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A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, honey and ghee. People around the world are now taking up veganism for reasons like their health, animal welfare or environmental concerns.

However, people who eat only plant-based foods need to be more aware of how to obtain certain nutrients, including iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 that usually come from an omnivorous diet (eating both plant- and animal-based foods).

Read on if you are curious about this diet, or if considering going vegan, or if you are already vegan and want to cross-check if you are on the right track: this article has tips on foods to eat, foods to avoid on this diet, how to get all the nutrients even while excluding some food groups, who can and cannot do this diet and a diet plan.

  1. What is a vegan diet?
  2. How to get all the nutrients on a vegan diet
  3. What to avoid on a vegan diet
  4. Benefits of a vegan diet
  5. Vegan diet side effects or drawbacks
  6. Is veganism during pregnancy safe?
  7. Is vegan diet for children safe?
  8. Is vegan diet expensive or pocket friendly?
  9. How to order a vegan meal in a restaurant
  10. Sample vegan menu plan
  11. Takeaways for vegan diet
  12. Doctors for Vegan diet

In this diet, you need to exclude all animal products such as milk and milk products (including curd, paneer, buttermilk), egg, chicken, fish, mutton, beef, pork and other animal products. And take plant-based foods like grains, pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetable oil (like olive oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil, etc.), fruits and vegetable to fulfil all your major or minor nutritional requirements.

With good planning and an understanding of what makes for a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients for your body. If you do not plan your diet properly, though, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, and vitamin B12 because these nutrients are largely found in animal-based products. (Read more: Calcium-rich Indian food)

Picking the right ingredients during your vegan meal preparation can help you get proper nutrition. Here are a few things that should be a part of your diet:

  • For proteins: All pulses, such as pigeon pea (arhar dal), black gram (urad dal), green gram (moong dal), horse gram (kala chana), horse gram flour (besan), all the legume such as kidney bean (rajma), chickpea (chhole), soybean, black-eyed bean (lobia), tofu, etc.
    Protein supplement: Soy protein, pea protein powder
  • Replacement for dairy products: Almond milk, soymilk, nut butter such as peanut butter, almond butter
  • For fat: All the plant-based oil such as almond oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pinenuts, pistachios and seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds
  • For calcium: Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, ladies finger, finger millet (ragi), fortified unsweetened soymilk, calcium-set tofu, sesame seeds, tahini (made with sesame seeds), dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots and calcium-fortified cereals and fruit juices
  • For vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight, fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals, unsweetened soymilk and fruit juices (with vitamin D added)
  • For vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 fortified food such as breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy milk and nutritional yeast
  • For iron: Pulses, wholegrain bread and flour, breakfast cereals fortified with iron, dark and green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, amaranth, broccoli and spring greens; dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, dates and figs. Use iron utensils for cooking
  • For omega 3: Flaxseed (linseed) oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil and soy-based foods, such as tofu, and walnuts
  • For other nutrients: You can have all types of cereals such as whole grain or multigrain bread, chapati, rice, noodle, pasta, pita bread, all colourful and juicy fruits such as apple, papaya, melons, pomegranate, kiwi, grapefruit and lemon, etc; all vegetables such as potato, carrot, eggplant, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, spinach, green pea, beans, gourds, etc. 

These food items will provide you with a good amount of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.

The following foods should be avoided when you are following a vegan diet:

  • Meat and poultry: Beef, lamb, pork, rabbit, veal, organ meat, chicken, duck, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: All types of fish, shrimp, prawns, squid,  crab, lobster, etc.
  • Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, clarified butter (ghee), ice cream, etc.
  • Eggs: From chickens, duck, ostriches, fish (including caviar), etc.
  • Bee products: Honey, bee pollen, etc.
  • Animal-based ingredients: Whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.

If you follow it correctly, the diet can be nutritious, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and help in weight loss. Research suggests that this diet can improve your heart health, protect against cancer, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also helps reduce inflammation, which is good for arthritis as well.

A research study says “it is necessary to focus on those dietary components that have frequently been suspected to be deficient in vegan diets. The components that deserve special scrutiny are protein, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, essential fatty acids, zinc, iodine, and iron.”

