A vegan diet is a diet that excludes all animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Vegans also avoid honey, gelatin, and other animal-derived ingredients. Some people choose to follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons, while others do so for health reasons. The vegan diet is often called a plant-based diet. It is also referred to as a whole food, plant-based, or wholefoods diet. A vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate, but it is often associated with less than optimal health. Diets with a focus on fruits and vegetables are recommended, along with whole grains to obtain important nutrients such as dietary fiber.
Historically, vegan diets were associated with low protein intake. The RDA was set at 10% of calories in the 1950s to cover this concern. In the 1999 DGA Protein and Amino Acids Subcommittee’s report, “Protein and Amino Acids in Human Nutrition”, the group noted that it was unlikely that there is a lower limit for protein intake. In the United States, the RDA for protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. The current recommendation by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is to obtain 20% of calories from protein. The American Dietetic Association recommends that the protein needs of vegetarians and vegans are met primarily through plant-based sources, including beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and soy products. The Institute of Medicine’s “Dietary Reference Intakes” (DRIs) provide recommended daily intakes of essential nutrients for healthy individuals. The DRIs were developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.