Running a little low on energy, I turned to my fellow coaches and asked for suggestions for what could be draining my brain and stamina so quickly when nothing in my regular routine had changed. After going through a Q&A session, we discovered that my diet could potentially be impacting my ability to stay on top of my game. My diet has never been bad, per se, but it could always be better.
Backyard barbecues, picnics, county fairs, and festivals had been taking a toll on my digestive system, and I needed to clear the clutter to allow my body to function properly.
Enter my experimentation with the vegan diet.
Popular Variations of the Vegan Diet
There are many variations of the vegan diet; the most common include:
- Whole-food vegan diet: Just as it sounds, this diet is made up of a variety of whole plant foods. This includes vegetables and fruits along with legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Raw-food vegan diet: This is similar to the whole-food vegan diet; however, if the plant foods are cooked at all, only temperatures below 118°F (48°C) are used.
- 80/10/10 (also called the low-fat, raw-food vegan diet or fruitarian diet): This is another raw-food vegan diet; however, it limits the fat-rich plants like avocados and nuts and is made up of mostly raw fruits and greens.
- The starch solution: Similar to the 80/10/10, this low-fat vegan diet is high in carbs but allows cooked starches like potatoes, rice, and corn instead of just fruit and greens.
- Raw till 4: Can you guess what this one is? Inspired by the 80/10/10 and starch solution, this low-fat plan focuses on raw foods until 4 p.m., with an optional cooked plant-based meal for dinner.
- The thrive diet: Another raw-food diet, this one focuses on plant-based, whole foods that are raw or minimally cooked at low temperatures.
- Junk-food vegan diet: This is the least healthy option which relies heavily on highly processed vegan foods like mock meats and cheeses, fries, vegan desserts, and others.
I followed the whole-food vegan diet, and I must say, it didn’t vary too much from my current meal plan outside of omitting cheese (dairy), bacon, chicken, fish (and other seafood), whey protein, tortilla chips (to go with my salsa), and pasta. Okay, so maybe it was completely different than my regular diet now that I see it in print. But to be honest, it wasn’t a complete revamp—it was just eliminating things that maybe I shouldn’t have been consuming so much of in the first place.
So, What Foods are on the Vegan Diet?
Health-conscious vegans skip animal products altogether (including honey) and instead fill up their plates with plant-based options like:
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and peas are rich in nutrients. When sprouted, fermented, and cooked properly, nutrients are more readily absorbed.
- Tofu, tempeh, and seitan: Rich in protein, these often serve as alternatives to meat, fish, chicken, and eggs.
- Nuts and nut butters: Because they are good sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E—especially when raw.
- Seeds: Hemp, pumpkin, chia, and flaxseeds provide a good dose of protein as well as essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- Calcium-fortified plant milks and yogurts: These types of products can help increase calcium intakes. Varieties that are fortified with vitamins B12 and D are recommended.
- Algae: Looking for a plant source of complete protein? Spirulina and chlorella are good choices.
- Nutritional yeast: One flavor many people miss when they go vegan is cheese—nutritional yeast provides this flavor and also increases protein content. Look for vitamin B12-fortified varieties whenever possible as this nutrient is often lacking in a vegan diet.
- Whole grains, cereals, and pseudo-cereals (e.g., spelt, teff, amaranth, and quinoa): With a great bang for the buck, these foods provide proteins, complex carbs, fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and several minerals.
- Sprouted and fermented plant foods: These are often used to help improve mineral absorption and can be found in Ezekiel bread, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha, which also provide probiotics and vitamin K2.
- Fruits and vegetables: Nutrient powerhouses that provide flavor, fiber, and colorful phytonutrients—these are the foundations of a whole-food vegan diet.
What Foods are Off-Limits on the Vegan Diet?
Of course, any animal foods are off limits, and this includes foods that contain ingredients derived from animals.
- Meat and poultry: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, organ meat, wild meat, chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
- Fish and seafood: from anchovies to squid and anything in between.
- Dairy: From milk to yogurt to cheese and butter.
- Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches, fish, etc.
- Bee products: Bee pollen, honey, royal jelly, etc.
- Animal-based ingredients: Whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal, or carmine, isinglass, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3, and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acid
What are the Health Benefits of the Vegan Diet?
Studies show that vegans may benefit from good gut health from all of the healthy fiber intake, which can subsequently lead to lower levels of inflammation and elevated digestive health. These are definitely things I noticed when I switched over to a vegan diet.
Despite the fact that I ate generally the same number of calories, and in some cases more than I would normally consume on a daily basis, I found that I digested my meals a lot quicker than I did when I was consuming my regular diet. For example, you know that feeling you have when you have consumed a little too much and you feel the need to unbutton that top button or *gasp* change into your comfy pants? I didn’t get that way while eating vegan. I literally went right back to normal within the hour and felt quite relaxed and comfortable.