Though we can fulfil our requirements for iron, essential fatty acids and calcium from plant-based products, it is easy to slip up. Here are a few problems that can arise if that happens:

  • Vitamin D deficiency: Deficiency of vitamin D has long been known to contribute to bone problems such as rickets, but more recently it has also been found to contribute to a range of other conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, depression, cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. Plant-based food products provide very little vitamin D which will not be sufficient for a human body. And if you are on this diet, you will not be able to take supplements because they all are animal products.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency: No plant foods are known to produce vitamin B12 or cobalamin, so if you are vegan and you are not taking supplements or foods fortified with B12 and not taking extra care to fulfil this nutrient, you could see some serious health issues such as pernicious anaemia and neurological problems, etc.
  • Muscle loss: We know that high biological protein or animal-based protein is good for muscle mass—but animal protein is a total no-no on this diet. In this situation, if you are not taking good care of your protein intake (quantity and quality) through your diet, you can see the muscle loss. (Read more: Protein deficiency)

The nutrition warnings are a bit more urgent for pregnant and lactating women who are vegan. Having a vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly, has been shown to impair neurological development in infants nursed by vegan and vegetarian mothers. A lack of vitamin D and calcium also can result in bone demineralization in breastfeeding women.

Children under 5 years of age who are brought up on a vegan diet can suffer impaired growth. That's because of the potential for a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can also result in anaemia, and a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause rickets. DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in fish, is important for optimal brain development in the first two years of life.

Consult a clinical dietitian who can help with a well-planned diet that can meet all the nutritional needs, before starting your baby on a vegan diet.

A vegan diet is not quite pocket-friendly.

Initially, when you are changing your diet, you will have to search for and buy alternatives of every animal product such as

  • Switch from buffalo milk to almond milk or soymilk
  • From butter to nut butter
  • From paneer to tofu

And if you are comparing the price, vegan food is costlier than non-vegan food. Once you are used to it and able to make many of these things at home, it will become easier for you and the cost will come down too.

As this diet is trending, there are a lot of restaurants that keep vegan-friendly food options for their customers. So whenever you are planning to eat out, just check online for a nearby vegan-friendly eating joint or you can discuss with the restaurant staff about your preferences and customization in the food preparation while ordering.

Customization may not be possible or even practical at dhabas and street food stalls, as they usually do a part of the cooking in advance. In the case of street food, the vendor typically does most of the cooking in advance—only the final assembly or preparation is done when you place an order. Most of the time, they serve a mass cooked meal and specification is not possible.

Using the basic principles laid out above, you can mix and match healthy and balanced vegan menus. Here's a sample menu to get you started:

  • Morning tea (7am): Black tea + soaked almonds (6) and walnuts (2)
  • Breakfast (9am): Multigrain bread, tofu and vegetable sandwich (2) + almond milk and apple shake (1 glass)
  • Mid meal (11am): Mixed fruit salad (1 bowl) with roasted seeds (1 teaspoon)
  • Lunch (1-2 pm): Multigrain chapati (2) / brown rice pulao (1 bowl) + rajma curry (1 bowl) + bhindi (1 bowl) + green salad (1 small plate)
  • Evening tea (5 pm): Soymilk chocolate shake (1 glass) + dry roasted makhana (1 bowl)
  • Dinner (7-8 pm): Spinach chapati (2) + moong dal (1 bowl) + baingan bharta (1 bowl) + kachumbar salad (1 bowl)
  • Bedtime (9-9:30 pm): Vanilla flavoured almond milk (1 glass)

A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. When you are following it correctly, it can be highly nutritious, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and help you lose weight. Research suggests that this diet can improve your heart health, protect against cancer, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A vegan diet removes some sources of nutrients from the diet, so people need to plan their meals carefully to avoid nutritional deficiencies. In this situation:

  • To avoid vitamin B12 deficiency, add nutritional yeast in your food preparation
  • For iron, take beans or legumes and dark green leafy vegetables and use an iron utensil. You can add a glass of lemon water whenever you are taking iron-rich food for better absorption of iron in the body.
  • For calcium-rich diet, take ragi (finger millet), orange, green leafy vegetables, sesame seed.
  • Eating vitamin D-fortified foods and spending time in the sun can boost vitamin D levels.
  • Zinc can be found in seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds) and nuts (almonds, pistachio), so take a handful or two each day to fulfil your requirements.
  • Walnut and flaxseed are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, add these in your daily diet.
Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

Surbhi Singh

Surbhi Singh

Nutritionist
22 Years of Experience

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Nutritionist
20 Years of Experience

Dr. priyamwada

Dr. priyamwada

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

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