You have probably come across the vegan diet through chatting with friends, colleagues, your gym buddy, and maybe through browsing the beautiful food images posted by celebrities and KOLs whom you follow on social media. You have also seen restaurant menus labelling dishes as vegan-friendly. But do you know what it means to eat like a vegan?

To put it into the simplest terms, an individual who follows a vegan diet does not eat any animal-based products. These products include meat, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood. In addition, vegans avoid animal products such as gelatin because it is derived from animal collagen and honey because it is made by bees.

Veganism for different reasons

You may wonder, no honey either? Why would anyone follow a diet that offers a limited food variety? Well, people do so for various reasons; some believe in animal rights and/or have great concerns for the environment, while others believe such a diet promotes better health. There are also individuals who follow a vegan diet due to religious beliefs, or simply due to personal preference.

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Glad midsommar / happy midsummer to all of you a day late! We were so busy making food and eating a lot of food too while having lots of fun with friends yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to wish you a happy summer solstice so today it is instead. I hope all of you are as happy about these (in the northern hemisphere) long bright days. I’m always very grateful for the summer light which brightens life and makes most things feel exactly that, lighter. . Now is a great time to write down some thoughts on your wishes and dreams, maybe making a vision board, and planning how to reach those goals of yours. A little like a mini new year. I’m going to be doing this tonight! . Pictured is me happy with my gluten free and vegan take on a very traditional Swedish cream cake with strawberries. It was a little messy to cut and the sponge was a little dense but the flavour was great and the messiness made it all the more fun to cut. And in the background and second picture is our May pole which was so fun to make. Very appreciative for a fun midsummer’s eve and sending big thanks to our awesome hosts @sjalvhushallningsprojektet @gronaskafferiet And to new friends Moa and Pontus for great company! . Now I’m going to just chill today. Will share some more images from the day on my stories in a minute though if you want to see more! . Karoline of @gronaskafferiet . #midsommar #midsummer #summersolstice #maypole #vegan

A post shared by Malin | (@goodeatings) on Jun 23, 2018 at 6:02am PDT

Nutrition considerations

No matter what your rationale is, you can enjoy an abundant choice of foods and eat a well-balanced vegan diet. Instead of gelatin and honey, for example, vegans can choose agar and maple syrup, respectively.

Since animal-based products are excluded, vegans need to ensure they obtain enough of the following essential nutrients in their diet:

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Protein: Vegan-friendly sources include tofu, legumes, edamame, nuts and seeds, meat substitutes (e.g. soy patties), textured vegetable protein.

Iron: Legumes, tofu, edamame, dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach, kale), fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin B12: Meat substitutes, textured vegetable protein, nutritional yeast, fortified soy, almond and rice beverages.

Calcium: Fortified soy, almond and rice beverages, nuts and seeds, collards, dark leafy greens.

Vitamin D : Fortified soy, almond and rice beverages. Our bodies can also make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight, but obtaining it from food is also recommended.

Zinc: Legumes, seeds, whole grains, wheat germ cereal.

Nevertheless, eating a vegan diet does not mean it is lower in calories, fat, sugar and salt. Compared to a conventional diet, vegan diets are generally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. However, this does not necessarily mean it is lower in calories and total fat when compared to its conventional counterpart. For instance, while nuts and seeds are nutrient-dense foods, they are also packed with fat and calories. As with a conventional diet, keeping portion sizes in mind is important. Furthermore, depending on the quantity of condiments that are used to flavour your vegan dishes, you can also easily rack up a load of fat, sugar and salt.

Anyone can follow a vegan diet

From a dietitian’s perspective, anyone can follow a vegan diet, as long as the meals and snacks are well-planned.

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In fact, I encourage people who are not vegans (or vegetarians) to go meatless for a day or two every week for better health in the long run. Like a conventional diet, simply include at least three of the four food groups in a meal, and at least two of the four food groups in a snack.

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Here is a sample vegan meal plan:

Breakfast: Toast with nut butter; or breakfast smoothie made with fortified soy beverage and fruits

Morning snack:

¼ cup almonds; or one medium-sized fruit

Lunch: Bean medley, green beans and pasta salad

Afternoon snack: Whole grain crackers and vegetable sticks with hummus

Dinner: Tofu and vegetable stir-fry with rice; or fortified almond beverage

Evening snack: Dairy-free frozen dessert with ½ cup fruit

If you are thinking of trying a vegan diet, either occasionally or long-term, speak to a registered dietitian who can guide you in planning healthy vegan meals.

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