Vegan diet: what is it, what are its benefits and everything you should know!
Vegan bratwurst, liver cheese or even steaks – the range of animal-free products and foods on the market is becoming ever larger and more diverse. According to the latest statistics from the “Vegetarian Federation Germany”, about 1 million German citizens eat a purely plant-based diet. But for some people, it's not just a diet, it's more a lifestyle. They do not use care products that contain animal ingredients or only buy vegan clothing. When it comes to whether the vegan diet is healthy, the spirits often intersect. But that's what we are there for – in this article we explain everything you should know about the vegan diet. What can you eat, what advantages or disadvantages does it have for our health and much more!
The vegan diet does not consume animal products such as meat, eggs, dairy products, gelatin and even honey. In principle, the plant-based diet is very rich in fiber, vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium and many secondary plant substances. Compared to other diets, it contains a lot less saturated fat, which is why most vegans are usually thinner. However, the right planning for a purely plant-based diet is essential. If you do not eat a healthy and balanced diet, the risk of certain nutrient deficiencies increases significantly. Therefore, all vegans should make sure that they eat a nutritious diet or take appropriate supplements in the form of tablets. Vitamins B12 and D, omega 3 fatty acids and calcium are of particular importance.
Vegan diet – which foods are allowed?
Many people think that vegans only eat salad and fruit. But that's not true at all – the selection of foods is incredibly diverse. Below is an overview of what to eat on a vegan diet.
- Tofu, sides and tempeh are found in many vegan recipes and are an excellent protein-rich alternative to meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
- Legumes – Foods like chickpeas, beans, lentils, and peas are excellent sources of many nutrients.
- Nuts and various nut butters – Raw nuts and nut butter in organic quality are particularly rich in fiber, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin E.
- Seeds – Hemp, chia and flax seeds in particular contain large amounts of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Calcium enriched Vegetable milk and yogurt help vegans meet their recommended calcium intake through food. Decide on varieties that are enriched with vitamins B12 and D if possible.
- nutritional yeast is very rich in protein and gives the dishes an interesting cheesy taste.
- Whole grains, cereals like spelled, rice, quinoa and amaranth are great sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins and various minerals.
- Fermented foods – Tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, cucumber, kimchi and kombucha contain probiotics and vitamin K2.
For which products is it advisable to read the food labels?
Manufacturers are not obliged to label all products that have been used in food production. In other words, animal ingredients that have been used for a short time are not always checked on the packaging. While cheese and milk are obviously not vegan, there are also products that you should pay special attention to.
- Certain breads: With some types of bread, the back ferment is sometimes mixed with honey and softer types such as brioche could contain eggs and milk. To save money, some cheap bakeries use L-Cysteine (E920), which is made from pig bristles. If in doubt, we recommend that you ask about the ingredients.
- Fried foods such as onion rings are mostly fried in batter or in animal fat.
- Spices, dressings and sauces from the supermarket – Especially when buying pesto, you should check whether it does not accidentally contain cheese.
- Gummy candy, marshmallows and muesli – These delicious sweets almost always contain gelatin, which is extracted from the bones and skin of pigs or cattle.
- Roasted, Salted Nuts – To ensure that the salt sticks to the nuts, gelatin is also used here.
- Certain alcohols – With clear schnapps and beer brewed according to the German Purity Law, you don't have to worry. However, you need to take a closer look at wine and foreign beers, which sometimes use animal clarifiers. This can be either gelatin or a fish bladder, also known as a house bladder.
- Fruit juices from the shop are unfortunately often clarified with gelatin.
Is the vegan diet healthy?
The vegan diet benefits have been confirmed and proven several times by various scientific studies. And not only that – by switching to a wholesome and balanced herbal diet, some chronic diseases can be stopped or even completely reversed. The vegan diet significantly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, migraines, certain types of cancer and other serious diseases.
