The Vegan lifestyle is one that is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. While there are many memes that poke fun at how often Vegans will feel the need to let you know that they are vegan, once you actually delve into their slice of the world, you realise that their plight to be understood and assisted accordingly often calls for the countless announcements.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet forms part of a lifestyle that excludes the use or consumption of any products of animal origin. This means that being vegan doesn’t only mean staying away from animal produce like honey, eggs or dairy, but also clothes, soaps and other products that are sourced in any way from animals.
If you take a second to think about how many things form a part of your life as a carnivore or even a vegetarian, you will realise that being vegan is not something you become on a whim – there are many aspects that form a part of the lifestyle. All protein, vitamins and minerals must come from non-animal sources and this can sometimes be a bit tricky especially if you are just starting out on the diet.
So, if you are considering going vegan or just interested in what being vegan entails, then read on to get a little more understanding:
- Zero animal fats
There are a few studies that have linked animal fats to various cancers, diabetes, heart disease and a range of illnesses and conditions. Cutting them from your diet will greatly reduce the risk for these health issues. Healthy, plant-based oils and fats, such as olive oil, provide necessary fatty acids without raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
- Bone health
Calcium is important for bone and dental health. For the average American, milk and cheese are good sources of calcium. For a vegan, figs,kale, spinach, and turnip greens are some excellent sources of calcium. Bones also need vitamins D and K, potassium, and magnesium. Soy, fruit, and some vegetables contain appropriate quantities of these nutrients without the health risks of animal fats. A little exposure to the sun every day enables the body to synthesize vitamin D. Vegans have also shown more efficient absorption of calcium and bone metabolism, the process through which new bone tissue is formed.
- Lower mortality rates
A 2016 study demonstrated a 2 percent increase in the risk of death for every 10 percent increase in calories obtained from animal protein. In particular, eating red and processed meats are linked to an increased chance of premature death. This suggests that not eating meat reduces the overall riskof mortality.
Eliminating all fats, proteins and minerals from animal sources can lead to a loss in a number of vital nutrients. This means that being on a vegan diet means being careful to add enough foods that contain these nutrients back into your diet. This might mean using supplements (with doctor approval first) and making sure that you use more fortified foods. These nutrients include:
- Vitamin B12
Necessary for strength and protection of nerves and red blood cells, vitamin-B12 in plants can be found in fortified soy, seaweed, cereals and nutritional yeast.
Iron is needed for absorbing oxygen into the blood and transporting it to body cells. Dried beans and leafy greens provide enough iron on a meatless diet.
Tofu, tahini and leafy greens like spinach provide a lot of calcium.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
These acids, such as fish oil, are vital for cardiovascular health, eye and brain function. Fatty acids such as ALA and DHA can be found in ground flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, soy products and hemp.
Zinc-deficiency can lead to hair loss, delayed sexual maturation for children and immunology. These can be found in whole grains, legumes and soy products.
Things you should know first:
1. You’ll need a B12 supplement
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods, so you’ll want to stock up on a variety of B12-fortified foods as well as a B12 supplement to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy.
2. You’ll have to find new protein sources
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get at least 0.8 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of body mass. The best sources of vegan protein include natural soy, lentils, beans and quinoa.
3. You shouldn’t replace animal products with junk
The result will only be hunger and weight gain.
4. Take it easy on soy-based products
The healthiest sources of soy are miso, tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and edamame.
5. You don’t have to make the switch at once
Start by adding more plant-based foods to your diet, while at the same time cutting back on animal products.
6. Be prepared to read food labels
Checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must. Just because a food product is not glaringly non-vegan doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for a vegan diet.
7. It doesn’t have to cost more
Meat tends to be very expensive. Going meatless may actually help the wallet.
Whether you are vegan, considering going vegan or have ultimately decided that being vegan is not for you, always make sure that whatever diet you are on is nutrient-rich and helpful towards reaching your goals.