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What Is a Vegan Diet?

Looking For a New Healthy Diet to Try in 2018? Consider Going Vegan

Veganism has been a buzz word for quite some time now, but that doesn't mean that all of us are well educated on what being vegan really means. I've been vegan for a few years now, and I still get asked a lot of questions like "So, do you eat eggs?" and "What about fish? Is that vegan?" I don't mind it at all when people ask this kind of stuff! It just gives me an excuse to talk about my love for the plant-based diet. But consistently being asked these questions is a solid reminder that many of us still don't really know all that much about veganism, which is probably why there is so much confusion about it.

I spoke with Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, plant-based dietitian, health and fitness expert, and author of Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot's Guide), 2E, to help clear the air about the vegan lifestyle.

What Is the Vegan Diet?

"A vegan or plant-based diet is a diet based on infinite combinations of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices," Julieanna explained succinctly. Any ingredient you can imagine that falls under these categories is fair game in the vegan diet, from cashews to chickpeas to mushrooms to tempeh.

Anything that comes from an animal is not part of the vegan diet. That includes eggs, butter, cheese, cow milk, fish (yep, sushi too), honey, collagen, bone broth, etc. For many people, especially myself, going vegan is in response to the brutal animal cruelty that takes place around the world in order to source products like these. However, ethical concerns aren't the only reason people go vegan.

What Are the Benefits of a Vegan Diet?

"A plant-based diet is the only diet shown to reverse advanced cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and has been associated with a decreased risk for hypertension, high blood cholesterol, obesity, certain cancers, and most chronic diseases," Julieanna explained. "Furthermore, swapping out animal products and processed foods for whole plant foods supports immune function by improving the microbiome, and it offers a high-nutrient load without excessive calories."

There are also major environmental benefits to adopting the vegan diet. "Eating plants also dramatically reduces your environmental footprint and avoids harm done to animals that occurs during livestock production," Julieanna told POPSUGAR. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change. It's responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, while all the transportation in the world combined only accounts for 13 percent.

Additionally, there's a lot of evidence showing that a plant-based diet can improve your fitness. Your body recovers quicker from workouts, you experience much less inflammation, and you have more energy to exercise than when you eat a diet full of animal products.

Why Should You Go Vegan This Year?

Julieanna says 2018 is the year to try veganism if you're looking to get superhealthy and lose weight. "Besides the powerful health advantages illustrated in the scientific literature, there are also links to improved gastrointestinal well-being, skin health, and can even help save money," she added. "There has never been an easier time to go vegan as it is now in 2018, as it has become commonplace around the globe with more and more delicious, nutritious options popping up everywhere."

It's perfectly normal to feel intimidated at first by the whole concept of veganism. We've been raised to think that animal products are the main source of nutrition in our lives and it might be hard to imagine a life without eating meat. But there are so many different healthy, equally delicious options out there that are free of animal products, making it easier and healthier than ever to eat plant-based. Besides, you'd be surprised to see how quickly your body forgets the taste of meat and cheese when you eliminate it from your diet.

Is There Anyone Who Shouldn't Go Vegan?

"In short, no. The idea that diet is that precise or exacting is a myth," Julieanna said. "Humans can survive on a wide range of food and the invented notion of a 'balanced plate' is a relatively new idea, and one that may have led to our current situation in which the amount of overnourished people outnumber the amount of undernourished people in the world for the first time in history."

In her many years of nutrition expertise, Julieanna says she recommends the vegan diet to everyone, even if you have gut issues, thyroid issues, or any other chronic issues that may have been affected by diet in your past. "[The vegan diet] is plentiful in the nutrients that matter and restricts nutrients that are known to lead to chronic disease later in life," she concluded. As always, though, check in with your doctor before you make any sudden changes in your diet.

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