There are many misconceptions when it comes to vegan nutrition and a plant-based diet.
The idea that humans need animal protein for optimal health is still commonly shared and believed.
In fact, humans need much less protein, in general, than many believe is necessary to be strong and healthy.
While protein is an important part of a balanced diet, it is something that vegans and vegetarians are able to get from plants.
The main difference between animal proteins and plant proteins are the numbers of amino acids. And while few plants contain all nine of the essential amino acids people need to be healthy, it is very possible and affordable to have a diet rich in essential amino acids without consuming animal products.
So when it comes to vegan nutrition, what else is there that non-vegans question or transitioning vegetarians worry about?
Many people who love animals and are curious to become plant-based worry about their health if they make the transition as they are conditioned to believe they need animal products.
The myth about animal protein and the human “need” to consume it has been perpetuated for years.
We are Being Fed Nutrition Misinformation
There are major organizations and lobbying groups connected to the meat industry that funnel endless money into campaigns to promote animal proteins.
In fact, the Checkoff Program by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is a program where all farmers in the dairy and beef industry must pay the Beef Board a dollar per head that goes directly to marketing and promotional causes for the beef industry. A lot of this money, according to the ex-CEO of the NCBA is used to promote the idea that protein from beef is the best and most healthy protein available, an idea that simply isn’t true.
It isn’t a surprise that so many people thinking about a plant-based diet are concerned. Combining the NCBA with the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Board, the National Dairy Council, and the National Egg Board, and you are going up against endless funds, lobbying, and policymakers in Washington that are selling the idea that humans need animal products to stay healthy.
So before we get into how vegan nutrition is a lot more realistic than one may think, let’s first discuss veganism in general.
What is a Vegan?
A person that is vegan is someone that adheres to a lifestyle that avoids the use and support of all things that have animal origins.
Veganism isn’t just a diet. Veganism is a mindset and philosophy that one follows to avoid cruelty at all costs.
Vegans abstain eating any product that comes from animals. They do not wear leathers, suedes, silks, wools, or any other fabric that comes from animals. Vegans do not use products that were tested on animals.
Why Do People Go Vegan?
For an ethical vegan, there is only one answer to this question: they go vegan because of the animals.
However, there are different reasons why people go vegan.
It’s important to note, however, that there is a difference between people who are vegan and people who are plant-based. Because of misinformation in the media and the fact that veganism and plant-based diets are becoming more popular in the mainstream, a lot of people confuse the two.
A vegan always has a plant-based diet but someone on a plant-based diet isn’t always vegan. There are many people who choose a plant-based diet for health reasons but continue wearing leather, for example. Those people are not vegan as they continue using animal products.
Vegan for Health Reasons
There are people that go plant-based to start because of the health benefits. Then over time, they will cut out other animal products as they continue learning more about the atrocities behind the fur and leather trades, animal testing, and other industries that exploit animals.
There are many health benefits for people who go plant-based.
One of the main benefits is that people eat a more rounded, well-balanced diet. Rejecting, or greatly reducing one’s consumption of the Western Diet, is a great thing. While junk-food vegans do exist, many still eat less processed foods as there are fewer options.
The best health benefit of a plant-based diet is the decrease in risk of getting cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases that are more commonly found in people that eat highly processed foods and meats.
Vegan for Environmental Reasons
Some people go plant-based as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and help the environment.
It is a well-known fact that animal agriculture plays a role in accelerated climate change.
There are many ways that industrial factory farming is negatively impacting the environment. From the release of methane to land use to deforestation, factory farming plays a huge role in the warming of our planet.
Because of this, many environmentalists have decided to go vegan in order to help combat climate change.
At the end of the day, animals don’t care why people go vegan as long as they are doing their part to reduce the suffering and killing of sentient beings.
Vegan Nutrition: What You Need to Know
Because veganism is new to most people, misinformation spreads quickly when it comes to truly understanding how vegans stay healthy.
The reality of food consumption and our behavior at the dinner table is so influenced by culture and tradition that changing how we eat can be a major challenge.
As mentioned earlier, the consumption of meat has huge industries and major marketing budgets behind it.
People are conditioned from young ages to believe that eating animals is something that they must do in order to live healthy lives. The reality is the opposite.
A recent study released by the Journal of Nutrition proves that a vegan diet is much healthier than a diet that included meat and animal products.
“There is growing evidence that such plant-based diet patterns are associated with a number of favorable health effects.”
But just because vegans diets are healthier than one that includes animal products, doesn’t mean that vegans are automatically healthier. It is very possible for vegans to eat poorly and have poor nutrition.
That is why vegan nutrition is so important and vegans need to understand how to eat healthy in order to reap the benefits of their diet.
What Vegans Should Eat Every Day
It should go without saying that people need to eat well-balanced meals.
The Western Diet has made this difficult as people, especially in the US, are accustomed to consuming meals that don’t have the variety as many other cultures.
In the US, it is common to get a plate of pasta or a sandwich as a meal whereas pasta in many cultures would be one of many parts of a meal that is rich in other nutrients.
Instead of a huge plate of pasta that you would find at the Olive Garden, in other countries pasta would be a small side and accompanied with other foods like rice, beans, salads, and legumes.
