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The 'V' Word

Demystifying the Vegan Diet: Top 3 Tips


By Didem Varol, Registered Dietitian

The season of New Year’s resolutions has just arrived! Perhaps you’re thinking of making some healthy diet changes? Maybe you’ve heard about vegan or plant-based diets and their benefits?  Let’s demystify the terms and get you feeling and looking great in 2020!


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A VEGAN AND PLANT-BASED DIET?


Veganism describes a philosophy of life. It aims to exclude all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or other purposes. For example, someone who is vegan will avoid animal-derived food and avoid cosmetics, fashion or other products that have been made using animals. 


A plant-based diet is one that is either solely or mostly based on plant-based foods. All vegans are plant-based but not all plant-based eaters are vegan. The difference in the terms is their purpose. Vegans avoid animal foods due to ethical reasons, while people who follow a plant-based diet are usually motivated by health reasons. 


ARE VEGAN OR PLANT-BASED DIETS HEALTHY?


Like with many labels, it really depends on what’s behind them. A vegan diet is not going to be healthy if it’s based on a lot of processed foods, lacks variety and omits whole food groups such as beans. A healthy vegan diet is one that is based on whole, plant-based foods, as shown in the “Power Plate” 

There is overwhelming scientific research that a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) pattern of eating is ideal for human health. Such a diet is based on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans & legumes, nuts & seeds and herbs & spices. It avoids meat, dairy products, eggs and processed foods (of either plant or animal origin). 


Processed food is something that has been changed from how it’s found in nature. Some processing is necessary, but most is excessive and reduces the nutritional quality of food. For example, we grind wheat into flour to make whole-grain breads, which are a great choice. Now compare that to the endless bounty of pastry products made using white flour and added fats and sugars – these are highly processed foods. 

The main reason chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer are at epidemic levels worldwide is because of diet; too many animal-based foods and processed foods and not enough whole (unrefined), plant-based foods. 


A healthy and well-planned plant-based or vegan diet has been recognized by the American, British and Canadian Dietetic Associations as not only being nutritionally adequate at all stages of life but also offering health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. 


Poor diets are now responsible for more deaths worldwide than cigarette smoking, according to a May 2019 study in The Lancet that looked at data from over 27 years and across 195 countries. 


DOES IT HAVE TO BE ALL OR NOTHING?


Vegans are dedicated to following a 100% plant-based diet. Someone who chooses to go plant-based may decide to follow it 100% of the time or most of the time, it depends on the individual. 


The bottom line is this: the more whole, plant-based foods you enjoy regularly, the better it is for your health (and waistline!). For some, the immense potential benefits of whole, plant-based foods are so promising, that they quit all animal-based and processed foods overnight. For others, it may take some more step-wise adjustments. Often, as people learn about the health benefits of this way of eating and the environmental and ethical benefits, it becomes an easy switch. The most important thing is that you do what works for you and always strive to improve. 


Didem Varol is a Registered Dietitian and, as such, is registered with the College of Dietitians of Ontario. She is a graduate from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She currently lives in Istanbul and runs her own private practice, Plantgevity Nutrition Solutions. Prior to that, she spent almost 10 years working at Toronto Public Health, as a Public Health Dietitian in the field of chronic disease prevention. She has completed a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies &; eCornell. She is also a “Food For Life” Instructor, which is an evidence-based nutrition and cooking program developed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. For more information about Didem, you can visit her on Instagram, LinkedIn and her website

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