are a few distinctions about a whole food vegan diet that make it wonderful for optimal health.  A whole food vegan diet is:

  • High in fiber
    • Helps to improve elimination (bowel movements)3
    • Nourishes the microbiome of the gut4
    • Improves satiety (when you feel fuller faster, you tend to eat fewer calories)5
    • ***PS: Fiber is ONLY found in plants… That should give us a strong clue about the optimal way of eating!
  • Prevents diseases, reducing risks of:
    • Type 2 diabetes6
    • Metabolic syndrome6
    • High blood pressure6
    • Colon cancer6
    • Obesity/overweight7
    • Heart disease6
    • All causes of mortality6
  • High density nutrition– you get more bang for your caloric buck of:
    • Vitamins and minerals8
    • Fiber8
    • Phytonutrients8

Who should avoid this diet?

Apart, perhaps, from religious practices that require animal products in the diet, there are no populations who would not be able to utilize and gain benefits from a whole food vegan diet.

 

What potential challenges can you run into on the vegan diet?

With a whole food vegan diet, the main concern is B12 deficiency.9  (Click here for more info on B12.)  It may be important to supplement with a good quality B12 or nutritional yeast to counter this concern.  Vitamin D3 can sometimes be of concern but that can be remedied easily by exposing skin to the sunshine on a regular basis or supplementing.8 

How do I start eating this way?

Here are tips to transition to a vegan diet:

  1. At first, just start crowding out the animal products and processed foods by increasing your intake of whole food sources of delicious and filling foods.  For example, if you start your breakfast with a large green smoothie, you’ll likely eat less even if you eat something else with it.  If you start your lunch with a big salad, you’ll likely eat less of it even if you eat something else with it.  Start your dinner with a big plate of veggies and hummus, etc… You get the idea.
  2. Play with spices.  Whatever flavors that you love, can likely be replicated in many dishes just by finding them in the spice rack.  For example, if you love Mexican food, add cumin, cayenne and garlic to your soups, salads, rice and beans, etc.  If you love Asian food, use tamari, ginger, garlic, etc.
  3. Find delicious substitutes for your favorite foods.  You can easily upgrade from cow’s milk to plant-based milks, from dairy cheese to Brazil nut cheese or from sugar sweetened treats to date sweetened treats without sacrificing the delicious flavors you’re looking for.
  4. Always be prepared with snacks.  Don’t leave your house without at least a couple of things you can grab if you’re hungry on the road.
  5. Start each morning with a delicious whole food vegan green smoothie.  These are fast, loaded with water, fiber and energy giving nutrition … and they taste great!

***Note: For those who may know of a vegan who is not very healthy, I’d like to iterate the point that there are lots of extremely unhealthy ways to be vegan.  I’ve known vegans who lived off bananas and almond butter. (Those foods are not a problem with the foods in general but 10 bananas and a jar of almond butter each day is no way to thrive. 🙂)  Or others who live off vegan donuts, Tofurkey frozen pizzas and Mountain Dew (yes, still all vegan)…

Doing a vegan diet with organic whole foods will yield a very different result than a diet that is full of vegan breads, chips, crackers, cookies and fake meat (which I commonly refer to as the “vegan version of the standard American diet).  Although these foods may be okay on rare occasion, it is not likely that they will support optimal health.  A junk food diet (regardless if its vegan or not), will yield many nutrient deficiencies.10

 

If you’re looking to dramatically improve your health, whole food veganism might be your next step in Getting Healthy Now.  Check out some of our other blogs for more information. 

Still need help?  I’d love to consult with you about how to customize your program to your specific needs.  It’s never too late and there’s always hope!

 

 

Resource list:

1. Silviarita. Salad bar picture. https://pixabay.com/photos/salad-fruits-berries-healthy-2756467/. Accessed December 2, 2020.

2. Baroni L, Goggi S, Battaglino R, et al. Vegan nutrition for mothers and children: Practical tools for healthcare providers. Nutrients. 2019. doi:10.3390/nu11010005

3. Zhao Y, Yu YB. Intestinal microbiota and chronic constipation. Springerplus. 2016. doi:10.1186/s40064-016-2821-1

4. Kaczmarczyk MM, Miller MJ, Freund GG. The health benefits of dietary fiber: Beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017

5. Hervik AK, Svihus B. The role of fiber in energy balance. J Nutr Metab. 2019. doi:10.1155/2019/4983657

6. Le LT, Sabaté J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: Findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 2014. doi:10.3390/nu6062131

7. Turner-McGrievy G, Mandes T, Crimarco A. A plant-based diet for overweight and obesity prevention and treatment. J Geriatr Cardiol. 2017. doi:10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.002

8. Hever J. Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide. Perm J. 2016. doi:10.7812/TPP/15-082

9. Agnoli C, Baroni L, Bertini I, et al. Position paper on vegetarian diets from the working group of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2017. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2017.10.020

10. Fuhrman J. The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food*. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018. doi:10.1177/1559827618766483

 

Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease.  It does not take the place of a health care practitioner.  It is for educational purposes only.
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