Adopting a vegan diet can be very easy but it can also be very painful given the overwhelming amount of different vegan diets that are promoted on social media and given the pressure many vegans put on them to look their healthiest version in order to successfully promote veganism. Here I would like to clear at least some of the confusions.
I don’t think vegans are generally more likely to develop nutrient deficiencies than meat-eaters or vegetarians. It is just that the focus is more shifted towards deficiencies and more importantly we as a society have less experience with the vegan diet. So we have to learn. See my series on diet:
GETTING STARTED WITH VEGANISM
MY HEALTHY VEGAN BASICS
POPULAR VEGAN DIETS
BREAKING THE RULES
WHAT IS A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
HOW TO LOOSE WEIGHT
THE PROTEIN MYTH
A vegan diet dosen’t necessarily equal a healthy diet. In principle you have to make the same considerations as with any other diet, which are: Macronutrients, micronutrients, overall calorie intake, whole foods vs refined foods, raw vs cooked food, food combination and personal preferences. This does not mean you have to become a nutritional scientist. I will go through all of these points separately.
Macronutrients: Macronutrients are the ones that provide us with energy and are required in larger quantities than micronutrients. There are three types of macronutrients: Carbohydrates, proteins and fats (=lipids). Besides being energy sources macronutrients serve a lot of other functions in our bodies such as tissue structure building blocks, metabolic reactions and signaling. The dietary recommendations by institutions in many cases differ a lot from what is promoted in social media. However, social media in a way represents experience and therefore has its value. I think the most important thing to know is that carbohydrates are our main fuel and we should focus on them as staples while not excessively trying to avoid the other two. See FOOD GROUPS to see which foods provides which macronutrients. Also the THE PROTEIN MYTH.
Micronutrients: Micronutrients are required in smaller quantities and include vitamins and minerals. I will not name all of them because there are so many and they might not all be known to scientists yet. Here are the ones you should keep track of on a vegan diet by checking your blood levels. Check out MICRONUTRIENTS for details.
Calorie intake: The amount of calories that a person needs mainly depends on their age and activity level. There are tables to calculate your needs here. There are three possible scenarios: You want to loose weight, sustain your weight or gain weight. All of this is possible on a vegan diet and often times easier than on animal-based diets. It is up to you if you want to count calories or just eat intuitively when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Most people notice that they loose weight when adopting a vegan diet since usually plant-food is less calorie dense and richer in fibers. Also see: HOW TO LOOSE WEIGHT.
Whole foods vs refined food: It generally is a good idea to preferably eat whole foods over refined foods. The following foods are not whole foods: Sugar, white flour and oil. Also processed food should be avoided as much as possible. This means preparing your own meals from scratch everyday. It might seem like a heavy task but it is just a matter of routine.
Food combination: Food combination is a much underestimated aspect of nutrition. It was found that in our stomaches the food isn’t actually mixed but it ends up layered in the stomach in the order of how we ate it. Some foods digest quicker than others. The order is as follows: Fruit digest fastest, then vegetables, starchy food such as grains and potatoes and then fat-rich food such as nuts, seeds, olives and avocado. Animal products reside in the stomach for the longest period of time. So when you eat fruit after a meal rich in fats or animal products the fruit will lay on top, start fermenting and can cause stomach issues. So it is advisable to eat the majority of fruit in the first part of the day for example for breakfast. See FOOD COMBINATION.
Raw vs cooked: The food that can be eaten raw is mainly fruit, most vegetables, some fungi and sprouts. In general during spring and summer we crave for more refreshing raw food and in autumn and winter we want more warming cooked food such as grains and starchy vegetables. Also see POPULAR VEGAN DIETS for raw vegan diets.
Personal preferences: And last but not least your diet should meet your needs when living your everyday life. It should be tasty, readily available, affordable and practical within your routines and social life. See MY HEALTHY VEGAN BASICS and GETTING STARTED ON VEGANISM.
Of course a healthy diet also includes drinking plenty of fluid ideally still water. Dietary recommendations by governments all over the world recommend drinking 1 to 2 liters of water. In my opinion this is insufficient and drinking 3 to 6 liters of water depending on your activity level and climate is more advisable. Since a vegan diet is richer in fibers than the western diet you should aim at drinking more water than you have before in order to avoid constipation.