Something else noteworthy is that I didn’t hit that usual 3 p.m. slump that seems so inevitable—you guys know what I am talking about. It was almost like an internal alarm clock. After a day or two, I was shocked when I looked at the clock and it was 5 p.m. and time to get off work and I still had gas left in the tank and was plugging away at work.
Some other benefits of adopting a vegan diet may include:
- Increased Nutrient Intake. Vegan diets tend to provide more fiber, antioxidants, and other nourishing plant compounds. They can also be higher in potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E.
- Weight Loss. Observational studies have shown vegans in general tend to be thinner with lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than meat eaters.
- Lower Blood Sugar. Vegan diets may support more stable blood sugar levels and even help reduce blood sugar levels.
- May Lower the Risk of Certain Cancers. Research also suggests that eating at least seven portions of fresh fruits and vegetables per day may lower your risk of dying from cancer by up to 15%, and vegans tend to eat higher amounts of these nutrient-rich foods.
- Lower Risk of Heart Disease. According to research, vegan diets may be effective at reducing blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol to support heart health.
- May Reduce Joint Pain. Some research indicates vegan diets based on probiotic-rich whole foods significantly decrease pain, joint swelling, and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
While eating a vegan diet has promising health benefits, it may not be for everyone. And if not properly planned or if it relies on processed junk foods, this type of plant-based diet could leave you deficient in important nutrients. Most commonly, vegans can be deficient in calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.
My Daily Vegan Diet Meal Plan
For starters, I generally enjoy a whey protein shake for my first meal of the day—usually a BioTrust Nutrition Platinum1 or Low Carb Protein Blend shake. I mix these with 8 ounces of filtered water. For my 14-day experiment, I replaced this with BioTrust Harvest Plant based protein blend. This was an easy transition, and I didn’t notice any difference in the switch, and it was quite simple to do and still pretty darn tasty.
Sometimes I will have another shake after my workouts, or before bed, so I did the exact same thing and just swapped out my whey protein shake for a plant-based shake. Easy peasy.
For lunch, I generally have a salad with either grilled chicken or tuna on it, so this was a little more challenging. I just made this more of a meal with extra veggies. I replaced the protein sources I would typically have with legumes (black beans, red beans, garbanzo beans) and added extra cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Brussel sprouts and loaded the base with kale and spinach.
I don’t usually use traditional salad dressing, but rather, I top my salads with salsa, so as to cut down on the extra calories. Ain’t nobody got time for those added calories.
My usual salad has feta cheese or goat cheese on it, and if I am topping it with fish, I’ll often pair it with oranges or a citrus fruit, and if I have chicken, it may include pears or apples. Not topping my salads with cheese was somewhat of an adjustment, but after a few days, I got used to not having it on there.
For dinner meals, I typically have a grain, a protein, and a heaping portion of veggies. I have recently been replacing my grains with either a riced cauliflower or broccoli, or a spiraled zucchini or squash, so I haven’t even been missing out on those additional carbohydrates. I believe had I not already made this switch a few months previously, this would have been more difficult.
In terms of snacks, I kept with the basics and chopped up fresh vegetables such as celery and cucumbers, carrot sticks, and peppers. It was very difficult to avoid dips that included dairy—even Greek yogurt was off limits. But you can really appreciate the fresh taste of the veggies when you consume them by themselves.
There is a non-dairy yogurt made with coconut milk; however, in terms of nutrition, it doesn’t quite make it a fair fight. With Greek yogurt having roughly 100 calories per serving, 15 grams of protein, 10 carbohydrates, and 4.5 grams of fat, it is pretty tough to beat. Coconut yogurt, on the other hand, may contain as much protein, but it is triple the calories, triple the carbs, and triple the fat. While the taste is pretty good, I would just assume forfeit this one and use my calories elsewhere.
I also roasted chickpeas, which are a delicious snack, delivering just the right crunch when you are looking for something to pop in your mouth. Plus, I made some of my favorite vegan snacks.
What I Noticed on My Journey in the Vegan Diet
What I noticed after following a vegan diet for 14 days was that I was able to sleep much better, I had way more energy than I normally have, and I lost 9 pounds. I know it is somewhat taboo to discuss, but I had more frequent bowel movements, and I would even go as far as to say they were not just more frequent but they were almost more immediate after consuming a meal. This was not the case after drinking a protein shake, but after consuming copious amounts of vegetables, I noticed they had a cleansing effect. I suppose this would be a good thing for folks who are looking for this sort of thing. 😉
Overall, I don’t miss consuming the foods I omitted during my period of consuming whole plant-based foods at all. In fact, I believe we all need to consume more whole foods and veer away from processed foods. I am not convinced we need to omit meats and seafood, as these are both safe and healthy to include in our diets in moderation, but I enjoyed the experiment and will likely enjoy more vegan meals in the future as well.