Only a handful of topics can stir up pretty strong emotions and controversies in the average person. Politics certainly is one of them, so is religion, and one’s food choices. Different diets seem to work and make sense to different people and everyone swears by what they are doing. As a vegan, you might think that there aren’t many options left and that you have found the ONE right diet. Think again! There might be a lot of different types of vegan diets you're not even aware of.
We have found that there are just about as many ways of eating a vegan diet as there are eating non-vegan diets. Experts argue about the macronutrient ratios, level of which foods are processed, cutting out certain foods altogether and so much more.
Although there is a general agreement on basing one’s diet around whole vegan foods for best health, the devil is in the detail. We highly respect the doctors and nutritionists who came up with their own concept of what has been proven to work for their patients and you will see that all of the legitimate programs below are supported by big names and big studies.
It doesn’t mean that other approaches, like raw vegan or keto vegan diets, don’t work for some people. In fact, if you are convinced about the benefits of going into ketosis, you’re better off doing so on a purely plant-based diet. We just couldn’t always find doctors or nutritionists that support a specific diet so we included people in the “proponents” section who have been following the diet for a long time.
Please note that people can tweak and change their diet all the time and not all proponents will keep eating after a strict program. So, naturally, you will find that YouTubers and bloggers try out different styles here and there. None of these diets we mention work by restricting calories and they, instead, encourage eating to your heart’s content (ad libitum). This has been shown to be the most sustainable approach to following a healthy diet for life.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to all kinds of diets – we personally have been through a couple of those different programs ourselves and don’t adhere to any specific diet these days. You could say that most of our meals are made up of whole plant based foods, we ditched the oil, rarely use sweeteners and only a moderate amount of salt. We do eat out or get a treat sometimes and we both do well on slightly different meal compositions.
Overall, this article is meant to give an overview of what’s possible and it is written from an observational standpoint rather than just quoting studies everywhere. These hard facts can be found when following the links in the “Proponents and further reading” section. And since many experts promote a whole foods plant-based diet (just using different names) with a lot more similarities than differences, we tried our best to assign them appropriately.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the different types of vegan diets!
1. Whole Foods Plant Based Diet
No-Fried Rice from Forks Over Knives
The name of this diet says it all, pretty much. You should eat exclusively plants, choosing those that are as unprocessed as possible. Most experts will tell you that you don’t have to count calories or focus on macronutrients at all – whole, unprocessed plant-based foods are nutrient dense and contain a lot of fiber which helps you fill up without consuming too many calories.
It gives you room to experiment and find out how many grains, nuts and fruit you want to include to feel your best. This diet is one of the best ways to heal and prevent chronic disease and kind of an umbrella term of other, more specific diets, listed down below.
- Whole grains, best eaten unprocessed but okay to include in the form of bread and pasta
- Legumes of all kinds
- Fruits, focusing on the whole food instead of smoothies or juices
- Vegetables, raw and cooked (lots of them)
- Nuts and seeds as well as some nut butter
2. The Starch Solution Program
Southwestern Potatoes from Forks Over Knives
Dr. John McDougall’s successful program is best described as a starch-based diet with the addition of fruits and vegetables. He has been getting into the effects of nutrition on the body during his years as a doctor on the big island of Hawaii where he could see the older generations thriving on a starch-based diet while the children and grandchildren got fatter and sicker the more they Westernized their diet and got into animal products.
His program is suited for all kinds of health problems with his mantra being “It’s the Food!”. Dr. McDougall believes that once we stop poisoning ourselves with rich foods like vegetable oils and animal products, our bodies are able to heal and thrive. He doesn’t exclude salt or sugar and wants the food to be very palatable so that people stick to it for good. This diet is just about the cheapest one out there!
3. High Fat Raw Vegan Diet (Gourmet Raw)
Raw Lasagna from This Rawsome Vegan Life
Most raw food diets are vegan by default, though raw foodists are mostly concerned about their health primarily. Some do include raw honey, though this isn’t a vegan food obviously. Raw vegan diets either focus on nuts and seeds or fruits as their main source of calories. The gourmet raw diet is more on the fatty side, including cold-pressed oils, nut-based desserts and heavy sauces.
None of their food is cooked above 115 degrees Fahrenheit and they believe that raw foods are superior and that cooking destroys food to a certain point, especially regarding enzymes and vitamins. Often, people switch between different levels of ‘raw-ness’ at different times in their lives – although there are some hardcore raw foodies who are all in, 100%. They use blenders, juicers and dehydrators to prepare their meals and might also be into wild edible plants.
