While at least 2.5% of the U.S. population claims to be vegan, according to a study by Harris Interactive commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, veganism doesn’t necessarily equate to optimal health. If you go to any grocery store today, you will likely see delicious sounding boxed and frozen vegan items, ranging from porkless bites, vegan mayonnaise, pizzas, coffee creamers, burritos, and everything in between. Having these things on occasion, of course, won’t put a dent in your health, but making it a habit can lead to nutrient deficiencies and overall poor health.
So, how can you be vegan and healthy at the same time?
Eat mostly whole foods fresh from the Earth.
Mounting evidence shows that eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet can slow down and even eliminate a multitude of diseases within the body. However, a startling number of people don’t get near enough vitamins and minerals from the foods they consume, mostly because they choose foods that have little to no nutrient value.
When you first start eating more fruits and veggies, you will probably want to do one of three things: 1) spit out everything you just ate, 2) pour sugar or salt on your food, or 3) question why you even started this crazy diet in the first place. I’ve been there, and it definitely wasn’t easy in the beginning to get myself to eat healthier foods. However, one week of eating better turned into two, two weeks turned into a month, and before I knew it, I started feeling better, craving less and less salty/sugary foods, and having an insane amount of energy.
Bottom line: If you choose veganism, make sure you get plenty of raw, whole fruits and veggies in your diet. Even if you only eat a few pieces of fruit or a small salad per day in the beginning, you will notice the difference in how you feel very quickly.
Make sure you take any necessary vitamins or supplements.
Unfortunately, many people get turned off by veganism because you cannot obtain Vitamin B12 from any natural plant-based source. However, even meat-eaters have been proven to be deficient in this vitamin, because it comes from the soil, not animals, as many people mistakenly believe. Because our soil has become stripped of many vitamins and minerals due to environmental pollution, chemicals used in pesticides, and other reasons, the soil doesn’t contain as many nutrients as it did before modern industries took over.
For this reason, make sure you get regular blood tests and supplement any and all nutrients you do not get from whole plants.
Get used to eating more food to obtain vital nutrients.
You will learn pretty quickly that you have to eat a lot more food on a vegan diet than you did as a meat-eater. For example, a small steak contains around 400 calories, while the same amount of broccoli (roughly 199 grams) contains just 68 calories. However, this doesn’t mean you have to sit down to 10 bowls of broccoli to be satisfied with your food. You can make smoothies with caloric fruits, such as bananas, mangoes, or papaya if you find it easier to get in calories this way. Or, make a big salad at night loaded with a variety of fruits and veggies, and you could make a dressing with avocado or seeds, as this packs in a lot of calories as well. Complex carbs, such as brown or wild rice and sweet potatoes, to name a few, also contain a good amount of calories. If you don’t want to eat fully raw, that’s perfectly fine, as there are plenty of healthy cooked foods to consume on a vegan diet.
Eating a diet of mostly whole foods isn’t easy, especially with a full-time job or school, kids, and other things that keep us busy in our lives, but it can be done with commitment, a little effort, and planning meals ahead of time.