The lowdown on popular vegan diets
In the last few years, veganism has seen a huge increase in popularity. That naturally creates a whole range of differences in the diet and lifestyle — from raw foods to vegan junk food to fruitarians, the trends surrounding veganism keep on coming. Here, we’ll go through the pros and cons of some of the most popular options to help you choose what’s right for you.
#1 The Raw Foods Diet also known as a Raw Vegan Diet
A raw vegan diet is exactly what its name suggests — you only eat raw foods either cold in their natural state or heated up to 40°C max. Fans of this diet claim that cooking food at high temperatures destroys a lot of its vitamins, proteins, digestive enzymes and fats. Many describe feeling more energised, less bloated and less prone to heartburn and indigestion through eating this way, but is a raw food vegan diet really good for you in the long term?
Raw foods in a vegan diet are great for cleansing the body
When you adopt a raw food vegan diet, you’re going to eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and seeds/nuts. This is great for hydrating the body, getting that all-important vitamin C (along with plenty of other vitamins, nutrients and minerals) and flushing out waste and toxins like gluten, dyes, pesticides (if you go for organic versions) and cooking oils. Also, you’re providing the body with lots of enzymes, which are really good for digestion as they help it to break down nutrients and absorb them properly. Additionally, a raw food diet has been said to improve things like flexibility, endurance and complexion, lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and help balance blood sugar levels.
Raw foods miss key nutrients
While a raw vegan diet is great for cleansing and resetting the body, you actually won’t feel amazing if you decide to keep on it for many months or years. Eventually, your body will need to rebuild and repair, for which it needs nutrients that are much harder to get from this diet, like iron, zinc and vitamin B12. If you’re not getting enough of these kinds of minerals and vitamins, it can lead to serious trouble in the long term — things like anaemia and nerve damage. Many people on a raw vegan diet choose to supplement their key nutrients because of this.
Cooked veggies might be better for you anyway
It can also be argued that vegetables are better for you cooked rather than raw. Since cooking causes structures in cell walls to break down, our bodies are better capable of digesting the food and absorbing nutrients. By heating food, minerals and antioxidants like iron and beta-carotene (a plant pigment that our bodies convert into vitamin A) are easier for the body to break down and actually make use of all the benefits they offer.
#2 The Vegan Junk Food Diet
The tasty fried-type foods available to vegans used to be limited. For many, soups, salads, pitta bread and hummus were their go-to meals. These days, vegans (and meat-eaters who choose to) can enjoy everything from tasty vegan burgers to southern-style vegan ribs, vegan cheese and even vegan fish and chips. The rise of vegan junk food has helped bring vegan food even further into the mainstream, but are plant-based ingredients like tempeh and seitan really that much healthier than ordinary junk food? The simple answer — yes. They’re probably healthier than a rack of pork ribs or a fried fast-food burger, but still not as healthy as you might like if you deep fry them.
The vegan junk food diet can help with switching to vegan
If you enjoyed the taste of meat before deciding to go vegan, eating vegan junk food is a great way to make the switch and stick to it in the long run. You don’t have to feel like you’re on a strict diet 24/7 and after a busy day at work, sometimes you’d rather throw some vegan chicken nuggets in the oven than chop, slice and dice a bunch of vegetables. It’s important to treat yourself to something easy once in a while. We all have cravings, and vegan junk food can help to satisfy them.
Eating out as a vegan is less of a pain
Many vegans are familiar with the struggles of eating out with non-vegan friends and family. Now that fast food chains and dedicated vegan junk food restaurants are offering lots of vegan options on their menus, whether you’re heading out for pizza night or craving a kebab at two in the morning, you can be sure to get your fix of junk with all your non-vegan friends.
Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy
Yes, vegan junk food is still junk food and often high in sodium, artificial ingredients, preservatives and processed oils. If you’re eating solely vegan junk food, you’re probably still not getting enough essential nutrients like protein, vitamin B12 and iron. Check the label when you’re shopping in the vegan aisle and if you grab those frozen vegan chicken wings, try to make sure they’re low in sugar and sodium. Also, try to find products made with quinoa, hemp, beans and legumes, which are high in plant-based proteins and do your best to enjoy these meals with fresh veggies, fruits and top up those essential vitamins like the ones found in our Body&Fit Vegan Multi.
#3 The Plant-based Whole Foods Diet
Whole foods are those that are as close to their natural state as they can be. They don’t have any added ingredients like sugars, flavourings or preservatives and are not produced in a factory. A plant-based whole foods diet is rich in fibre, minerals and vitamins from lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, leafy greens, healthy fats (from avocado, nuts and seeds, for example), wholegrains (like quinoa and barley) and legumes (like lentils and chickpeas). In any lifestyle, it’s generally considered more healthy and sustainable to eat wholefoods, but it can require a lot of effort to prepare fresh food and it can definitely get pricey.