4. The Nutritarian Diet (Eat To Live)
Roasted Squash Salad from Hello Nutritarian
The term “Nutritarian” was invented by Dr. Joel Fuhrman who wanted to create the most nutrient dense and optimal diet for human beings. It is not by default vegan as the program allows for some animal products to be added in after a few weeks of following the diet – we obviously don’t recommend that for many reasons.
As a Nutritarian, you eat a lot of vegetables, limit your starch intake and favor nuts and legumes over potatoes and rice. It’s definitely not something for people with a weak digestive system since you should be eating lots of G.B.O.M.B.S. daily: Greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. The diet is said to be very health-supporting, healing and helps slimming down. It is low-salt, oil-free and discourages adding sugar, juice, bread and processed foods.
5. The 80/10/10 Low Fat Raw Vegan Diet (Fruitarianism)
Mango Baobab Smoothie Bowl from Feasting on Fruit
This has been arguably the most popular diet approach within veganism for a couple of years, which was due to some huge social media gurus. The chiropractic Doug Graham wrote a book called “The 80/10/10” diet in 2006, which focused on eating a lot of fresh, ripe, whole, organic fruit along with some leafy greens and nuts and seeds. This way of eating has been popularized by YouTubers Freelee and Durianrider who are both passionate vegans and athletes that wanted other people to thrive on their diet.
A couple of years ago, many vegan YouTubers were following this regimen (or at least trying to, since it’s a little hard to sustain) but have since turned their backs on it. People are most likely to succeed on this diet when they are living in hot climates and have a lot of time and money to spend on their diet. Getting enough ripe fruit is especially hard while traveling, though some people claim to have healed a lot of ailments eating that way.
There aren’t any studies proving the diet to be healthy and there are concerns about the high fruit sugar intake as well as mineral and fatty acid deficiency. It is tied into natural hygiene and proponents recommend drinking a lot of water as well as eating very simple “mono” meals consisting of only one type of food. The use of salt and other “stimulants” is highly discouraged. It is closely related to fruitarianism which we put into the same category here.
6. Junk Food Vegan Diet
Fried Ice Cream from 86 Lemons
People who eat a rather junky vegan diet are most always ethical vegans who didn’t come to this lifestyle due to health reasons but either because of the animals or the environment – it could also be both of them. They typically don’t care so much about what they are eating as long as it doesn’t come from an animal.
It’s a perfect example of how a vegan diet doesn’t automatically have anything to do with healthy eating! We don’t want to talk down on anyone eating lots of processed vegan foods and there are certainly a few advantages to that. If you’re just starting out on a vegan diet and come from a very junky omnivorous past, then it will probably be easier for you to switch to vegan burgers and fries, soy ice cream and pretzels.
Most of us want to treat ourselves here and there, so you can most always find some amount of vegan processed foods in any plant-based muncher’s diet. When you go out to a vegan restaurant for example, there’s no shame in reaching for the vegan pizza or falafel tacos.
On another note, people who eat a more processed or junkier vegan diet don’t eat like this 24/7! You can most likely catch them drinking a smoothie or eating a green salad as well. This way of eating is also an option if you are in recovery from disordered eating and restriction since it allows you to make peace with all kinds of different foods while following your moral compass.
7. Detox Vegan Diet
Broccoli Lentil Salad from Kimberly Snyder
People choosing to eat a detox diet have often suffered from ailments for quite a while before turning to this way of eating. They usually want to make extra sure that their meals are very clean and rich in nutrients.
Though there is no definition of what a detox diet should consist of, you will most likely find many raw foods here (around 80% of the food is eaten raw) as well as sprouts, superfoods like spirulina, fresh juices and smoothies. Many meals include a lot of green vegetables, gluten-free grains like quinoa and have an emphasis on the “alkalinity” of the individual ingredients.
Detoxers tend to drink a lot of water and herbal teas while cutting out coffee, alcohol and soft drinks. It’s overall a pretty healthy diet and a lot of people choose to go on such a plan for only a certain period of time since it is rather strict.
As opposed to other vegan diets listed here, a detox diet doesn’t always have to be vegan per protocol (though we always recommend that) and hasn’t been scientifically proven to be superior to other plant-based diets.
