A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products. Some people often confuse it with a vegetarian diet, but while vegetarians avoid meat, a vegan diet excludes meat, eggs, milk and dairy products, honey, and all other animal ingredients.
Vegan diets have become extremely popular today and more and more people seem to be embracing them. People who switch to a vegan diet today report multiple reasons for their motivation – concerns about the treatment of animals, environmental concerns, or concerns about their health.
Whatever your motivation, if you’re looking to make the switch, here’s what you need to know before starting a vegan diet.
You are not going to die of nutritional deficiency
Most people worry about whether or not they will get the necessary 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 that 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 will need to pay close attention to the following:
- Protein – Rich sources of plant protein include lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas, grains, tofu, walnuts, chia seeds, spinach, hemp seeds and quinoa, to avoid name a few.
- Calcium – Rich plant sources of calcium are leafy greens, almonds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, dried figs, tofu, amaranth and broccoli.
- The iron – rich herbal sources include cashews, legumes, pumpkin seeds, raisins, oats, figs, tahini, cocoa beans, spirulina. Oranges and broccoli rich in vitamin C help in the absorption of iron.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seed oil are good plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
- Vitamin D – some fortified cereals and non-dairy milks contain vitamin D but make sure you get enough sun exposure (at least 10 minutes 3 or 4 times a week) to maintain vitamin D levels.
You will need a B12 supplement
B12 is produced by bacteria found in the soil and in freshwater resources. Our way of life has become urbanized, so we are quite far from nature.
We wash our vegetables in filtered water and no longer interact with the soil as closely as before, causing B12 levels to drop. The reason that many people who eat meat receive this essential vitamin is because animals eat directly from the soil and consume water that contains vitamin B12.
In many other cases, they are given injections of B12 supplements. So you won’t have to think of it as a failure of the vegan diet. Just take a vegan B12 supplement to maintain your B12 levels and you will be fine.
You don’t have to go for expensive vegan alternatives
There are several vegan alternatives coming to the market, including milks, cheeses, and even plant-based meats, and some of them can be a bit pricey depending on where you live.
The good news though, is that these alternatives don’t have to be a 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 in supermarkets and guess what? They are all vegans. You can follow a vegan diet on a budget while still eating a well-balanced meal.
You won’t automatically become healthier
It is true that eliminating animal products can lead to several health benefits. It can drastically reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases and in some cases even slow or reverse the progression of diseases, such as with diabetes and heart disease.
They are cholesterol-free and saturated fat free, which means you can see improvements in your health when you switch to a vegan diet. However, if you want to become healthier, you will need to do more than just cut out animal products.
Potato chips, non-dairy ice cream, and other fried foods can be vegan, but that doesn’t make them healthy. Replacing animal products with fatty, highly processed junk food won’t make you healthy, so be careful what you eat.
You will have to get used to reading food labels
Be prepared to read food labels (yes, even crisps) to check if the product contains milk solids, whey, casein, or any food additives that are not vegan.
You won’t have to stop eating out
With the word “vegan” becoming more and 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 have vegan options already on their menu, making it easier on your journey to starting a vegan diet.
Yes, it’s healthy even for children
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, said the vegan diet should be “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and for athletes”. You just need to make sure you are eating well.
We’ll have to get used to answering people
We couldn’t complete this list of what you need to know before starting a vegan diet without warning you about the questions / remarks you are going to end up hearing from people when you start a vegan diet.
The best way to deal with it is to be prepared. Do your research and let them know the facts if they have concerns. If you feel like they’re doing it in a mocking way, save your energy for someone really worth it and stay calm.
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