When it comes to your health …
First things first:
We can all agree that what you eat plays a huge role.
But how often do we actually take that advice to heart?
Being mindful of what you put into your bodies is essential for maintaining a healthy body, mind, and spirit.
But when you’re on-the-run, short on cash, super stressed, late for work, or just plain tired, it’s so easy to shove whatever sounds good into your mouth and call it good.
Well … as it turns out, that isn’t exactly the best approach to eating. And many people who have converted to veganism have concluded the same thing.
Veganism is the most mindful diet a person can have. It’s clean, fresh, good-for-you … and it takes discipline — something that can be especially beneficial as well.
Reasons to Become Vegan: Should You Try It?
If you’re considering veganism for yourself, it’s wise to learn more about what being a vegan actually means. Like with any unique health practice, there are pros and cons.
According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, approximately 2.5% of the U.S. population consumes a vegan diet, meaning that these people don’t eat animal foods, like meat, poultry, or fish, nor do they eat any foods that are derived from the killing of animals or cruelty.
Naturally, a number of positive benefits can stem from eating this way:
1. Improved Overall Health
Numerous studies have shown a correlation between eating a vegan diet and improved overall health. This may be attributed to the higher amount of antioxidant-rich foods that vegans typically eat as well as the lack of animal fat being consumed.
Specifically, vegans tend to be thinner, which largely contributes to their lowered risks for type II diabetes and certain cancers. They also have healthier triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol numbers, their blood pressure is more under control, and they thus have a lowered risk for heart attacks and strokes.
2. Weight Loss
For some vegans who previously consumed large amounts of meat and other animal products, weight loss may be an added benefit. This varies greatly on what new, non-meat foods a recent convert chooses. However, just by paying closer attention to what you eat, you’ll likely lose some weight right away.
3. More Energy
Overwhelmingly, vegans say they feel lighter, healthier, and more energized on a daily basis. This is largely because vegan-friendly foods are easier on your digestive system. Consuming animal-derived products, on the other hand, tend to slow down digestion and make you feel sluggish and tired.
4. A Better Immune System
As stated in the first benefit, a vegan diet definitely improves your overall health. But it can also be specifically beneficial to your immune system. Your immune system is an interconnected system of cells, tissues, and organs throughout your body. Next to the nervous system, it is the largest system you have. Over time, your immune system can change — becoming better able to protect you from illness and disease — or worse.
To improve your immune system, one of the best things you can do is consume more fruits and vegetables — staples of the vegan diet. Their antioxidants will protect you from disease and illness. Finally, because a vegan diet improves gut health, you’ll see benefits to your immune system there as well.
5. It’s Possible — and the Food Is Pretty Good!
What we mean by “it’s possible” is that — you’re not going to starve on a vegan diet. Many people who regularly consume meat and animal-derived products cannot imagine going vegan!
“What would I eat!?” they say.
The first thing to know is that you will not starve on a vegan diet. As it turns out, there are a lot of great foods out there that do not contain any sort of animal products. All it takes is a little research, reading, planning, and diligence. Anyone can become a vegan!
Comment: Rachel, the author of Pure Love Raw, 20+ years of a plant-based diet.
The main benefits of a vegan diet have to do with eating healthier, fresher, whole foods — and being more mindful of what you put into your body.
However, we also wanted to mention that many vegans enjoy knowing they’re also supporting animal welfare in choosing a vegan diet. If you eat meat, after all, you must recognize where it comes from, which is, of course — animals. Furthermore, there are numerous environmental issues associated with animal-raising, and eating a meat-free diet can be beneficial for the planet.
What Does “Vegan” Actually Mean?
A vegan diet is quite strict, which means that off the bat, you should expect to start paying close attention to every single thing that goes in your mouth — if you haven’t already been. Out of nearly all mainstream diets, in fact, vegans are likely the most strict. Vegans do not eat (or use) any products that are derived from the suffering or death of animals — and that includes insects (e.g. honey from bees, silk from silkworms).
Vegan basics: What do vegans NOT eat?
When you are vegan, you do NOT eat the following core foods:
- Meat, fish, shellfish, or poultry
- Cream or butter
- Cheese, milk and other dairy products.
Health benefits of going vegan
There are numerous health benefits to going vegan:
- Lower bad LDL cholesterol
- Lowered risk for heart attack and stroke
- Lowered risk for certain types of cancer
- Lowered risk for type II diabetes
- Lowered risk for macular degeneration and cataracts
- Lowered risk for osteoporosis and arthritis
- More energy
- Improved breath
- Lowered Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Lowered migraines and issues with headaches and stomach pains or nausea
- Lowered blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Clearer skin and less skin problems such as rosacea, acne, and eczema
How to Become Vegan, Step-by-Step
Going vegan is going to take some time, but you can do it if you prepare and execute all of your action steps with purpose and diligence. Start with this step-by-step list:
- Start by deciding to go vegan within yourself.
- Read about veganism and talk to vegan friends if you have them. Ask them for their recommendations and ideas when starting out.
- Keep a notebook with these tips, advice, and ideas.
- Remove all non-vegan foods from your house. Remember, this includes all meat and meat-derived products, so that’s cheese, milk, ice cream, yogurt, dairy, etc.
- You’ll also need to get rid of other products that are vegan but that are not food. This means leather, suede, etc.