- Vegan diet for type 2 diabetes – Diabetes is the most common disease in the world. Vegans generally lead a healthier lifestyle than carnivores. Animal foods contain harmful compounds that can cause inflammation and oxidative stress. In addition, the saturated fatty acids in meat and dairy products have a negative impact on insulin levels. According to the “China Study” – one of the largest studies on vegan nutrition – the risk of type 2 diabetes is significantly higher due to the consumption of animal products. The people who ate less meat during the study were able to reduce the risk of diabetes by as much as 38%, and those who completely avoided it – by 51%. People who eat plants from the beginning have a 78% lower chance of developing it. It has even been proven that a vegan diet works much more effectively with diabetes than the diets of the “German Diabetes Society”. The plant-based diet is very rich in fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which ensure lower blood sugar levels. For this reason, this diet is not only suitable for prevention, but also for the treatment of diabetes.
- Lower cancer risk – Cancer has been associated with animal products several times. The vegan diet consists of higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, fiber and vitamin C, which protect from a variety of cancers. A study funded by the National Cancer Institute concluded that vegans were 16% lower at risk of cancer. The risk of some women-specific cancers, such as ovarian cancer and breast cancer, is as much as 34% lower. Another study found that vegans who started eating a serving of chicken once a week tripled the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Vegan diet for high blood pressure – Hypertension is primarily associated with our way of life and diet and poses many health risks. Risk factors are above all tobacco, alcohol and also saturated fatty acids. In addition to the excessive consumption of red meat, the high consumption of products containing sodium, salt and cholesterol leads to increased blood pressure. Ready meals such as cheese, sausage and meat products are often very high in fat and salt. Foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium, on the other hand, have a positive effect on blood pressure. Nuts, spinach, fennel, kale and most types of fruit are perfect for this.
- Healthy heart through the vegan diet – A high consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by around 40%. A study conducted in the United States found that men who eat meat every day increased their risk by 27% and women – by as much as 50%. But not only the meat – the increased consumption of dairy products and eggs can also lead to heart failure.
- Prevention and treatment of kidney diseases – Hypertension and type 2 diabetes can often lead to kidney failure. A high intake of animal proteins and fats can have a negative impact on existing kidney diseases. It has been scientifically proven several times that reducing protein consumption slows the progression of kidney disease. The vegan diet has a positive impact on cholesterol, blood pressure and fatty acid metabolism, which in turn significantly reduces the risk of kidney failure.
- Lose Vegan Diet – According to the latest statistics, 66% of men and 52% of women in Germany are struggling with obesity. One of the reasons why the plant-based diet has become so popular that it can be lost easily and healthily. Many studies show that vegans have a lower BMI index than meat eaters. The BMI (Body Mass Index) determines whether you are overweight or underweight. A higher BMI is mostly associated with excessive consumption of animal fats and proteins. A purely plant-based diet provides the body with lots of fiber and complex carbohydrates, which ensure a longer feeling of satiety.
- Strengthens the immune system – A healthy and balanced diet, physical activity and adequate sleep are very important for a strong immune system. In particular, the phytochemicals and vitamins that are found in most types of fruit and vegetables contribute to keeping our body healthy. Whole grain products also have a positive effect on the immune system.
- Longer life expectancy – Researchers at the “Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health ”found that a balanced vegan diet leads to longer life expectancy. They came to this conclusion after analyzing the eating habits of around 80,000 people for a period of 12 years.
- Combating migraines and headaches with the vegan diet – Stress, changes in weather, new medication or diet – these are the most common reasons for migraines or headaches. While foods such as cheese, chocolate, alcohol, cow's milk and processed meat can worsen the symptoms, a pure vegetable diet always has a positive effect.
What do the studies say about plant nutrition?
The two largest and most important studies that have looked at the benefits of vegan nutrition are the “EPIC-Oxford Study” from England and the “Adventist Health Study 2” (AHS-2) from the USA. The two are prospective cohort studies in which a large number of vegans and meat eaters have been observed for many years. About 100,000 people took part in the AHS-2 studies. Around 5000 vegans were compared with 4 other groups: meat eaters, semi-vegetarians, Pesco-vegetarians and ovo-lacto-vegetarians. Below you will find the results of the two studies so far:
- Vegans have a 42% lower risk of heart disease compared to the rest of the population.
