Contrary to popular belief, the vegan diet is not about living on granola and salads. Being vegan is about more than what you eat; it touches on your entire lifestyle. If you’re passionate about animal cruelty, this diet might just be the one for you.
In particular, the 21 days vegan diet is used by people looking to switch to healthier eating or enjoy certain health benefits. While this 21 days diet can result in weight loss, this is not its primary purpose. Furthermore, the diet is not necessarily low-fat or low-calorie.
What Is The Vegan Diet?
A vegan meal plan does not contain any animal products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy. Many people go vegan for health reasons. The term “vegan” is derived from “vegetarian”. The difference between vegetarianism and veganism is that vegans avoid all foods of animal origin or by-products. If it contains some sort of derivative of an animal product in its ingredient list, then it’s probably off-limits to vegans.
Let’s look at this a little further: Traditional vegetarians eat eggs and cheese (and fish, for some) (11). Vegans do not consume any animal products whatsoever. This includes butter (because it comes directly from milk), honey (because it comes directly from bees), food products containing gelatin (even if they don’t contain any animal meat), and even some types of medications, such as capsules (3).
It’s very important to know what you can eat on a vegan diet, but first, let’s take a look at the “what not to eat” list!
What To Avoid On A Vegan Diet?
Leave these foods out of your 21-day meal plan:
- Meat, poultry, or seafood
- Dairy products such as butter and cream
- Grains or cereals that have been touched by honey during processing
- Foods that are processed with ingredients derived from animals (such as rennet used in cheese production)
- Sweets containing gelatin
- Foods made from insects
Now that we’ve gotten everything off the table that shouldn’t be eaten, let’s get to the food!
What To Eat On A Vegan Diet?
These foods are good to include in your meal plan:
- Plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and legumes
- Grains such as rice and corn/maize
- Foods made from plant products, including tofu and soymilk
- Bread and pasta
Is Vegan Diet Good For You?
The most popular reason for going on a plant-based diet for beginners is for the health benefits. Filling up with fruits and veggies has a good impact on your health, but that’s not the only reason people go vegan!
Going Vegan For The Animals
Many people switch to a vegan diet because they feel uncomfortable eating meat and other animal products after learning how animals are treated on farms and in slaughterhouses.
Going veggie may be a way to try to make up for the cruelty of factory farming. But it is important to note that being a vegetarian or vegan does not equate with being “cruelty-free” even when buying organic, local food (3).
The best way to avoid purchasing meat from farms that use inhumane practices is by knowing where your food comes from and being able to ask questions about how animals are treated before they end up on our plates.
Better Health And Longer Life
Another reason people choose a vegan diet is that they have heard that a plant-based diet can help prevent heart disease, prevent prostate and colon cancer, and reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. We take a closer look at each of the health benefits of the vegan diet below.
Prevent Heart Disease
Vegan diets are often rich in “good” vegetable oils like olive oil and sunflower oil. These oils may help lower your risk for heart disease by reducing total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, which helps prevent damage to the lining of your blood vessels (12).
Going on this diet is one way to control your cholesterol levels, but it’s important to note that some vegan foods can still harm your cholesterol levels.
To reduce cholesterol, a person must keep their saturated fat intake low and reduce the number of trans fats in his/her diet. Trans fats are found mostly in processed foods such as microwave meals and pastries (8).
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Vegan diets are often rich in phytochemicals, chemicals that occur naturally in plants. Several of these substances have been linked to reducing cancer rates, especially the risk of developing cancers of the prostate and colon (9).
Phytochemical called indole-3 carbinol can block estrogen receptors from being turned on by estrogen, which can prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying. This chemical is found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, and cabbage (9).
Sulforaphane helps stop tumor growth for lung, liver, and stomach cancers. This phytochemical is present in raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli (9).
Beta-carotene fights off free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells) by increasing the body’s production of enzymes that repair damaged DNA. Beta-carotene is found in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and collard greens (9).
Phytochemical lycopene has been shown to help protect against prostate cancer by helping prevent cell damage from oxidation, which may otherwise lead to cancerous mutations (9).
Gliadin protein reduces the risk for colon cancer development by keeping growth factors away from the colon mucosa lining. These growth factors can cause a mutation in beta cells if they’re not blocked off (9).
Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on your digestive system. Omega-3 helps protect against breast cancer development by inhibiting blood supply to tumor tissue and slowing down the growth of cancer cells (9). A vegan diet rich in omega-3s can be achieved by eating flax seeds, consuming walnuts, or taking supplements.
Other Benefits Of Going Vegan
Not all vegans are health food fanatics; some choose to go vegan for other reasons. For example, one of the main reasons people stop eating animals is because they believe that their meat consumption contributes to world hunger and global warming. Many people have also gone vegan as a means to help improve the environment by avoiding meat products altogether.
Religion is another factor in deciding to become a vegan. Many Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains choose to adopt the diet because their religions forbid them from eating animals or animal products.
Nutrient Deficiency On The Vegan Diet
While the vegan diet has plenty of nutrients, it can also be lacking in some vital ones. Going on this diet long-term means you have to plan your meals carefully to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Key nutrients that may be low on this diet include:
This vitamin is mostly present in animal products. It’s essential for protecting nerves and red-blood-cell health. Some vegan sources of vitamin B-12 that are plant-based include fortified plant milk, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast (10).
