By Dr. Josh Axe
A diet sans meats, dairy and any other animal product certainly limits the repercussions of problematic foods, but is it sustainable and healthy?
When people decide to become either a vegan or vegetarian, it's sometimes because of a strong desire to eliminate most animal products in their diets (and the impact that livestock farms have on the planet) — but equally, most people willing to forgo so many foods also do so because they believe that it's a healthier option. But is it?
Before you start tossing out the honey, eggs and beef, answer the most common question about this diet: What do vegans eat? And understand how the diet can affect your lifestyle and overall wellness. Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any diet or lifestyle regimen.
What Is Vegan?
A vegan diet eliminates all foods that come from an animal, including meats, eggs and dairy products like milk, butter, cheese and yogurt. Instead, vegans eat plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains.
Vegans eat many of these plant-based foods raw, which can provide more nutrient value. In fact, a vegan diet often includes the presence of more enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
Is It Healthy?
Eating the right vegan-friendly foods and supplementing where needed can be healthy, but it’s all about how you follow a vegan diet.
There are many benefits to eating a diet high in raw or lightly cooked vegetables and other plant-based foods. These nutrient-dense foods contain enzymes that we lose when cooking veggies. Our bodies need these enzymes to break down consumed foods into smaller, nutritional units that the body can absorb properly.
Uncooked fruits and vegetables in an alkaline, vegan diet are said to be biogenic or “life-giving," while cooking foods often diminishes alkalizing minerals. This is one benefit of a vegan diet, as consuming more greens helps to restore the body’s proper pH, alkalizing and supporting the body. A diet rich in vegetables and plant proteins can also support a healthy response to inflammation and provides beneficial antioxidants.
But there may be some pitfalls in eating a strict vegan diet. Switching to a vegan diet doesn't mean people suddenly become impervious to all the food temptations out there. And they don't have to, as a surprising amount of potato chips, cookies and candy are vegan.
But what's more common than binge-eating chips or candy bars is buying faux versions of meats and cheeses. I don't mean good-for-you, fermented foods like tempeh or natto or homemade vegan cheeses. I'm talking about soy burgers, Tofurkey and the like, purchased at the grocery store.
These foods are loaded with preservatives, sodium, gluten, soy and wheat; unless the product is explicitly non-GMO, you can be sure you're getting some chemicals with your food. And be mindful of the amount of refined carbohydrate foods you are consuming, like pastas and cereals.
In a nutshell, there are many vegan-friendly foods out there, but to stick to a healthy vegan diet, you need to focus on consuming fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and the like. Skip the processed and packaged stuff that can lead to weight gain, inflammation and the over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian
Vegans and vegetarians do not eat meat products, including fish. A vegan diet is more strict, as it doesn’t allow for the consumption of any products derived from animals. That includes eggs, dairy, honey and more.
In fact, most people on a vegan diet will also avoid clothes and home goods made from animals, too, such as products made from wood, leather and silk.
Vegan vs. Plant-Based
While the vegan diet focuses on the elimination of all animal products, a plant-based diet is focused on eating plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, but doesn’t necessarily eliminate the consumption of animal-derived foods.
Best Vegan Foods
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Nut butters
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Oat milk
- Nut butters
- Coconut oil
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Olive oil
At a Cookout
- Portobello burger
- Leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
- Nut butter
- Coconut chips
Our Vegan Products
While wholesome vegan diets are nutritious, they may still lack in some nutrients that our bodies need to perform their best. Supplementing can be useful for veganism because it helps to fill the nutritional gaps. Here are some quality vegan supplements:
- Plant Protein+: Our Plant Protein+ Powder contains vegan superfoods including organic seeds, botanicals and MCTs. This is one of the best proteins powders for a vegan diet because each serving supplies 15 grams of protein and zero grams of sugar. Adding this powder into your daily smoothie or drink can help to promote healthy body composition, fat metabolism and muscle recovery. We offer several flavors, which may help to satisfy your sweet tooth, too.
- Multi Mushroom Capsules: Our Multi Mushroom Capsules feature organic, fermented mushrooms and adaptogens to support focus and mental clarity, a healthy immune system and healthy energy levels.
- Vitamin C: Ancient Nutrition’s Vitamin C + Probiotics capsules support a healthy immune defense, promote healthy antioxidant activity and support healthy neuron function. Plus, they contain 2 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria for gut support.
- Elderberry: Our Elderberry capsules are vegan-friendly and work to support a healthy immune system. They also support a healthy response to stress and boost energy.
- A vegan diet is made up of plant-based foods and zero animal products. Although this can be a healthy diet when done properly, it’s easy to turn to processed, packaged foods when you’ve eliminated meat-based options.
- The best vegan foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and gluten-free grains. It’s also wise to supplement with vegan-friendly vitamins, minerals and protein powders when needed.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet and Collagen Diet.