You may have heard the term “vegan” a lot lately. Or maybe you’ve considered cutting back on certain things in your diet, like meat or dairy. Vegans are not only vegetarians. Rather, vegans avoid all animal products, for dietary and ethical reasons. Not only do they avoid all non-plant based foods, true vegans also avoid anything produced by an animal, including fur, leather, suede, wool, silk, and beeswax. Many people find it’s not as difficult as it used to be to find replacements for the meat, dairy, and eggs in their diets. Or they simply go without. And they’ve got a pretty good argument. Since it’s National Vegetarian Week, let’s take a look at the vegan diet.
The traditional American diet is high in animal fats and can lead to coronary artery disease and diabetes. A low fat vegan diet, on the other hand, has been linked to weight loss, as well as reduced LDL and total cholesterol, reduced risk of hypertension, gall stones, and certain types of cancer. There’s really no way around it. People who eat less animal fat just plain live longer. So, why don’t we all do it, right?
Well, if you’re one of those traditional Americans, it might be hard to get past the list of “can’t haves” on a vegan diet and wonder what you can actually eat on a vegan diet. You’ll get plenty of vegetables, of course, as well as fruits, grains, and legumes. For protein, there are soy-based options like tofu and tempeh. And you can find loads of plant-based substitutes for dairy now. It’s much more “mainstream” than it used to be. Even stores like WinCo and Wal-Mart throughout the Treasure Valley carry soy, almond and rice dairy products, like milk and cheese, these days. Of course, for the best selection for vegan products in the Treasure Valley, you’ll want to check out the Boise Co-Op or even Fred Meyer.
Some of the concerns with a vegan diet are the lower levels of nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, calcium, iodine, choline, and vitamin D. We traditionally get these nutrients from meat, dairy, and eggs, so what if you decide to go vegan? Well, it’s a matter of finding substitutions, or just supplementing. Iron can be found in molasses. Calcium can be found in soy milk, almonds, hazelnuts, and broccoli. The only significant food source of vitamin D is fatty fish. So for vitamin D, choline, iodine, and vitamin B12, you’ll need to be sure you take a daily supplement.
People often report that switching to a vegan diet leaves them feeling healthier in a number of ways. For some, cutting out dairy means less bloating and other stomach issues. Omitting meat can leave people feeling lighter and more energetic. This is not true for everyone. Your body is unique and may react differently than others. But it’s likely that you’ll notice some positive changes by going vegan.
Sometimes people get frustrated by dietary changes because they feel too restricted and want to go back to their old ways. This can be true for new vegans. However, instead of focusing on what you can’t have, turn your attention to what you can have. It’s likely that you’ll discover new foods or look at “old” foods in new ways. Go ahead and experiment. You just might like it.
By the way, if you’re not ready to go completely vegan, but would like to reduce the meat in your diet, you might consider becoming a lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning you still eat dairy and eggs), or a pescetarian (meaning you still eat fish, but no other meats).
Talk it up:
Would you ever consider a vegan diet?
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