A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products. Some people often confuse it with a vegetarian diet but while vegetarians steer clear of meat, a vegan diet excludes meat, eggs, milk & milk products, honey, and all other animal-derived ingredients.
Vegan diets have become extremely popular today and more people seem to be making the shift to it. People opting for a vegan diet today report multiple reasons for their motivation – concerns over the treatment of animals, environmental concerns, or concerns for their health.
Regardless of what your motivation is, if you’re looking to make the switch, here’s what you should know before starting a vegan diet.
You’re not going to die of a nutritional deficiency
Most people are worried about whether or not they’re going to get the required nutrients if they switch to a vegan diet. The good news is: you can meet your nutritional needs and even thrive on a vegan diet.
You just need to make sure your diet is well balanced. Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and a variety of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients needed by the body. You’ll have to pay careful attention to the following:
- Protein – rich plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas, grains, tofu, nuts, chia seeds, spinach, hemp seeds, and quinoa to name a few.
- Calcium – rich plant-based sources of calcium are leafy greens, almonds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, dried figs, tofu, amaranth, and broccoli.
- Iron – rich plant-based sources include cashews, legumes, pumpkin seeds, raisins, oats, figs, tahini, cacao beans, spirulina. Oranges and broccoli that are higher in vitamin C help with iron absorption.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seed oil are good plant-based sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Vitamin D – some fortified cereals and non-dairy milks contain vitamin D but you need to make sure you’re getting enough exposure to sunlight (at least 10 minutes 3 or 4 times a week) to maintain vitamin D levels.
You’ll need a B12 supplement
B12 is produced by bacteria in the soil and freshwater resources. As our lifestyle has become more urbanized, we’re quite far removed from nature.
We wash our vegetables in filtered water and no longer interact with the soil as closely as we once did, causing B12 levels to drop. The reason many people who eat meat get this essential vitamin is because animals eat directly from the soil and consume water containing B12.
In many other cases, they’re injected with B12 supplements. So you won’t have to feel like this is a failure of the vegan diet. Just take a vegan B12 supplement to maintain your B12 levels and you’ll be fine.
You don’t have to opt for expensive vegan alternatives
There are several vegan alternatives coming up in the market, including plant-based milks, cheeses, and even meats, and some of these may be a little expensive depending on where you live.
The good news though, is that these alternatives aren’t a necessity to being vegan. You can still be perfectly healthy and meet your nutritional needs without having to rely on these products.
Rice, beans, potatoes are often the cheapest products at supermarkets and guess what? They’re all vegan. You can be on a vegan diet on a budget and still eat a well-balanced meal.
You won’t automatically become healthier
It’s true that eliminating animal products can result in several health benefits. It can significantly reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and in some cases, even slow down or reverse the progression of diseases, like in the case of diabetes and heart disease.
They have no cholesterol or saturated fats, which means that you can experience improvements in your health when you switch to a vegan diet. However, if you want to become healthier, you’re going to have to do more than just cut animal products out.
Potato chips, non-dairy ice creams, and other fried foods may be vegan but that doesn’t make them healthy. Replacing animal products with highly processed, fatty junk food isn’t going to make you healthy so pay attention to what you eat.
You’re going to have to get used to reading food labels
Be prepared to read food labels (yes, even chips) to check if the product has milk solids, whey, casein, or food additives that aren’t vegan.
You won’t have to stop eating out
With the word “vegan” becoming more popular today, many restaurants are aware of what it means and will be happy to meet your specifications while serving you. They may even already have vegan items on their menu simplifying your journey to starting a vegan diet.
Yes, it is healthy even for children
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest global organization of food and nutrition professionals, has declared the vegan diet to be “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes”. You just have to make sure you’re eating right.
You’re going to have to get used to responding to people
We couldn’t end this list of what you should know before starting a vegan diet without cautioning you about the questions/remarks you’re going to end up hearing from people when you start a vegan diet.
The best way to tackle these is to be prepared. Do your research and inform them of the facts if they express concern. If you sense that they’re doing it mockingly, save your energy for someone who is genuinely worth the effort and stay calm.