So you want to go vegan?
Veganism is a lifestyle that does not include the consumption or use of anything produced from an animal. That means no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, leather, gelatin, or anything of the like. It also means avoiding products that were tested on animals or supporting businesses that use animals for entertainment purposes like zoos or circuses.
Just because this lifestyle abstains from animal products does not mean vegans are restricted from consuming amazing food, getting vital nutrients, or having fun.
What is Veganism?
Veganism is sweeping the globe, but what does that really mean? Pescetarians eat fish, vegetarians eat cheese, so what do vegans eat?
A vegan diet relies on nutrients from fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds instead of meat, dairy, or eggs.
Those following a vegan lifestyle also refrain from using animal byproducts such as leather from cow hides and gelatin which is boiled from the skin, bones, and cartilage of domestic farm animals. This also includes insect secretions like honey and lac – which is used for varnishes.
Why Do People Go Vegan?
Vegans come from all different backgrounds. Some have been vegan since birth, while others made the switch after watching a gruesome documentary unveiling the cruelty within factory farms. Some choose this lifestyle for environmental reasons, while others do so for the health benefits.
To End Animal Cruelty and Ethical Reasons
As populations increase, so does the demand for food. Unfortunately, in order to keep up with these tall orders, food producers around the world must increase production to meet demand.
This often means unsafe working conditions for employees, substandard living conditions for the animals, and the potential for unspeakable cruelty.
Undercover investigations, like the one above captured by Animal Recovery Mission, are key players in how the public views cruelty within the meat and dairy industries.
These gruesome producers are protected by something called ag-gag laws. This means that people who work undercover within these industries can not whistleblow against them. In fact, ag-gag laws can actually criminalize those who try to do so.
Meat and dairy producers do not want the public to view what happens inside their daily procedures, they just want people to enjoy their products with a blind eye. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Luckily for the animals, more organizations are capturing this incessant cruelty and the public is starting to educate themselves on what happens within these industries.
Documentaries like Food Inc., Dominion, and Earthlings have impacted millions of people around the world exposing them to the cruelty that lies within the industrialized meat and dairy industries.
Organizations like Peta, The Humane League, and Mercy for Animals are working tirelessly to break down protective barriers deployed by factory farms, as well as those involved in fur farming, animal testing, and animal exploitation in the entertainment sector.
Out of sight, out of mind might be the motto of these cruel industries, but the public deserves to know what their dollars are really supporting.
That is where journalistic organizations, like Sentient Media, come in. We report on the news that doesn’t often make national headlines. Just because it is difficult to watch does not mean we should ignore it.
For Health Reasons
Another reason people become vegan is for health benefits. Some might come to this conclusion on their own after a bit of research, while others might be instructed to do so from their doctor or nutritionist.
Increased cholesterol, carcinogens from processed meat, and lactose intolerance (because you aren’t a baby cow) are all reasons why people might decide to reduce their consumption of animal products. A plant-based diet can also help you lose weight naturally.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced in adequate amounts by our liver. When we intake cholesterol from sources like eggs and steak, for instance, we disrupt this delicate system. Too much cholesterol, as well as saturated and trans fats, can increase your risk of heart disease.
Cutting out animal proteins like red meat and full-fat dairy products, as well as increasing your plant-based fiber intake, can help lower your cholesterol and keep it at a healthy range. Not managing your cholesterol levels could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The World Health Organization deemed processed meats, like bacon or hotdogs, to be carcinogenic to humans and that daily consumption can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Regular consumption of processed meats has been linked to a 9% increased risk of breast cancer, 19% increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and 42% increased risk of heart disease.
Challenging The Food Industry
Vegan options are showing up everywhere from Chipotle to Del Taco. Consumers are demanding more meatless options and businesses are realizing the limitless potential of incorporating even just a few vegan choices.
Consumers are demanding transparency now more than ever, and with the help of the Internet, word can spread like wildfire if you slip up.
Take FairLife Dairy for instance. Undercover footage of cruelty within their supply chain went viral and stores started pulling their products off the shelves before they could even blink.
People are starting to challenge the food industry and animal agriculture to force companies to take responsibility for their actions. Campaigns against McDonald’s, Walmart, and Hilton Hotels to improve animal welfare policies within their supply chains have been effective because consumers and activists are not backing down.
Modern Vegan Revolution
The vegan movement has become a revolution to challenge the tired excuses we’ve been fed for years that we need meat for protein, milk for calcium, and B12 from organ meats.
It is difficult to track just how many vegans there are in the world, but the number continues to rise each year. As more information is uncovered about the cruelty and environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries, as well as the health benefits of a plant-based diet, those numbers are sure to rise.
How Do I Go Vegan?
Now that you understand the ethical dilemma and health risks of consuming animal products, how do you go about becoming a vegan? Is it hard? Is it expensive? Let us explain.
