You want to start a healthier lifestyle and part of this is adapting the plant-based diet (going vegan). But what to actually eat on a vegan diet? You hit Google and start searching. Very soon you will get confused. For many people this reason alone might be the reason why they never actually go vegan.
The fact is, vegans are far from being a homogenic group. There are many “schools” of veganism and they are even in conflict with each other. One says that x is healthy when y is unhealthy, and the other says y is healthy when x is unhealthy. Also, to many people veganism is not just a diet but a philosophy in larger scale, and a subculture with all kinds of side-effects. All of this reflects also on their views on diet and vegans as a group can seem very confusing to someone who is new or an outsider.
Before I talk about where I stand in this, I will talk about the definition of veganism and some common schools of veganism.
Basically veganism is a diet where a person does not consume any animal products. This includes everything that comes from an animal like meat (also poultry and fish), eggs, dairy, gelatin etc. Strictest vegans also exclude honey. To some people veganism is not only a diet but a lifestyle and a philosophy where a person refrains from using anything that harms animals like leather, fur or wool clothing and cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Vegan diet is also called plant-based diet (everything comes from plants only), strict vegetarianism or pure vegetarianism.
Dietary vegans are vegans who are more focused on health and diet aspects and may wear clothing that include animal products (like leather, fur or wool).
Ethical vegans are vegans who are focused on the ethical side and extend the vegan philosophy to other aspects of life than just diet. They promote animal rights and oppose the use of animal products for any purpose.
Environmental vegans are vegans who are concerned of the environment and want to avoid everything that they believe is environmentally damaging or unsustainable.
As far as I know, vegans usually tend to be a combination of all these three types. But when it comes to diet they often have very differing views. This results in many controversial schools.
Raw veganism or raw foodism is the belief that everything that has been cooked (even in low temperatures) is unhealthy. Raw vegans only consume food that is uncooked and they often extend this to spices as well, meaning that they require all single ingredient of a food product to be uncooked. Raw foodists often also exclude salt, sugar and all grains in any type or form.
Fruitarianism is the belief that fruits are the most natural food for the human beings and follow a diet which almost completely consists of different types of fruit. This is a sub-school of raw veganism.
HCLF veganism (High Carb Low Fat) is the belief that carbohydrates should be the basic source of calories for human beings and dietary fat should be restricted. There are basically two schools of HCLF vegans: the ones who base their diet on starches (potatoes, bread, rice etc. the teachings of Dr. John McDougall and his “The Starch Solution”) and the ones who base their diet on fruit (the teachings of Dr. Doug Graham and his “80/10/10” diet).
It is also very common among vegans to avoid all grains that contain gluten (especially wheat) and soy (soy milk, all imitation meat products made from soy protein) because they believe that these are unhealthy and harmful. Many vegans avoid both. There is also a vegan version of the low-carb philosophy.
The junk vegan is not really a school but I included it here because I think that this is relevant. “The junk vegan” is a nickname for a vegan who is into animal rights but who has little interest in healthy lifestyle. Potato chips are vegan. Beer is vegan. French fries are vegan. Peanut butter is vegan. Bisquits can be vegan. Chocolate can be vegan. Ice cream can be vegan. The junk vegan’s diet mainly consists of junk food that is vegan. They can end up very sick and very overweight but it was not because they were vegan, it was because their diet was very poor.
As you can see, veganism in practice is often far from just refraining from eating animal products. Many vegans follow at least one other philosophy or guideline (soy-free, gluten-free, low-carb, low-fat…) and when you search for vegan recipes or meal planners you notice that these are also based on these philosophies and that’s when you get confused. Also, the main principles and consistency of different vegan diets can be dramatically different.
That’s why I say that there is not THE vegan diet. There are vegan dietS and they can be dramatically different from each other. The only common ground is that they exclude animal products.
So you want to go vegan but how on Earth do you know which one is correct? Well, to be perfectly honest the only way to determine is to try them out for yourself and educate yourself. That is the only way to know which one REALLY works for you. But the truth is that some diets are harder to follow long-term and work best as short kick-starts or cleanses. Some are just plain unhealthy. Many vegans crash and burn and return to “the standard diet” and eating meat because they felt that veganism failed and ruined their health. Yes, you can ruin your health with poor diet practices and veganism is not a magic pill in itself. You must know what you are doing. When done right veganism is the healthiest, cheapest and most practical diet possible.
Where do I stand when it comes to vegan schools? I am a HCLF vegan in the starch school and my diet is a variation of Dr. John McDougall’s The Starch Solution. I have done years of experimenting on myself and I ended up here through trial and error. My practices have been tested and I follow them daily in my own life. They work. You can read more about me and my background here and here.
I am also a dietary vegan only. I am not interested in animal rights or environmental issues. But I am hugely into consuming less as a way to save money and personal resources and to simplifify my life. This is called the minimalist lifestyle and this is what I promote. I am also extremely lazy but I was blessed with good wits so I am good at clever planning. This also reflects on my views on diet. I am a vegan for health reasons but it is also a part of my minimalist (and lazy) lifestyle. Your reasons for veganism are irrelevant to me, whether you are vegan because of health, animal rights, the environment or something else, but if you want to save money or are into minimalism then I am your guy, especially if you want to eat healthier but don’t know how to cook.
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