How Do You Start a Vegan Diet?

By Kristen Mccaffrey on
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The vegan diet has been around for hundreds of years, but has recently gained popularity for health and environmental benefits. On a vegan diet, it is necessary to eliminate not only all meat and poultry products, but all products that contain any animal products at all.

Becoming a vegan or following a vegan diet means giving up all meat, poultry, seafood, and any and all animal products. This includes honey, gelatin, dairy, and eggs. Essentially all foods on a vegan diet are derived from plants and mostly include grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

What Does a Vegan Eat?

While thinking about a vegan diet might seem very restrictive, there is actually an abundance of foods and vegan products available. For most vegans, the base of their diet is made up of grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, soy products, tempeh, nuts, and seeds. This includes things like pasta, beans, quinoa, barley, chickpeas, tempeh, tofu, and other plant derived products in addition to lots of fruits and veggies. Many vegans also incorporate a number of non-dairy products into their diets including almond and coconut milk, soy or coconut based yogurts and dairy products, soy or rice based ice creams, and more.

Will I Get Enough Nutrients on a Vegan Diet?

Getting enough nutrients is a concern on any diet, but many people considering a vegan lifestyle are especially concerned when cutting all animal protein and diary from their diets. Some key nutrients that vegans should focus on since they typically come form animal based products are Vitamin B-12, Omega-3, Vitamin D, protein, calcium, and iron. However all of these can be readily found in plant based food.

  • Vitamin B-12: Since B-12 can be difficult to find in foods, most vegans look for B-12 fortified foods like non-dairy milks, cereals, and breads. You can also take vegan B-12 pills to ensure you get the daily recommended amount.
  • Omega-3: Omega-3’s are normally found in fish oils and nuts/seeds. An easy way to get Omega 3’s daily is through flax seeds, which contain high amounts of Omega 3’s. You can also look for Vegan Omega 3 supplements if you do not consume sufficient nuts and seeds daily.
  • Vitamin D: The best way to get Vitamin D is from the sun. Between 15-30 minutes daily can provide you with all the Vitamin D you need.
  • Protein: Most vegans do not actually struggle to get enough protein daily because it is found in so many vegan foods naturally. Some great sources for protein are lentils, tempeh, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, and plant based protein powders.
  • Calcium: Many people have a misconception that the best calcium sources are dairy, but there is actual lots o calcium in other plant-based sources. Some of the best places to get calcium are leafy green vegetables, broccoli, okra, figs, oranges, almonds, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils, and tempeh.
  • Iron: Iron normally comes from red meat in a typical diet, but there is a lot of iron in dark leafy greens, chickpeas, pinto beans, navy beans, kidney beans, raisins, tofu, soy based products, nuts, seeds and iron fortified products.

Pros and Cons of a Vegan Diet

For many people becoming a vegan involves a major change to not only your eating habit but sometimes your lifestyle as well. Eliminating all animal products from your diet can be difficult but can have some amazing health benefits as well. Carefully consider these pros and cons before making the decision to go vegan.

PROS

  • Lower cholesterol: According to numerous medical reports, following a vegan diet may significantly lower bad cholesterol. Since most bad cholesterol comes from animal sources, a vegan diet is naturally low in this harmful cholesterol.
  • Lower blood pressure: In some recent medical studies, vegetarian and vegan dieters tend to have lower blood pressure and reduced risk of hypertension when compared to meat eaters.
  • Increased antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals: Since people following a vegan diet generally eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains their intake of vital antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals tends to be higher especially wit a vegan diet focused on wholesome and natural foods.
  • Less expensive: While many people may assume a vegan diet would be more costly, the opposite is normally true. Since grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables tend to be less expensive than meats and dairy, many people find they save money when they adopt a vegan lifestyle.
  • Environmental benefits: Following a vegan diet has a number of positive environmental benefits and reduces your carbon footprint significantly.
  • Weight loss: While it is not a guaranteed way to lose weight, many people lose weight when they adopt a vegan lifestyle. This is especially true in people who normally eat lots of processed foods, high fat dairy, and high fat proteins.

CONS

  • Nutrient deficiencies: While it is completely possible to get all important nutrients as a vegan, some people who do not pay attention to their diet could experience deficiencies particularly in regards to protein, calcium, iron, B-12, and Omega 3’s. This is less likely to occur in someone who eats a well-rounded diet full of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
  • Social implications: Along it is possible to find vegan choices in almost any restaurant; many times it will not be easy. This can make social situations when dining out or dining in others’ homes more difficult.
  • Difficult Transition: Becoming a vegan can be a tricky transition for many people. You will have to spend time both learning which foods contain secret animal products and also learning about new vegan foods and cooking methods.

How Does a Vegan Diet Work?

Starting a vegan diet can be intimidating, so it is important to have a solid understand of how to the diet works to make a smooth transition. Use the following information to help you understand the ins and outs of being a vegan and tips for understanding what you can and can't eat.

When following a vegan diet you are eliminating any and all animal products from your diet including meat, poultry, fish, and seafood as well as animal derived products like eggs, dairy, honey, and gelatin. Depending on your current diet this may be a small or rather drastic change. Here are some common foods that vegans can and can't eat.

How does a Vegan Diet work

Vegan Food List

Foods Allowed on a Vegan Diet

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Grains including rice, pasta, quinoa, barley, etc.
  • Legumes including beans, lentils, etc.
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Nutritional yeast (often used to mimic cheese flavor)
  • Almond, coconut, and other non-dairy milks
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Agave syrup, maple syrup, plant based sugar

Foods Not Allowed on a Vegan Diet

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • All animal derived dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Gelatin
  • Casein (a milk derivative sometimes found in soy cheeses)
  • Beeswax
  • Lactose
  • Lanolin
  • Vitamin D3 in fortified juices and drinks which comes from sheep's wool
  • Whey (a protein made from milk)

Generally vegans should be working towards eating balanced diet, which should include a combination of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes at each meal. Eating whole grains and legumes together helps the body to absorb all the nutrients.

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