Just like any lifestyle change, it might take time for your body and mind to adjust to this newfound life. If you make mistakes, learn from them. If you have temptations, figure out ways to curb them.
There are plenty of resources online as well as social media communities full of supportive people that will help make the transition easier.
Your body has likely been living a certain way for years, so go easy on yourself.
Is Being Vegan Expensive?
One of the main concerns around veganism is that it is more expensive than a typical Western Diet.
This could be true if you are clearing every shelf at Whole Foods, but if you focus on mostly fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, a vegan diet could be even more affordable than what you’re used to.
Is a Vegan Lifestyle Healthy?
Living a vegan lifestyle can improve your health if you are eating whole food sources like beans, nuts, and fresh vegetables.
Just because something is technically “vegan” does not automatically make it healthy, though.
Potato chips, cookies, and chocolate frosting might be free from animal products, but that does not mean you can count them as wholesome, nutritious foods.
Meat and dairy alternatives are great tasting additions to any meal, but they are still processed and should be used in moderation. They can make the transition into veganism easier, though, so feel free to use them sparingly while you get acquainted with other plant-based foods.
What Can You Eat as a Vegan?
Some people might think vegans are deprived of delicious foods, but that simply is not the case. Veganism can actually expand your horizons and help you venture out of your comfort zone with food.
A vegan diet means that any vegetable is fair game! Enjoy a variety of potatoes, celery, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, onions, pumpkin, cabbage, kale, and the list goes on. The more variety on your plate, the more nutrients your body receives.
Who doesn’t love a juicy peach or a crunchy apple? Vegans can eat any and all fruit. Fill your plates and smoothies with berries, melons, bananas, pineapples, cherries, kiwis, etc.
Legumes are a class of vegetables that include beans, peas, and lentils. They are delicious, filling, and packed with nutrients like fiber, protein, and B vitamins.
Including chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, green peas, black beans, and soybeans into your daily routine can help reduce your cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of gastrointestinal cancers, and regulate insulin levels.
Nuts are a calorie and nutrient-dense snack that makes them perfect for those of us always on-the-go.
Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, and pecans contain nutrients like folate (good for your brain) and omega 3 fats (good for your heart).
Walnuts, for example, contain antioxidants which can help reduce your risk of certain cancers as well as prevent or reverse diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Whole grains are filled with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals as opposed to refined grains which are stripped of their key nutrients like fiber.
Wheat, rice, quinoa, corn, oats, and even popcorn are all delicious sources of whole grains.
Incorporating even just a handful of seeds into your diet each day can give you a boost of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein.
You can buy or make delicious granola with chia, hemp, pumpkin, flax, or poppy seeds. You can boost the nutrient content even more by adding oats (grains) and dried fruits.
There has been a lot of controversy lately about the place of oil in our diet, and even some conflicting evidence showing health benefits as well as health risks of using certain oils – like coconut.
The unanimous conclusion is that trans fats, now banned in the United States, are detrimental to your health. According to Harvard Health, “Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.”
Frequent use of saturated fat should also be limited due to the potential increase in LDL cholesterol levels which could then lead to blockages in the heart. Saturated fats are found in red meat, cheese, and palm and coconut oils. Those blockages are precursors to heart disease and stroke.
Oils that are considered “healthy fats” consist of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats are found commonly within the Mediterranean Diet, which consists of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and oils. This diet is said to be heart healthy, so many people follow its guidelines.
You can find monounsaturated fats in olive, avocado, sunflower, and most nut oils.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats that are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation regulation.
They have been thought to reduce blood pressure as well as provide omega-3 fatty acids which protect the heart
These fats can be found in flaxseeds, canola, walnut, and soybean oils.
Whether you decide to incorporate oil into your diet or not, it is important to intake the essential nutrients within them from other sources and talk with your doctor to see what approach is best for you.
In your newfound vegan adventure, you will likely do some baking, right? Instead of using white cane sugar (which is unhealthy and processed with bone char from animals), grab a natural sweetener instead.
Vegans stay away from animal products, so that includes insects like bees. Which means no honey. Some might say that honey is harmless, but you can read more about why that is not true right here.
Luckily, there are a plethora of other natural sweeteners that don’t involve charred bones or honey theft.
Sweeteners like agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, Splenda, and stevia are usually even sweeter than traditional sugar or honey, meaning that you can use less in your recipes.
Less sugar, more sweetness, and no cruelty? Sign me up.
What Can’t You Eat as a Vegan?
Let’s keep this short and simple. As a vegan, you do not eat anything with eyes or anything that came from something with eyes.
This means no meat (beef, chicken, pork, fish, lamb, deer, etc.), no eggs, no milk, no honey, no gelatin.
Don’t look at veganism as restrictive, look at it as an opportunity to expand your horizons. Add some color to your plate as well as some key nutrients that you may actually already be lacking.
