Eating vegan means doing without food of animal origin. Why people eat vegan, how to do it, and what are the advantages or risks of a vegan diet – plus fit vegan recipes.
Vegan: This is no longer a “trend”. More and more people are choosing a plant-based diet. According to the German Vegetarian Union (VEBU), there are now around 1.3 million people in Germany who have a purely plant-based, i.e. vegan, diet. Ascending trend.
Nevertheless: for many a plant-based diet is still strange or even “extreme”. There are also many prejudices circulating in our society: vegans are weak, have deficiency symptoms, only eat raw vegetables – and they don’t enjoy life either.
What vegans can eat, what they should look out for, and what a healthy vegan diet looks like: you will find out all of this in this article.
This is how the vegan diet works
Those who follow a vegan diet do without anything animal – i.e. meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and honey. Some people also pay attention to freedom from animals when buying clothes or cosmetics: leather, wool, or down are taboo.
What can vegans eat?
“What can you still eat then?
That the plant-based diet is boring or monotonous is a prejudice, however. On the contrary: Colorful vegetables form the basis of the vegan diet, supplemented by fresh fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, milk alternatives, and healthy oils.
Noodles (except egg noodles) are vegan, as are rice, millet, couscous, quinoa, and most types of bread and rolls.
The times in which vegan people had to filter the almond milk themselves and tofu and soy yogurt could only be bought in selected supermarkets are long gone. There is now a huge selection of milk alternatives (e.g. soy, almond, oats, rice, coconut, spelled, cashew, macadamia), vegan spreads, meat substitutes (burger patties, tofu, tempeh, seitan, lupine fillets …), vegan cheese and others vegan foods.
As with a diet with meat, fresh, unprocessed foods should always be on the menu.
Ready-made products such as vegan grated cheese often contain a lot of fat and also contain artificial flavors and additives. That is why they should not be eaten every day. Better: Mix your cheese melt from cashew butter and yeast flakes.
Many foods in the supermarket are already vegan anyway, for example, hummus, ketchup, sorbets, or dark chocolate. And some foods are vegan without one suspecting it, including many sweets. Did you know that Oreos, Mr. Tom peanut bars, or Manner Neapolitan waffles always had a vegan recipe?
How exactly should you eat as a vegan?
Which foods should be consumed and in which quantities were recorded in the scientifically based nutrition pyramid of the VEBU. It is in line with the recommendations of the Giessen Vegan Food Pyramid, which was published in 2018.
The recommendations help to fully exploit the health potential of a plant-based diet and to minimize the risk of possible nutrient deficiencies.
For a food energy intake of approx. 2050 kcal per day, the following is recommended:
- At least 1.5 liters of water and other low-calorie drinks
- At least three servings of fresh vegetables and juices
- At least two servings of fresh fruit (supplemented by dried fruit and juices)
- Three servings of grains and potatoes (prefer whole grains)
- A serving of legumes and other sources of protein such as tofu, tempeh or seitan
- One to three servings of milk alternatives made from soy, grain, nuts, and soy yoghurt
- One to two servings of nuts and seeds (approx. 50 grams)
- 3 to 5 tablespoons of oils and fats (natural vegetable oils with a favorable fatty acid profile are preferred, e.g. rapeseed or linseed oil)
- One teaspoon of seaweed or a maximum of three grams of iodized salt
The seven main rules of the vegan diet
Dr. med. Henrich of the ProVegan Foundation also recommends seven main rules for a healthy, vegan diet. These are:
- Eat as varied as possible.
- Take vitamin B12 as a dietary supplement, in winter vitamin D (either vegan vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 of vegan origin).
- Beverages or foods containing vitamin C with meals to optimize iron absorption.
- Avoid refined sugar and flour.
- You should consume fats in the form of healthy whole foods like seeds and nuts. Additional fats or oils only in small amounts (those with heart disease should avoid additional fats/oils completely).
- Industrially processed foods (such as vegetable oils, spreadable fats, refined sugar) rarely or not at all.
- Prefer fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. They are the foundation of a healthy vegan diet.
