I’ve been a plant-based dietitian for awhile now both in the clinical setting and in my own practice and I wanted to take the time to answer some of the most common questions I get around plant-based vegan diets. If you have other vegan and plant-based nutrition questions, comment below as I am here to help and perhaps it will be featured in an upcoming post!
Is Vegan Plant-Based?
Yes. When people refer to plant-based diets, they are referring to eating patterns that include mostly plants – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. A plant-based diet may also include dairy, butter, meat, fish, and cheese but the majority of the diet is comprised of plant derived foods. So for example a plant-based day may look like this for someone:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit and Nuts and dash of Milk and Butter
Lunch: Tuna Salad Sandwich with Ranch Dressing Side Salad and Apple
Dinner: Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry with Brown Rice
Now, there are other processed foods that can be considered plant-based but again, generally speaking, a plant-based diet is compromised of mostly plant derived foods.
Yet, a plant-based diet it not necessarily a vegan diet. A vegan diet is one which avoids all animal products including meat, cheese/milk/dairy, fish, and animal based products like gelatin. People choose to follow a vegan diet for many reasons. Some people eat vegan to help save the environment, their health, or the animals. Many people are vegan for multiple reasons and it may extend beyond the food that they put into their body. For example, many vegans will not wear leather or furs as they are from an animal. When it comes to food, there are many dairy and meat alternatives available without eating the animal or the animal product and many vegans will opt for these foods in place of the original food or they may eat a predominately plant-based vegan diet and avoid many processed and packaged foods. The spectrum can vary but again, a vegan diet would not include dairy, meat, milk, butter, or cheese.
So, if we look at that example from before, a vegan day may look like similar to a plant-based day with a few alterations:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit and Nuts and dash of Soy or Almond Milk and Earth Balance Margarine or Coconut Oil
Lunch: Smashed Chickpeas Sandwich with Egg Free Mayo (like Just Mayo) with Vinaigrette Based Dressing Side Salad and Apple
Dinner: Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry with Brown Rice
Do you see the similarities and differences in both examples? There is much overlap with plant-based and vegan diets but the big difference is the complete avoidance of animal based products for those eating vegan.
Is Vegan Dairy-Free?
Yes. If someone is eating a vegan diet, they are by default following a dairy-free diet as dairy comes from cows and vegan diets do not include foods and food products from animals including milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream.
There are several dairy-free alternatives available for milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream made from coconut, almond, or soy based ingredients that can be used in place of the original dairy containing food. Also, many dressings contain milk derivatives including whey and many vegans find tahini based dressings or vinaigrette based dressings to be a suitable option. In general, preparing your own dairy free dishes can be cost effective, healthier, and fun!
Is Vegan Gluten-Free?
No. Gluten is the protein found in wheat grain based products including wheat, rye, oats, and barley. As these grains are derived from plants, they are absolutely suitable on a vegan diet.
However, there are some people that eat vegan and also choose to avoid gluten for various reasons such as Celiac disease or other intolerances. These folks would rely more on rice, potatoes, corn and quinoa based foods for their and also avoid vegan meat analogs that may include gluten ingredients like vital wheat gluten. Vital wheat gluten gets stretchy and thick when cooked and can resemble the texture of meat.
And most importantly….Is Vegan Healthy?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
“Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes…”
Plant-based vegan diets are environmentally sustainable and help with animal welfare but the research tells us that vegans and vegetarians have a lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and certain types of cancers. Overall, vegan diets rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains help contribute to a reduced risk of chronic disease.
With that being said, there are a few key nutrients anyone who chooses to follow a vegan diet or eat predominately plant-based should be aware of. Those nutrients include Vitamin B12, Zinc, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Iron. If you are curious about these key nutrients, check out my post: 5 Supplements to Consider on a Plant-Based Diet. If you need help planning your vegan diet for nutritional adequacy, reach out to me here and I can help.
I hope that helped answer some of the top general questions about vegan diets but as always, if you have a question or comment you’d like to get featured or answered, please comment below and let me know!