Whole foods can be healthier than processed foods
Wholefoods are a much healthier choice compared to their processed counterparts, for example brown rice vs. white rice, wholewheat or grainy bread, pasta and flour vs. white. These foods contain important nutrients like carbohydrates, fibre, iron and B-vitamins. Fibre from wholefoods contribute to good bowel function and movement. If you have a large enough daily fibre intake, you lower the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, type II diabetes and colon cancer. Moreover, eating wholegrains instead of refined grains leads to fewer fluctuations in blood sugar levels because it takes longer to digest.
Wholefoods can be a more sustainable choice
Generally speaking… if there is less processing and fewer steps in the production chain, it means saving on energy and transportation costs — creating a smaller burden on the environment. Ultra-processed food often has more packaging and is transported cooled or frozen, which uses lots of energy. That being said, whole foods that come from the other side of the world are not so environmentally friendly either as you have to look at how they’re grown. Natural habitat can be removed to make space for new crops — and when harvested these foods are flown into other countries which creates a lot of CO2 and other pollution.
Wholefoods = empty wallets
Yep, wholefoods are way more expensive than processed foods and there are a number of reasons why. They usually have a shorter shelf-life (processed foods tend not to spoil due to the fillers, preservatives and emulsifiers added to them); the costs associated with organic farming are higher than mass-produced foods; and it often brings much smaller yields. It can cost you quite a lot of extra cash if you decide to go down this route, but hey, if you decide it’s for you it will be worth it for your health and wellbeing.
#4 The Fruitarian Vegan Diet
Fruitarianism basically consists of eating a variety of fresh, organic and ripe fruits — and lots of them. However, it’s not recommended that people eat 100% fruit, 100% of the time, so fruitarians tend to include nuts, seeds and some vegetables in their daily meals. Fruit covers sweet fruits like pineapples and bananas as well as savoury fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives and avocados.
Fruits are rich in vitamins, fibre and antioxidants
Fruits are packed with vitamins including vitamins A, C and E, which are powerful antioxidants. They’re high in fibre, which allows them to be easily digested, helps your bowels work normally and lowers cholesterol. Fruits are also packed with water, so dehydration is rarely an issue on a fruitarian vegan diet. Eating lots of fruit keeps the body in an alkaline state, which is said to protect the body, unlike high acid-forming foods like meat and dairy. In general, fruits are just really, really good for you.
Fruitarianism can make vegan life easy
When it comes to food, at least, fruit is easily taken with you or found nearby. As long as you’re munching plenty of fruit, pure mixed nuts and seeds, you’re pretty much set. Fruit is one of the best foods to grab and go, so if you’re working the hustle from the office to the gym and don’t have time to cook it’s always easy to find a supermarket and buy some fruit. Voila. Lunch is sorted. Oh, and it looks colourfully picture-perfect for your Instagram feed too.
Fruits and this vegan diet misses key nutrients
As healthy and nutritious as fruits are, they don’t provide all the vitamins and minerals you need to survive and thrive. Fruit doesn’t contain vitamin D, for example, which is vital for bone health and only found naturally in fish oils, egg yolks and dairy (as well as the sun, but those who live in colder climates may be risking a vitamin D deficiency on a fruitarian diet). Fruit doesn’t contain vitamin B12, either. This is only found in meat, but it’s super important for the production of red blood cells and nerve functioning. Other missing nutrients include thiamine and niacin, which play central roles in giving you the energy to get through the day at the top of your game. Again, they’re only found in animal products or dried beans and grains, so you will have to supplement these if you choose to follow a fruitarian diet.
Fruit-only carries a high risk of health complications
There are lots of risks involved in eating purely fruit for long periods of time. They’re packed with sugars, albeit natural ones, which can be dangerous for those with, or prone to, diabetes as a fruitarian diet will raise blood sugar levels and affect the sensitivity of insulin. This can be helped by pairing fruits with nuts to slow their digestion. Otherwise they can cause spikes of energy followed by dips as blood sugar goes down. People with pancreatic and kidney disorders are also at risk of health complications. Losing too much weight is another common problem people experience on a fruit-based diet. Fruit has lots of fibre, which makes you feel full without having consumed all the calories you need. This, in turn, can lead to further problems of losing weight too fast, like fatigue, a weakened immune system and brittle bones.
There are pros and cons with any lifestyle or dietary choice, and veganism is no exception. Whatever your reasons for going vegan, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to commit to any one version of it. If you want to cleanse for a week on raw food or fruit, go for it. If you want to binge on some vegan junk food one night on the way home from work, do your thing. If you feel like stocking your cupboards with some wholefood goodies, go ahead. Like anything, it’s all about balance, and most vegans tend to mix and match a few different diets to suit their lifestyles. In giving you these key takeaways, we hope to make it that little bit easier to find your own way into veganism and to enjoy the journey!