Wine, snacks, and supplements: this is where animal products are hidden
Animal products are hidden in some products, even though they are not expected there. Wine, for example, actually consists of grapes and is therefore vegan. But: Animal products are often used for the filtering process. This can be gelatin or the swim bladder of fish.
However, since the animal clarifying agents are removed after production, they do not have to be declared on the wine label. Vegan wines are instead clarified with bentonite (a clay mineral rock), for example.
Vitamin supplements can also be of animal origin: they can contain gelatin, fish cod liver oil, egg yolks, or butter.
Some additives and E numbers also conceal an animal origin. These are often used as an ingredient in snacks and nibbles. Here are three examples:
- E 120 – carmine: real pigment obtained from fertilized females of the scarlet scale louse. For production, the lice are dried, ground and boiled
- E 322 – Lecithin: Serves as an emulsifier, stabilizer, and antioxidant. If the addition (sunflower or soy) is not included, it is made from hen’s egg yolks
- E 904 – Shellac: release agent and coating agent obtained from the excretions of the lacquer scale insect
Are there critical nutrients in a vegan diet?
With a balanced diet exclusively based on plant-based foods, supplementing vitamins or minerals is not necessary in most cases.
There is one exception, however: vitamin B12. The vitamin is only found in foods of animal origin. Plant-based foods, especially milk alternatives, are often fortified with the vitamin, but should still be supplemented, for example with tablets, drops, or toothpaste.
However, since the human body stores the vitamin, there is no need to worry about an undersupply of the nutrient at the beginning of a change in diet: Well-filled storage tanks last three to five years. However, if you decide to make a permanent change, you will need to take vitamin B12 as well.
The German Nutrition Society also regards some other nutrients as critical. These include protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, iron, iodine, selenium, and zinc.
However, these nutrients can also be obtained from plant-based foods. Protein can be easily obtained from legumes, whole grains, oats, pseudo-grains, nuts, and certain vegetables. And let’s be honest, have you generally heard of a person in Germany who suffers from a protein deficiency? Just.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty sea fish. Vegans can use olive oil, walnuts, or chia seeds. Another very good source of omega-3 is linseed oil.
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), only about 38 percent of all people in Germany are adequately supplied with vitamin D. Therefore, like the rest of the population, vegans should also make sure that they consume the “sun vitamin” in sufficient quantities. A supplement is advisable in the winter months.
Since less iron can be absorbed by the intestine from plant-based food, iron is also often mentioned as a critical nutrient in a vegan diet. But: With vitamin C and other organic acids (contained in fruits and vegetables), iron absorption can be increased. So simply combine meals well: fruit with muesli, orange juice with wholemeal bread or paprika/broccoli/spinach with wholemeal penne.
Iodine is absorbed through fish, algae, or salt. Vegans should make sure that they use table salt containing iodine. The nutrient can also be absorbed via seaweed or yeast extracts.
It is a misconception that calcium can only be absorbed through milk. Calcium is particularly found in green vegetables (broccoli, Chinese cabbage, pak choi). It is also often added to plant-based drinks. Vegetable calcium has better bioavailability than animal calcium (more than twice as high), and animal protein promotes increased excretion of calcium from the body.
Vegan nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies, children, and young people
There are certain groups of people who have an increased need for nutrients. This includes children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women. The German Nutrition Society does not recommend a vegan diet for these people.
In their statement it says: “The DGE does not recommend a vegan diet for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants, children, and adolescents. If you still want to eat vegan, you should take a vitamin B12 supplement permanently, especially if you have sufficient intake Pay attention to critical nutrients and use fortified foods and nutritional supplements if necessary.
For this purpose, advice should be given by a qualified nutritionist and the supply of critical nutrients should be checked regularly by a doctor. “
Benefits and risks of a vegan diet
The advantage of plant foods is that, despite their low-calorie content, they are high in vitamins and minerals.
The secondary plant substances that are important for our health, such as carotenoids or flavonoids, are only contained in plant-based foods.
They have a proven positive effect on our health and can lower blood pressure, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anti-carcinogenic effects. That is why they are nutritionally more positive than animal products.
Many supporters of a plant-based diet also describe that the change in diet makes them feel much more vital, fitter, and healthier. The complexion can also improve.