- The BMI index, risk of type 2 diabetes and blood values were lowest among vegans.
- The mortality rate among vegans is 35% lower than among meat eaters.
- Vegans have a 50% lower risk of high blood pressure.
- The chance of developing cancer is 16% lower among vegans.
- Vegans who consumed less than 525 mg of calcium a day were at increased risk of broken bones.
- 52% of vegans were vitamin B12 deficient
Successfully prevent vitamin B12 deficiency
While the vegan diet is rich in a lot of vitamins and minerals, all vegans should pay particular attention to the sufficient intake of vitamin B12. According to a German study, 86% of the vegans examined were affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency. The reason for this is that the vitamin is mainly found in animal foods and herbal products are not a safe source of it. The deficiency can lead to anemia, nerve damage and other serious illnesses. While there are some vegan foods that contain traces of vitamin B12, the levels are too low to meet daily needs. With a plant-based diet, a vitamin intake through certain preparations is an absolute must.
And what about the iron?
On a vegan diet, there is often discussion not only about vitamin B12, but also about other essential minerals such as iron, iodine and zinc. Iron is the central component of hemoglobin and is responsible for the transport of oxygen in the blood. Fortunately, there are many plant-based alternatives that are rich in iron and can cover the recommended values.
- Dried fruits such as dates, peaches and apricots
- Cereals – brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, amaranth, millet and spelled
- Whole grain bread
- Vegetables – broccoli, zucchini, arugula, endive, raw fennel and lamb's lettuce
Plant-based diet and omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish such as salmon. They play a major role in healthy heart and heart and brain function. The EPA and DHA levels in the blood tend to be lower in people who eat plants. Fortunately, there are also enough vegan alternatives to provide the body with the essential omega-3 fatty acids:
- Walnuts and flax seeds
- Soy-based foods such as tofu
- linseed oil
- Fish oil supplements in the form of tablets
Prevent iodine deficiency
Regardless of whether you are vegan or omnivorous – in Germany around 30% of the population suffer from iodine deficiency. And here too, fish and seafood are the foods that have a high iodine content. Nevertheless, there are good vegan alternatives.
- use iodized table salt – With just 5 grams of iodized table salt, you already cover half of your daily requirements.
- seaweed like Nori, Aramae or Wakame are an excellent natural source of iodine
- Other foods that also contain a little iodine are – broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds. However, you need to eat very large amounts of it for an adequate supply.
The vegan diet benefits for the environment and our planet
Veganism has long been about more than just nutrition. More and more people consider it a lifestyle and only use cosmetics without animal testing, use clothing and shoes made of synthetic leather and avoid animal wool. One of the main reasons for this is that the vegan diet already has our environment.
- CO2 footprint – According to the United Nations, meat and dairy products are responsible for approximately 15% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This roughly corresponds to the emissions of all forms of transport on the planet – all planes, cars, trains, buses and even ships combined. Researchers at the University of Oxford came to the conclusion that foregoing food of animal origin can reduce a single person's carbon footprint by up to 70%.
- Become vegan for the animals – It's clear that a plant-based diet saves the animals. But did you know that every vegan saves around 200 animals a year? Currently, more than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour. However, the production of milk and eggs cannot do without killing animals. For example, all male chicks are sorted out immediately after hatching and either gassed or thrown into a shredder.
- Water consumption – Animal agriculture is one of the largest water consumers worldwide. It uses between 120 and 180 billion liters annually, which is approximately 90% of the total water consumption in the United States. About 15,000 liters of water are required to produce only 1 kg of beef. For 1 kg of potatoes, however, only 100 liters are necessary.
- Global food supply – Enough food is currently being grown to feed around 10 billion people, but on average 10% of the world's population is malnourished – in some locations this figure even exceeds 50%. How did this happen? More than 60% of the grain worldwide is used as feed for farm animals.
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