While seaweed, algae, and certain mushrooms all contain vitamin B-12, they are not reliable sources because they do not act the same way in the human body. Studies have found that consuming them doesn’t increase a person’s Vitamin B-12 levels (10).
Iron is used to transport oxygen around the body. It’s important for preventing anemia and sustaining energy levels. Plant-based sources of iron include soybeans, baked potatoes with skin, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and dried apricots. Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron from plant foods (7).
Calcium is an essential mineral that helps support bone health and keeps nerves functioning properly. It is also needed to build muscles and blood cells (2). Sources of calcium for vegans include fortified plant milk like almond milk or coconut milk, kale, bok choy, almonds, soy milk fortified with calcium, broccoli raab (Rapini), tahini (sesame seed paste), blackstrap molasses (unsulphured), figs, white beans (navy or great northern), and mustard greens.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help keep the heart healthy, fight inflammation, support brain function and protect against infections. Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential Omega-3 fatty acid that must be supplemented through the diet as it cannot be produced by the body itself (6). Excellent sources include walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, kale, spinach, purslane, and seaweed (e.g., spirulina). However, if you can only choose one source, make sure to go with chia seeds as these have the highest concentration of this nutrient.
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Zinc is an essential mineral that helps support the immune system, maintain skin health and keep eyes functioning properly (13). Sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, tofu (with calcium), and fortified cereals. Make sure to pair these zinc-rich foods with antioxidants like Vitamin C to increase absorption rates.
Iodine is a mineral that helps keep the thyroid gland healthy. It’s also needed for the repair of damaged tissue and preventing anemia (1). Sources of iodine include sea vegetables (such as kelp, dulse, nori, and kombu), nutritional yeast, iodized salt, some brands of soy sauce (check the label to make sure), and dairy-free yogurt made with fortifying cultures.
The Vegan Weight Loss Meal Plan
A vegan meal plan is not necessarily low-fat or low-calorie. Therefore, to lose weight on this diet, you must create a calorie deficit using plant-based food sources. Follow this simple 3 step plan.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Daily Calorie Needs
The first step to creating your meal plan is to determine how many calories you need per day to maintain your current weight. For example, if you are currently physically active at a moderately high level and have an average build (i.e., BMI of 22), your caloric needs will be about 2500 calories per day. However, if you are sedentary and have a large frame (i.e., BMI of 26), then you would need fewer calories to maintain weight (2100 calories per day) (4).
To determine how many calories you need per day, check online calculators from reliable sources.
Step 2: Plan Meals And Daily Calorie Intake
After determining your calorie needs per day in step 1, divide them into three meals and two snacks each day. In general, aim for:
- 3 meals and 2 snacks per day (e.g., breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one snack in between or breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner)
- ¼ of your daily calorie intake at each meal (¼×Daily Calorie Intake=Total Calories for Meal)
- 2/3 of the remaining calories spread out as snacks between meals
Step 3: Create Sample Vegan Diet Weight Loss Meal Plan
Here’s a sample day of eating on the vegan diet:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal cooked with water and cinnamon, topped with blueberries and chia seeds
- Lunch: Black bean burrito made with one corn tortilla filled with black beans, shredded lettuce, and salsa (no cheese or sour cream)
- Snack: Carrot sticks or apple slice with a nut butter dip
- Dinner: Large salad ( leafy greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and olive oil) topped with tofu, brown rice, and sesame seeds
Step 4: Create A Diary To Monitor Your Weight Loss Progress
Create a journal for yourself or use the sample table below and weigh yourself weekly. Track your weight losses in pounds rather than just BMI changes over time as this is more accurate. Remember that weight loss is not linear; it will be an up-and-down situation, with plateaus and setbacks along the way. It may be usual that you’ll lose one or two pounds per week at first, then your rate of weight loss will slow down.
Remember that there are also other factors besides dieting that can affect your weight, such as water retention due to hormonal changes, physical activity levels, and muscle building/loss from exercise (5). Our goal here is to simply use diet as one aspect of a healthy lifestyle for weight loss, so if you are exercising and drinking plenty of water (2 lbs of pure H20 per lb. of body weight), then do not beat yourself up about fluctuations in your weight!
Weigh yourself every week on the same day at roughly the same time after using the bathroom. Weighing in a different location with clothing or even hanging onto the scale can give you an inaccurate reading! Write down your weight loss/gain progress each week.
The Bottom Line
A vegan diet has health benefits and may be necessary for personal and religious reasons. It can also help you lose weight if you are consuming fewer calories consistently. To keep your weight off for good, you must learn how to incorporate principles from psychology into your lifestyle to develop a sustainable healthy eating plan which allows you to enjoy variety, moderation, longevity, and satiety.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Assessment of iodine importance and needs for supplementation in school-aged children in Portugal (2017, biomedcentral.com)
- Calcium (n.d., harvard.edu)
- Definition of veganism (n.d., vegansociety.com)
- Estimated Calorie Requirements (2008, webmd.gov)
- Factors Affecting Weight & Health (2018, nih.gov)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution (n.d., harvard.edu)
- Review on iron and its importance for human health (2014, nih.gov)
- Saturated Fat (n.d., heart.org)
- Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies (2017, tandfonline.com)
- Vitamin B12 (n.d., veganhealth.org)
- What is a vegetarian? (n.d., vegsoc.org)
- Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber (n.d., heart.org)
- Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review (2013, nih.gov)