The high fiber content in vegan foods also has a positive effect on our health.
A vegan diet is healthier
Many scientific studies have shown that a vegan diet has a positive effect on health: People who follow a vegan diet have a significantly lower risk of numerous chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease -Diseases.
The risk of developing certain types of cancer is also lower. The death rate is only about half that of the general population.
“Vegan diet, healthy and nutritionally appropriate”
The world’s largest nutrition organization “ Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ”, or AND for short, consists of an association of more than 70,000 nutritionists, researchers, and medical experts. She considers the vegan diet to be healthy and positions herself as follows in a publication:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that well-planned vegetarian diets, including strictly vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally appropriate and can have health benefits in terms of the prevention and treatment of certain health conditions. Well-designed vegetarian diets are for people suitable for all stages of life, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy, childhood, and adolescence and athletes. “
The World Health Organization WHO also advocates a plant-based diet. It can be used to prevent diseases and obesity. In 2015, she also classified red meat and sausages as carcinogenic.
Criticism from the German Nutrition Society
The German Nutrition Society is more critical of a vegan diet. In 2016 she published a position on the vegan diet, in which it says: “With a purely plant-based diet, an adequate supply of some nutrients is difficult or impossible.”
She criticizes that vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient, as well as protein, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and other vitamins and minerals. She, therefore, does not recommend the vegan diet to pregnant women, breastfeeding women, babies, and adolescents.
Healthy or not? The bottom line
A plant-based diet, if done correctly, can provide all nutrients except vitamin B12.
As a rule, however, vegans pay more attention to their health than mixed dieters. That is why most vegans have no problems with an undersupply of nutrients.
Can you lose weight with a vegan diet?
Since Attila Hildmann launched a “Vegan for Fit” challenge on the market in 2012, plant-based nutrition in Germany has often been equated with a diet for weight loss. And indeed: if you follow a vegan diet, you can often lose a few kilos in the first few weeks of changing your diet.
But not without reason: Weight loss often occurs when processed and fatty foods (such as sausage, cheese, or ready-made lasagne) give way to fresh, home-cooked dishes. This reduces the overall energy balance. The same effect would occur if you suddenly cooked yourself instead of fast food in the evening.
Also, a plant-based diet usually consumes more fiber: This means that the feeling of satiety lasts longer, the blood sugar level rises and does not fall as rapidly, and our digestion is also positively influenced.
Of course, those who only eat french fries and tofu sausage – vegan, but not healthy – will not lose weight even with a vegan diet.
Reasons for a vegan diet
There are many reasons why more than a million Germans follow a vegan diet. The most common reasons are briefly outlined below.
Numerous studies show that a plant-based diet has many health benefits and vegans suffer less from chronic diseases. You can find an overview of the studies on the Cebu website.
Morality and animal welfare
Most vegans are ethically motivated. They do not want to be responsible for the killing of animals or support animal cruelty or exploitation. Very few people know that animals are not only abused during the production of meat.
Animal transport, unnecessary bycatch, and species extinction are also reasons why people choose to eat vegan.
The meat, dairy, and egg industries cause greenhouse gas emissions and, in addition to water and grain for animal feed, also use fossil fuels. A study by the WorldWatch Institute showed that livestock farming and the consumption of meat, milk, fish, and eggs are responsible for more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans worldwide
The emission of the greenhouse gas methane alone is critical: around 1.5 billion cattle are kept worldwide – and each one emits up to 250 liters of methane a day. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide
Through animal husbandry (and the cultivation of grain, soy, and maize for animal feed) huge forests are cleared, which are then managed with pesticides that get into the drinking water (source: PetaZwei ).
Madness: 50% of the world grain harvest and approx. 95% of the world soy harvest is used for the production of animal feed!
PetaZwei criticizes the fact that it has a direct impact on global hunger if we eat meat and other animal products: “The more animal products we eat, the fewer people we can feed.
Instead of giving soy and grain directly to humans, a large part of it is fed to animals that are kept for meat, milk, or eggs. This is not only inefficient but directly ensures that people go hungry. “