What Is a Vegan Diet?

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The vegan lifestyle eschews the use of all animal products. A vegan diet is one that is entirely plant-based.

A properly balanced vegan diet provides all the elements necessary for optimum health. Plant-based whole foods provide protein, fiber, fats and other important dietary requirements, notes the Vegetarian Resource Group. Vegan food contains no cholesterol.

Any vegan diet that incorporates a variety of foods can readily supply sufficient protein. Nearly all foods contain some protein and excellent vegan sources include legumes like beans and lentils, whole grains and nuts. Even vegetables, such as broccoli, contain a surprising amount of protein per calorie.

Increasing Fiber Intake
Many people do not incorporate enough fiber in their diets. This is rarely a problem for those eating only plant-based foods. Common fiber sources include lentils, beans and fruit. A vegan diet can make it easy to consume enough fiber to promote overall health.

Despite its bad reputation, certain forms of fat such as omega-3 fatty acids are essential parts of a healthful diet. Vegans can find omega-3s in walnuts, flax and chia seeds along with several other sources. Other types of fat are also important, including those found in extra virgin olive oil, almonds and cashews.

Getting Vitamins and Minerals Through Plant-based Food
While supplementation ensures adequate intake of important vitamins and minerals, many are found in vegan foods. Good sources of calcium include collard greens, kale, tahini and almonds. Whole grains, legumes and nuts contain zinc. Iron is found in whole grains, beans and dark leafy vegetables, such as chard and kale. It is best to supplement B-12 vitamins since it is not reliably found in whole food sources. The B-12 found in commercially produced meat comes from supplements added to the animals' feed.

There are many prepared vegan foods as well. Nut milk cheeses, pizza, soup, mock meats and even ice cream can be found in many grocery and health food stores. These are all tasty, convenient and can make the transition to a plant-based diet easier.

A vegan diet can be surprisingly economical. Dried bulk legumes are much cheaper than canned and a slow cooker makes preparation simple. Precooked beans can be frozen for future use. Rice and other whole grains can be bought in bulk as well. Frozen vegetables can be purchased during sales and saved until needed. They are tasty in soups, stir-fries and casseroles.

There are three main reasons that people choose to follow a vegan diet, according to vegan.com. These are based on ethics, environmental stewardship and personal health. Many object to killing animals for food when there are abundant plant-based alternatives. Others are upset by the by industrialized slaughter and processing. Feedlots, battery cages and gestation crates are confining, dirty and comfortless. Concentrated animal feeding operations produce huge amounts of greenhouse and other noxious gases while cesspools and settling ponds can endanger rivers, streams and public water supplies. Finally, most vegan diets are moderate in fat, high in fiber and contain no cholesterol providing excellent nutrition without the drawbacks found in more standard diets. This may help prevent heart disease, maintain a healthful weight and perhaps even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. A balanced vegan diet offers many benefits to those who adopt it.