8. SOS-Free Diet
Quinoa Curry Bowl from Forks Over Knives
The "SOS" in this type of vegan diet stands for “sugar, oil, salt” and was popularized by Dr. Alan Goldhamer, founder of the TrueNorth Health Center. He wanted to take a whole foods plant-based diet a step further and eliminated these 3 stimulants, seeing improvements in the health and weight of many of his patients. It’s easy for us to overeat during our meals when adding salt or sugar, both of which are highly palatable spices. Especially people struggling with overeating or binge eating will have a huge advantage eating less stimulating meals.
The 3 components that are being cut out have been discussed in the book “The Pleasure Trap” which describes how people love to get the most amount of pleasure without having to do much at all. This can lead to addictions, especially when it comes to calorically dense foods. Very few people can have just a little bit of salt, sugar or oil – so it might be best to eliminate them altogether and use whole foods instead.
9. Raw Till 4 Diet
Mango Smoothie from Loving It Vegan
Coming from a purely raw vegan fruit-based diet, Australian athletes Freelee and Durianrider (social media aliases) wanted to make a high carb and high raw diet more sustainable by adding a cooked meal for dinner to their fruit-based meals. The original raw till 4 diet is very low in fat and protein, since even legumes and nuts or seeds are restricted to keep it super high in carbohydrates (preferably around 90%).
Large banana and date smoothies are followed by a few pounds of cooked potatoes, rice or pasta in the evening. There wasn’t a huge emphasis on vegetables at all in the beginning (which has changed a bit by now) and people were encouraged to eat at least 2,500-3,000 calories per day. This resulted in quite some visible weight gain for many followers of this diet, even though they most always got into running or cycling at the same time. This very high carb diet is primarily made for real athletes and many of the former followers have since shifted to adding more cooked foods, vegetables, nuts, and legumes back into their diet.
No study or medical doctor has ever proven this diet to be effective or superior to a whole foods plant-based diet. Mono meals are emphasized here as well as cutting out salt, oil, caffeine and alcohol. You are also encouraged to drink around a gallon (4 liters) of water per day. The diet is often focused on getting very slim by eating large amounts of food, which is why it attracted many people suffering from eating disorders and it helped some of them moving forward in recovery.
There used to be a lot of social media channels following and promoting this diet but at the time of writing this article, nobody we found was still compliant. You can search for the term on YouTube for some example videos but please notice that most people have evolved their diet ever since.
10. Whole Starch Low Fat (WSLF)
Broccoli Rice Chipotle Bowl from The Vegan 8
This diet has recently been gaining popularity throughout social media due to the work of Alex and Kristen aka. Mr. and Mrs. Vegan from Los Angeles. The couple has been following a McDougall-style starch-based diet for over a decade already and is creating educational, inspiring and fun videos to show everyone how simple and delicious a healthy diet is.
The term “Whole Starch Low Fat” was born when they discovered the flaws of other vegan diets: on a whole foods plant-based diet, people could be eating too many nuts and seeds which can result in poor health and weight gain. On a high carb low-fat diet, followers sometimes end up choosing too many processed junk foods or using fruit as a staple instead of starches. From the outside, their diet approach might seem similar to other types mentioned here but they still have their unique style.
You are encouraged to fill up on starches from breakfast to dinner, eating until you’re satiated, and not worrying too much about food. Oil and refined foods should be cut out, simple sugar and salt are limited. You are free to follow this diet only throughout the week and then eat whatever you like on the weekend (which obviously won’t give you the maximum results, though).
This diet has been attracting vegans who came from a past of restricting, raw foodism or even low carb eating and has worked beautifully for the majority so far. Mr. and Mrs. Vegan make it a point that you should create delicious meals, using whatever low fat sauces you like to stay on this path.
11. High Carb Low Fat Vegan Diet
Spinach Potato Tacos from Forks Over Knives
We have written a whole article on this type of vegan diet before. Basically, it focuses primarily on whole plant-based foods which automatically makes the diet rather high in carbohydrates. By keeping your nuts, seeds and avocadoes at bay (we know it can be hard!) you can go the extra mile, having an average fat intake of around 10-15%. Many chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease can be prevented and even reversed eating this way.
It is very similar to the Esselstyn Diet and the Starch Solution though it allows for more processed foods to be included. The reason why some high carb vegans gain weight on their diet is because they include a lot of pretzels, cereal, sugar and fruit juice on a daily basis. Following a whole foods high carb vegan diet is one of the best things you can do – speaking from experience and reading the studies. It’s also usually free of oil and low in salt.