- Head to the store and stock back up on replacement foods that are vegan.
- Start keeping a food diary in the beginning to track of the vegan foods that you eat.
- Tell your friends and family members that you are vegan so that they don’t try to tempt you with foods that you can no longer eat.
- If you are pressured by friends and family members not to continue with your diet, remember to have diligence and persistence. This is your body and your decision.
Will it change your life? Possibly. Here is what you can (realistically) expect as a result of going vegan:
Not exactly sure you want to go vegan overnight?
If you’re nervous about diving right into a vegan diet, consider this:
Many vegans began as vegetarians. In contrast to vegans, vegetarians typically only exclude meat, poultry, and fish from their diet. Some vegetarians may also exclude eggs and/or dairy. Typically, however, vegetarians do consume things like honey and gelatin.
Starting off with a vegetarian diet can prep you for what it’s like to nix a whole food group (or several) from your diet. It will get you used to reading ingredient labels; alerting friends and family that you don’t eat X, Y, and Z; and generally watching what you put into your mouth. It’s a great transitional eating plan that can ultimately make becoming a vegan much easier to handle.
The best vegan diet foods
Here is a list of the best vegan diet foods that will get you started when you take your first “vegan grocery shopping” trip!
- Fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butters
- Beans and lentils
- Vegan whole wheat breads and other bread products like naan, pita, and tortillas
- Coconut milk, almond, milk, and soy milk
- Flax, chia seeds, and hemp
- Tofu and seitan
- Nutritional yeast (tastes like cheese when put into things like soup and stew!)
- Fermented plant foods
- Sprouted foods
- Almond and soy dairy products like ice cream and yogurt
- Healthy fats like olive and sunflower oils
How to start a full vegan diet
First thing’s first: when you’re going to go on a vegan diet, you have to remember that it’s not going to be easy. Start by just remembering to take baby steps. If you find yourself accidentally eating foods that have meat or meat-derived products in them at the beginning, that’s okay! Just keep that in mind for next time, and keep going.
You’ll want to be gentle with yourself in the beginning. After a lifetime of eating meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and other meat products, it can be hard to make the transition into veganism.
One thing to particularly remember when it comes to a vegan diet is that vegetables and vegetable recipes will be vital to your progress. These are great for their nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and they can be used in unique ways to replace meat-based foods that you used to eat. Furthermore, their high fiber content helps to make you feel fuller longer and can deter you from consuming non-healthy vegan foods (and trust us, there are many out there). Earlier on HealthyLeo we published some meal suggestions and food preparation tips to making delicious vegan meals.
Check out these sample meal ideas for your new vegan diet (full of healthy veggies!):
- Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes
- Sugar Snap Pea and Carrot Soba Noodles
- Lemon-Quinoa Avocado-Cilantro Chickpea Salad
- Poblano and Portobello Fajitas
- Roasted Vegetable Salad With Garlic Dressing and Toasted Pepitas
Here are some useful book, movie, and online resources for going on a vegan diet as well:
Changing over to a vegan lifestyle can be difficult. It’s challenging when it comes to the foods you’re going to stop and start eating, but it’s also a challenge when you consider the changes to your overall life — without food!
You’ll need to take a look at your house, workplace, and car. Do you own any face or body products that contain animal products or animal byproducts? You’d be surprised to learn that many of them do: lip balm, lipstick, foundation, lotions, hair gels, etc.
Look to see if any of the products you wear, sit on, or use for furniture are made from animal-derived products as well. Leather and suede are the biggest culprits. Check in your car (leather seats), at home on your sofa, and in your closet: suede or leather purses, shoes, boots, coats, belts, etc. This may seem hard… but the effort pays off:
Comment: Linda Curry, inspirational plant-based cooking instructor and the author of True Balance Wellness.
How to Be a Healthy Vegan? Nutritional Balance Challenge
Most people have entertained the idea of going vegan at least once in their lives. And in recent years, veganism has not only become more popular, but it’s also become more accepted. Of course, there are a number of benefits to a vegan diet, but there are also drawbacks to keep in mind. It’s important to go about a transition to veganism with the right mindset.
Most of all, this means making sure that you maintain a healthy nutritional balance. This can be more challenging on a vegan diet, but the following tips can help.
Vegan supplements and health products
Be prepared for transitioning to veganism. Consider adopting these key vegan supplement habits and using these health products:
- Start taking vitamin B12 and vitamin D right away as these nutrients are often hard to get on a vegan diet
- Start visiting your doctor yearly to get a full lipid profile to check your health stats
- Make sure to continue drinking lots of water every day
- Keep track of your calcium intake and take supplements when necessary
- Consider soy, almond, and coconut milk replacements
- Try vegan buttery sticks in place of butter for baking
- In place of cheese, try vegan cheese brands
- Keep track of your protein intake. The following groups of vegan products are rich in protein:
Thinking of Going Vegan? Give It a Try!
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to considering new ways of eating is that by simply being mindful about what food you put into your body, you’re benefiting your health. After all, in a world of fast food and packaged everything, it’s all too easy to consume an unhealthy diet in favor of convenience.
If you’d like to try veganism, give it a go for a week. Just keep balanced nutrition in mind. This is a great way to test out this way of eating and see how it suits you and your lifestyle.
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