Nutrients To Look Out For When Going Vegan
When transitioning to a vegan diet, like any lifestyle change, it is important to be educated and prepared. Here are a few nutrients you should keep in mind that will keep you healthy and energized.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in ultraviolet rays from the sun as well as dietary supplements. It promotes calcium absorption which aids bone growth and health.
Portobello mushrooms, fortified plant-based milk, soy yogurt, and many fortified cereals are good sources of vitamin D. The most fun way is to soak up some rays by the pool, though!
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that aids in red blood cell formation among other functions and is found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. If that’s the case, then how do vegans get adequate amounts?
You can find B12 in fortified foods like soy milk, nutritional yeast, nutritional shakes, and multivitamins or sublingual B12 drops.
Zinc is an important mineral responsible for keeping our immune system strong and helping us fight off infections.
You can find zinc in plenty of plant-based foods like beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, nuts, chia, hemp, and pumpkin seeds, as well as quinoa.
Most multivitamins also include zinc in their formulations.
Iodine aids in regulating metabolism by ensuring proper thyroid function. It is crucial in staying healthy but often overlooked.
One of the best sources of iodine is in iodized salt. You can also find it in seaweed, which is where many iodine supplements source it from.
Vegan Transition Ideas
You don’t have to quit meat and dairy instantly but the animals would be happy if you did. Just remember that going vegan can be a journey for some. Contrary to what some vegans might say, you aren’t less of a vegan if you don’t go vegan overnight.
For some people it takes time and that is okay. If you are on the right path, you are already doing a good thing for animals. However, the sooner you go vegan the better.
Go Vegetarian First
Many vegans became vegetarians first and then transition into full-blown veganism.
For some, they might have opened their eyes to the cruelty within the meat industry first and later discovered the hidden horrors within other industries that exploit animals, thus creating a vegan.
For others, they might have wanted to experiment with reducing meat and dairy intake and eased into giving them up for good. This is a good exploratory period to try new foods and get creative.
There is no right or wrong way to go vegan, do what feels best for you.
Transition From Omnivore to Vegan
Most of us likely started out on this Earth as omnivores. That means we all have something in common.
Just because we did so does not mean we were bad people, it just means that society told us we needed animal products to thrive and we bought into it.
Transitioning from an omnivorous diet of meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables is not as hard as you would think. Chances are, some of your favorite foods are already vegan.
Start cooking pasta with veggies, making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and take advantage of meat and dairy alternatives like Beyond Meat burgers, Field Roast sausages, and Tofurky sandwiches.
Go All Out Vegan
If you have the determination and resources to remove all meat and dairy products from your diet overnight, go for it!
If not, just remember that slow progress is still progress. Do what feels right for you.
Be Kind to Your Body
This transitionary period can take some getting used to. Some people notice an immediate burst of energy, while others might feel bloated or tired.
Choosing healthy whole foods over processed vegan foods will help you feel more energized and feel great.
Keeping your motivator in mind during those transitionary first few weeks will help you keep your head up and keep going.
You might have cravings for non-vegan foods, but remembering the innocent faces of the animals you’re trying to save, or reflecting on the environmental or health reasons that started this fire within you will keep you motivated to press on.
If you do have cravings, don’t beat yourself up. Your body is used to animal products and of course it might miss them at first; that is totally normal and the cravings will subside. Don’t give up!
Cook up a delicious vegan meal (go to Pinterest for inspiration), watch another documentary like Dominion, and stay inspired. You can do this.
Join a Vegan Support Group
Facebook groups, apps like Meetup, and even collegiate campus organizations are all useful resources to find like-minded people in your area or online.
Whether your intentions are based on animal rights, environmentalism, or human health, there is sure to be a group for you.
These groups keep you updated on events, relevant news, and offer support for when you are having those cravings or down days.
Do You Really Want to Make a Difference?
The best way to make the largest impact is to get involved. Join the animal rights movement, connect with others, and support everyone who is trying to do the same.
Share With Others The Benefits and Reasons to go Vegan
There are a plethora of benefits to choosing a vegan lifestyle. You can reduce your cancer risk, stop supporting unnecessary cruelty, meet new people, and reduce your carbon footprint.
Living a vegan lifestyle is great, but sharing it with those you love is even better. Support vegan businesses by going to lunch with friends, pass out flyers with your family, and share your experiences with your loved ones on social media.
Veganism might sound restrictive to some, but once you realize that it actually opens so many doors you didn’t know even existed, you will be glad you made the switch.
It is 2019 – we no longer have to rely on animal products for our survival, furs for warmth, or exploitation for entertainment.
Choosing a vegan lifestyle has never been easier. What are you waiting for?
Taylor Meek is the community manager and a contributing author at Sentient Media. She oversees all social media content and strategy and manages the social media team and Social Media Fellowship program.