12. Esselstyn Heart Healthy Diet
Kale Bruschetta from Forks Over Knives
This diet is directed to those who don’t want to develop heart disease and those who want to reverse heart disease. It’s essentially a whole foods vegan diet but without any added high-fat foods like oil, nuts, seeds, and avocadoes.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn claims that heart disease doesn’t need to exist and if it does exist, it doesn’t need to progress. In the past, he has helped former US president Bill Clinton who had a quadruple by-pass surgery in 2004. With the help of the Esselstyn Diet, he and countless others have been able to prevent a lethal heart attack.
13. Low Carb Vegan Diet (Paleo, Keto, Eco Atkins)
Broccoli, Chickpeas, Kale Salad from One Green Planet
As you will see, this is kind of the complete opposite to most other vegan diets described here. Unlike the Starch Solution or the Whole Foods Plant Based Diet, this way of eating doesn’t use starches as a food staple. Since almost all vegan foods contain at least some amount of carbohydrate, it can be a real challenge to go very low carb. For many plant-based eaters, a medium carb diet is therefore the best choice.
It goes to show that even those who want to limit their carb intake could do so on a vegan diet. Achieving the state of ketosis takes it all one step further and requires eating a lot of vegetable oils and fats. Low carb vegans often want to lose weight or believe this diet supports their athletic performance or blood sugar control.
Needless to say, most health experts agree that a high fat diet is harmful to your overall health and should only be tried with caution. Those who want to eat a paleo diet (free from grains and dairy) but do so as a vegan can add more protein-rich plant-based foods instead of meat. But a true Paleolithic diet wasn’t necessarily low in carbohydrates. Best estimates are that pre-agricultural people got about 35 to 50 percent of their calories from carbohydrates.
Their diets were about 30% protein and 20 to 35% fat, although actual intakes probably varied a lot over different regions. This diet can work for some people and low carb vegan diets aren’t as detrimental to your health as animal-based low carb eating plans but it’s questionable how well people do long term.
- Beans and legumes (though they are often over 50% carbs)
- Nuts and seeds as well as nut butters
- Vegetable oils
- Soy-based foods
- As many non-starchy vegetables as possible
- Some berries
Since it’s a rather unusual approach, we couldn’t find any experts in this field. The low-carb scene is dominated by animal-based eaters, unfortunately. Some vegans like RD Ginny Messina or YouTubers like Unnatural Vegan have spoken about eating a lower carb and higher fat/protein vegan diet but they still want to include grains. Other than that, we found one website on low carb veganism as well as another one on vegetarian and vegan keto diets.
14. Engine 2 Diet
Tucson Spicy Lentil Tacos from Forks Over Knives
Remember Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn? Well, he has awesome children – one of them being Rip Esselstyn, a world-class triathlete firefighter from Austin, Texas. One day, he wanted to save a colleague from dying of heart disease by starting a “plant strong” challenge for the whole team to find out who could lower their cholesterol the most.
By following Rip’s program, everyone lost weight (some more than 20 lbs), lowered their cholesterol (his endangered colleague lowered his from 344 to 196), and improved their overall health. The Engine 2 Diet was born. It focuses on whole plant-based foods, keeping the overall fat intake rather low but allowing some space for fun foods.
At many supermarkets, you can even buy the Engine 2 brand foods like frozen burgers, granola, crusts, hummus, cereal, and more. This makes the diet very convenient and especially attractive to busy people or those who are used to eating a junkier diet. Engine 2 excludes all animal products, oils and limits refined sugar and sodium.
15. Plant-Based/Just Vegan
Vegan Pizza Pasta Bake from The Full Helping
Finally, there are many people who just eat a plant-based or vegan diet without following any advice or guidelines. They come from all types of backgrounds, want to do good in the world and treat their bodies well with nourishing food but are not very dogmatic about it all.
Some of them have gone through different phases of vegan eating, such as high carb diets, low carb diets, maybe even raw food diets and now just settled at a reasonably healthy plant-based diet. They don’t exclude any plant-based foods like oil or sugar per se and change their diet around whenever they want to, in order to meet their needs. Plant-based eaters still focus on rather healthy foods but aren’t afraid to add any treats in as well.
More Honorable Mentions & Variations
Some less popular diet programs, which are very similar to those we presented above, include:
For anyone wanting or having to restrict other foods or food groups, there are options for the following:
And that concludes our overview of the many types of vegan diets. Lastly, we encourage you to do your own research and try out different styles of eating. As you could see above, everyone's needs and preferences can be met on a purely plant-based diet.
Which eating styles mentioned above have you tried? Which ones did you like the best and adhere to now? And did we forget about something? Let us know in the comments below.
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Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.
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