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A vegan diet is stricter than a vegetarian diet, cutting out all products from animal sources. It can be tough to follow and could carry health risks if you're not careful. Here's our info and advice for vegans and for anyone considering a vegan diet.
A vegan diet is stricter than a vegetarian diet, cutting out all products from animal sources. It can be tough to follow and could carry health risks if you don't eat carefully. Here's our info and advice for vegans and for anyone considering a vegan diet.
What is a vegan diet?
Veganism is an extreme form of vegetarianism. It involves not eating not only foods that come from animal flesh (meat, fish and seafood), but also any products from animal sources, which includes dairy, eggs, butter and honey.
Depending on how strictly you're following the diet, you may also need to be careful of certain additives commonly found in pre-packaged foods as a surprising number are derived from animal sources. For instance Carmine or E120, a red food dye found in some alcoholic drinks, jams and fruit pies is made from a female insect named Dactylopius Coccus - she's boiled alive and then crushed into the powder.
Why go vegan?
Vegans may choose to eat a strict non-animal diet for various reasons: to get a more natural diet, help protect the environment, respect animal rights, promote sustainable consumption or stick to religious principles.
What do vegans eat?
Vegans eat fruit and vegetables, pulses (split peas, broad beans, kidney beans etc), soy, grains and cereals (rice, millet, corn, wheat etc), nuts, seeds and anything else that doesn't come from animal sources.
A lot of imagination is required of vegans if they are to get a balanced, varied diet, and the vegan diet is sometimes not the most sociable of diets in terms of eating out or being invited round to eat. However there are more vegan products available at local supermarkets than ever before. With growing awareness it is becoming increasingly less difficult to find vegan-friendly restaurants or a vegan option in an ordinary establishment.
Nutrition and veganism
Because vegan diets don't include any animal produce, they can lead to deficiencies in protein, essential amino acids, Vitamin B12, iron and Omega 3 fatty acids; plus, cutting out dairy products can cause calcium and Vitamin D deficiencies.
However, vegan diets are lower in saturated fat (the bad type of fat you find in meat, cheese and butter, for example) than a traditional diet. Because of this, it can help prevent followers from becoming overweight, suffering from high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
A vegan diet is high in fibre, filling and good for intestinal transit.
Tips on getting a balanced vegan diet
Vegan diets are very restrictive, followers should keep a careful eye on their nutrition to avoid any danger. Vegan diets, followed carefully to ensure a good balance of essential vitamins and nutrients, are perfectly healthy for children, pregnant women, breastfeeding women and adolescents.
However to avoid deficiencies that could damage the body, it's essential to eat to compensate for lack of the following:
- Protein. Protein from plants is incomplete, so it's vital to eat cereals/grains and pulses at every meal to get all the essential amino acids the body needs.
- Vitamin B12. This vitamin, which is vital for red blood cells, isn't found in any plant produce, so it's vital to get plenty of good sources of B12 from foods that contain lots of it (yeast and soya or rice drinks) or even take supplements.
- Iron. The iron you get from pulses, tofu and whole grains and cereals is less well absorbed by the body than iron from animal sources, so vegans need plenty of Vitamin C (which aids the absorption of iron) and limit their intake of tea, which has the opposite effect.
- Vitamin D. Vegans should get plenty of foods containing lots of this essential vitamin (it is found in mushrooms and added to some cereals, yoghurts and other foods) or take supplements to avoid deficiencies.
- Calcium. In the absence of dairy produce, vegans should drink vegetable drinks (almond and soy milk, for example) which contain lots of calcium, drink high-calcium mineral water and get plenty of high-calcium fruit and veg (cabbage, broccoli and citrus fruit).
- Omega 3. Plant oils and nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, for example) should compensate for the absence of oily fish in a vegan diet, as long as they're eaten regularly.
For more information on vegan diets, vegan nutrition and vegan health see:
The Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation
The Vegetarian Society
Go Cruelty Free
Health and Fitness Editor