The vegan diet has been gaining popularity in recent years. According to recent polls, approximately 1.5-2% of the adult U.S. population report following a vegan diet (1,2). The vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet, but in addition to meats and fish, eggs, dairy, and all other animal products are also avoided. This includes honey, gelatin, certain food colorings, some types of alcohol, and all other animal products.
The vegan diet can be difficult to follow because of the many restrictions. However, it can be rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, phytonutrients, and unsaturated fats (4). Animal proteins are replaced with other protein sources, such as tofu, legumes, nuts, and chickpeas. Additionally, there are now plentiful non-dairy options like coconut milk, soy milk, and almond milk that vegans can use to replace dairy. Like other diets, the vegan diet requires planning and food preparation. However, more and more restaurants and grocery stores are offering vegan options, and there are countless resources for vegan recipes.
People choose to follow the vegan diet for a variety of reasons ranging from health benefits (2,4), to concerns regarding animal cruelty to the environment (3). According to a literature review published in 2014 in Nutrients, the vegetarian diet seems to confer protection from cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and total mortality. The vegan diet, compared to the vegetarian diet, seems to offer some additional protection against obesity, diabetes mellitus type 2, and hypertension (2). While there are health benefits to following the vegan diet, special consideration has to be made to ensure that adequate levels of protein, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc are consumed as well.
While the vegan diet is currently only followed by a small percentage of the population, it is gaining popularity and appears to offer some significant health benefits, including weight loss.
iStock photo courtesy of marilyna.