10 Faqs About Plant-Based Diets
By Sangeeta Tiwari, Clinical Dietitian
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet offers numerous health benefits. It’s rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants while being low in saturated fats. Being rich in fiber, plant-based diets also help in improving digestion. This diet may significantly help in lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. It can also promote weight management and aid in improving overall well-being. A plant-based diet is also known to lower the risk of cancer because of the protective compounds found in plant foods. Not only this, but also a plant-based diet reduces environmental impact by conserving resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Do I have to give up all animal products to follow a plant-based diet?
No, you don’t have to give up all animal products to follow a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet allows flexibility. While some people choose to eliminate all animal products (vegan), others prefer to incorporate small amounts occasionally (flexitarian). You can tailor your diet to your preferences. Slow and gradual changes towards plant-based choices can still offer health benefits simultaneously reducing your impact on animals and the environment.
How can I get enough protein?
You can fulfill your protein needs on a plant-based diet by consuming a variety of plant foods. You can consume legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. Tofu, and tempeh, are also great choices to fulfill your protein requirements as they are soy-based products. Nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, and chia seeds are another great option. Whole grains like quinoa, farro, and brown rice can be used as a base for various dishes which can help you get enough protein. Combining different protein sources throughout the day will help you to ensure that you get all essential amino acids. You can also consume plant-based protein supplements like pea or soy protein powders if needed.
Is following a vegan diet expensive?
The cost of a vegan diet varies depending on your food choices and the lifestyle you have. While some specialty vegan products can be costly, a vegan diet can be affordable if it is centered around whole foods like grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Cooking at home rather than frequently eating out and buying in bulk can also help reduce costs. Additionally, local,and seasonal produce can be some cost-effective options for those following a vegan diet. Ultimately, budgeting and meal planning can help in making a vegan diet more affordable.
Can pregnant women follow a vegan diet?
Yes, pregnant women can follow a vegan diet. However, following a vegan diet by pregnant women requires careful planning to ensure that they get essential nutrients like B12, iron, calcium, and folate. To ensure that they don’t lack protein, they can ensure intake of plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, tofu, and quinoa. Pregnant women following a vegan diet must also include fortified cereals, legumes, and dark leafy greens to maintain iron levels. To have omega-3 fatty acids, pregnant women must include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts in their diet. Consulting a healthcare professional or dietitian is advisable to create a well-balanced meal plan and consider supplements if necessary.
Are there any side effects of a vegan diet?
When properly planned, a vegan diet is generally healthy. However, if the diet is not well planned, potential side effects can include nutrient deficiencies if essential nutrients like B12, iron, or calcium aren’t adequately sourced. Some people are also likely to experience digestive issues, especially if they suddenly increase their fiber intake. Limited food choices and weight changes are some other problems that vegans might face.
How can one deal with cravings as a vegan?
Cravings can be managed by finding plant-based alternatives for familiar cravings, experimenting with new flavors and recipes, and ensuring your meals are well-balanced and satisfying. Additionally, staying hydrated and eating regular, nutrient-dense meals can help curb cravings.
Will going vegan help me lose weight?
A vegan diet can help in weight loss due to its lower calorie density and reduced intake of high-calorie animal products. However, it cannot miraculously make you lose weight as weight loss is more than just following a vegan diet. Weight loss ultimately depends on overall calorie intake and the types of foods consumed. A well-balanced vegan diet can support weight management, but portion control and a focus on whole, unprocessed foods are some important factors to consider while losing weight.
How can I get enough calcium?
To have sufficient calcium, you can take calcium-rich plant-based foods. Calcium-rich plant-based sources include fortified plant milk, tofu, almonds, leafy greens like kale and collard greens, and calcium-set tofu. Ensuring an intake of a variety of these foods in your diet can help meet calcium requirements. If required, calcium supplements may be an option. However, while taking supplements guidance from a healthcare professional is advised.
Can I consume dairy products?
No, including dairy products in a vegan diet is not consistent with the principles of veganism. A vegan diet excludes all animal products. Vegans avoid all animal products, including dairy, eggs, and meat. Instead, they opt for plant-based alternatives like almond milk, soy milk, coconut yogurt, and various dairy-free cheeses that are made from plant-based ingredients. There are numerous plant-based alternatives to dairy products available, such as almond milk, soy yogurt, and vegan cheese. These alternatives can be used as substitutes in recipes and for daily consumption.
If you’re looking to consume dairy while following a plant-based diet, you might want to consider following a vegetarian diet rather than following a vegan one. The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that the latter generally exclude meat but include dairy and eggs in their diet while the former doesn’t. However, keep in mind that there are many delicious and nutritious vegan alternatives to dairy products available today that can help you transition to a dairy-free, vegan diet if you want to do so.