Expanding the variety of a plate and decreasing the portions of each food on the plate is a great way to consume the nutrients presented by an eclectic combination of food.
Fruits and Vegetables
Daily consumption of both fruits and vegetables is important for vegan nutrition.
Mixing up what you’re eating and including many types of vegetables into your meals is highly recommended.
Things like iron and protein, something believed by many to be found mostly in animal products, can be found in abundance in vegetables.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and chard are loaded with iron. In fact, 100 grams of spinach contains 1.1 times the amount of iron you will find in the same quantity of red meat and 2.2 times that of salmon.
When it comes to protein, there are many vegetables rich in protein that make the need for consuming animal products completely unnecessary.
Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, spinach, and asparagus are just a small handful of vegetables where you can find high amounts of protein.
Another important part of your vegan nutrition plan should be a high intake of fruit.
Fruit is the perfect snack to have between meals to stay alert throughout the day.
Eating a lot of fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers and should be included in your daily eating habits. Beyond the health benefits, you get from eating fruit, daily consumption is a great way for many people with a sweet tooth to get their fix.
Grains, Nuts, and Legumes
There are many healthy grains that should be consumed regularly by vegans. From quinoa and oats to barley and brown rice, the options are many and the ways to incorporate them into your cooking repertoire are vast.
Grains are rich in dietary fiber. Consuming whole grains helps your system feel satisfied without the need to overeat to feel satisfied. Nuts are loaded with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, too healthy fats that are great for lowering cholesterol and keeping a healthy heart. They are also full of vitamins and minerals that the body needs like protein, Vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium. Legumes are low in fat and high in protein and potassium, making them a great alternative to eating animal products.
Many people become obese by consuming a huge amount of highly processed, oily foods. Because these foods don’t provide the human body with the nourishment it needs, it takes a lot more of those foods to feel full. That is why many people on the Western Diet overeat and become obese.
By consuming a plant-based diet rich in whole grains, nuts, and legumes, you are giving your system what it needs to thrive.
Is it Healthy to Be a Vegan?
The short answer? Absolutely.
As mentioned earlier, this doesn’t mean that vegans are automatically healthy by default. A well-balanced diet rich in nutrients and vitamins along with exercise is key when it comes to being healthy.
And while plant-based alternatives and options are becoming more abundant, that doesn’t mean that everywhere you go you will find a variety of options.
Because of this, it is important to take supplements when needed and create a vegan nutrition plan to understand what it is you are consuming and how to optimize your consumption for optimal health and results.
Vegan Nutrition Supplements
It is important to know that the human body can only absorb so many minerals and vitamins per day.
Anything beyond what you really need won’t benefit you and will mostly be discharged naturally by your body.
Vitamin B12 is one thing that vegans should be careful about when it comes to intake levels.
While possible to find B12 in plant-based foods like mushrooms, spirulina, and nutritional yeast. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a variety of different health issues. Taking a B12 supplement can help vegans avoid health problems like anemia, damage to the nervous system, and heart disease.
In a study that compared the nutritional quality of diets between vegans, vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and omnivores, it was found that “calcium intake was lowest for the vegans and below national dietary recommendations.”
While there are numerous vegan foods that naturally provide calcium, taking a supplement can help those who are unable to get what they need for optimal health.
Seeds, beans, lentils, and almonds are all high in calcium and should be part of your vegan nutrition plan.
Vegan Nutrition Deficiency
To avoid any kind of vegan nutrition deficiency, eating a well-balanced diet and taking daily supplements will help significantly.
Having mineral and vitamin deficiencies can lead to a variety of different health issues. From fatigue and anemia to over-consumption of processed foods and carbohydrates, a plant-based diet, like all other diets, has its risks as well.
The best thing you can do is research as much as possible and, if necessary, speak to a nutritionist that specialized in plant-based diets to get a better understanding of how you can be both healthy and cruelty-free at the same time.
Vegan Nutrition Plan
For people just starting out on a plant-based diet, mapping out your meals and tracking your consumption is a great way to stay healthy.
This is highly advisable for anyone looking to control what they consume. However, for new vegetarians or vegans, tracking intake can help you avoid any potential deficiencies or health risks.
There are some great apps like MyFitnessApp and Fooducate that can help you stay on top of your eating habits.
Going vegan might not be the easiest thing for you but it’s definitely worth it.
Changing habits and behavior doesn’t always happen overnight and that isn’t a bad thing. There is no rule saying you must go vegan instantly.
While some people do for ethical reasons, other people who choose the plant-based lifestyle do so in steps. Many people start as vegetarians and slowly cut out dairy and eggs as they go.
For people struggling with the transition, it can make a world of difference by talking to others who have already gone vegan.
Don’t be shy and ask for advice. Most vegans are so excited to find out that others are making the transition and will happily give you tips, recipes, and advice.
Ask them about how they deal with their nutrition and start tracking your consumption.
And remember, there is no guideline for how to be a vegan. Each person is different and everyone’s nutritional requirements will vary slightly.
Focus on eating a well-balanced meal and understanding which minerals and vitamins you might be lacking to avoid any issues.
And, most importantly, speak to a doctor or nutritionist that has a plant-based focus so you can get sound advice from a professional.
Are you ready to take your vegan nutrition to the next level?