Beyoncé announced that she’s going vegan for the next 44 days to prepare for Coachella on Instagram Tuesday and invited fans to join her.
The number of vegans in the US has doubled over the past decade from one to two percent of Americans including celebrities Miley Cyrus, Jared Leto and Ellen DeGeneres who claim it’s healthier and more environmentally sustainable.
Research shows the vegan diet, which bans all animal products from meat to dairy to eggs, is one of the most effective regimens for weight loss.
It has also been linked to decreased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, dementia and cardiovascular disease, the leading preventable cause of death in the US.
Whether you’re considering a temporary switch to veganism to prep for beach season like Beyoncé or want to make a permanent change, experts weigh in on what you should know about the diet before you start.
On Tuesday Beyoncé said she’s switching to a vegan diet, which bans all animal products including meat, dairy and eggs, for the next 44 days to prepare for performing at Coachella
1. Just because something is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy
Oreos, Duncan Hines Icing and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are all examples of foods that are vegan, but not necessarily elements of a healthy diet.
In general, the vegan diet tends to steer away from processed foods and focus on whole ones, but there are plenty of exceptions.
‘It is possible to be a vegetarian and vegan but eat unhealthily or consume a lot of processed foods,’ Ginger Hutlin, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said.
Many meat substitutes such as veggie burgers are deceptively high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure.
The American Heart Association warns that high blood pressure can weaken blood vessels and lead to heart attack, stroke and heart failure, among other things.
‘A well-planned vegan diet should contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to optimize nutrition,’ Hutlin said.
Beyoncé posted the photo above of vegan avocado toast on Tuesday. ‘A well-planned vegan diet should contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to optimize nutrition,’ registered dietitian Ginger Hutlin said
2. Going vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight
On average, vegans tend to have lower body mass index (BMI) scores, but Hutlin said like with any other diet, it is possible to be vegan and gain weight.
The diet’s effect on weight depends primarily on how big of a change it is from what the person was eating before.
Someone who switches from a highly-processed, high fat and sugar diet will experience much more dramatic results than someone who makes the switch from a vegetarian diet.
Additionally, as mentioned before, not all vegan foods are healthy – so watch out for the ones that are highly processed and use your judgment.
Overall Hutlin said research has shown that the vegetarian diet in particular has been shown to be effective for weight loss and may perform better than omnivorous diets.
3. Make a gradual transition
Experts recommend switching to veganism gradually, but in Beyoncé’s case it may not be possible in the 44-day window
Research has shown that the more gradually a person switches to veganism, the more likely they are to stick with it because diets that seem too restrictive are harder to maintain.
In Beyoncé’s case, a gradual transition may not be practical given that she only plans to stick with it for 44 days.
However, for those who are planning to go vegan long-term, experts recommend the ‘crowd out not cut out’ approach.
Instead of going into the transition by focusing on all the things that will be off limits, start by adding in new ingredients that you didn’t use before.
Heather McClees, a registered nutritionist and blogger for One Green Planet, said: ‘When you approach a vegan diet, it’s best to crowd out animal products with tons of delicious, filling plant-based foods.
An example of this would be subbing tofu for chicken in a stir fry.
4. Embrace meat and dairy substitutes – but pay attention to the ingredients
As veganism has gained popularity particularly in the last decade, more substitutes for meat and dairy have become available, but some products can be deceiving.
For example, the first ingredient listed for Morning Star Farms meatless bacon is egg whites.
Still, there’s a wide variety of products that resemble banned foods such as dairy-free cheese slices and soy-based meat imposters can make it easier to stick to the diet.
5. Vitamin B12 supplements are a must
Overall the vegan diet is high in vitamins because of the strong focus on vegetables and whole grains.
However, vitamin B12 only occurs naturally in animal foods, so Hutlin said adding a supplement to your diet is a must.
Vitamin B12 is essential to functioning of the nervous system, blood-cell formation, digestion and brain function.
Common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are weakness, fatigue, constipation and fogginess.
In more serious cases, deficiencies have been linked to anemia and depression.
Hutlin added: ‘It’s helpful to meet with a doctor or registered dietitian to get specific about the supplements you may need on a vegan diet – or on a non-vegan diet as well.’
6. It could lower risk for heart disease and diabetes
Animal products that are rich in saturated fat and cholesterol have been found to be a major contributor to heart disease and diabetes, two of the most common chronic conditions in the US that are both preventable.
Diets that are rich in saturated fats can cause high cholesterol which builds up in the arteries and has been linked to heart disease, the leading cause of death in America.
‘Vegetarian and vegan diets improve heart disease risk factors including belly fat, blood pressure, cholesterol levels in the blood and blood sugar levels,’ Hutlin said.
‘They also decrease markers of inflammation and provide protection from developing plaques in your arteries.’
One of the leading experts on the benefits of the vegan diet, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, claims to have been able to reverse cases of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by prescribing a low-fat vegan diet.
Vegans have also been found to have lower rates of cancer, high blood pressure, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.
7. It may improve your mood
A 2015 study found that a plant-based diet was associated with less tension, depression, anxiety, anger, hostility and fatigue thanks to high levels of antioxidants particularly from fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, whole grains such as brown rice and steel cut oats are believed to help regulate levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain, which is important for controlling mood.
Experts also claim that a vegan diet can increase energy levels because the body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest as it does with meat and dairy products.