Unclear on what being a vegan means? You’ll find out here. Or do you want to be a vegan but aren’t sure where to start? That’s a common problem. If you’ve considered “going vegan,” you might need more facts to help you make an informed decision. Changing the way you eat is a significant endeavor, so you shouldn’t take it lightly.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what vegan people eat and how they consume and use other products. We’re going to debunk those myths today.
We also want to show you the benefits of going vegan, the differences between veganism and vegetarianism, and the types of vegans.
Let’s dig in!
What Is a Vegan?
Let’s start with the most basic vegan definition. A vegan is someone who does not eat, drink, or otherwise consume or use any animal products. You won’t see a vegan sporting a leather belt or using soaps made from animal parts.
A vegan is someone who likely cares about his or her health and has concerns about animal welfare. Someone can be vegan also for reasons of protecting the climate and conserving the Earth’s resources. Eating a vegan diet has many benefits, which we’ll explore below, but the important thing is to understand is that it might seem like work at first. But you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
You’ll have to read labels carefully and identify the foods you love that fall under the category vegan. Luckily, vegan foods are abundant, delicious, filling, and cruelty-free, which makes them ideal for people at any stage of life.
Reasons Why People Become Vegans
Everyone has a different reason for becoming vegan. There’s no right or wrong reason to choose this type of diet.
However, there are some common denominators with which you might resonate. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons why people become vegans.
The Belief That All Creatures Should Be Free
If you’re familiar with factory farming and other nefarious practices in the processing of animal products, you probably want to become vegan. Knowing that you’re not participating in that process can definitely make you feel better after consuming a meal.
Many vegans believe that all animals deserve to live lives free of cruelty, preferably freely in their natural habitats. They protest the exploitation and slaughter of billions of animals each year for profit and human consumption.
What if you met the cow or chicken before a side of beef or a breast landed on your plate? How would you feel about consuming animal flesh after having met the animal in person?
It’s easy to disconnect from the animal who suffered to provide the food on your dinner table. If you’re conscious of how your eating habits impact animal happiness and health, you might decide to go vegan.
They Want to Improve Their Health
It’s true that you can go vegan and still eat unhealthy foods. Chips, cookies, cakes, bread, and other unhealthy parts of your diet can cause you to gain weight or feel less energetic.
However, if you use your transition into veganism to become more conscious of the types of foods you’re eating overall, you will experience amazing benefits. Clearer skin, fewer stomach aches, reduced stress, increased energy, and improved mental clarity often result from veganism. We’ll discuss some of the benefits in more detail later in this article.
What you put into your body matters. As just one example, if you eat foods that spike your blood sugar, you’ll eventually crash, which can lead to sluggishness and an unfocused mind. Healthy foods, on the other hand, give our bodies what they crave. Going vegan can help with that.
Love For The Environment
Operations like factory farms are a drain on our natural sources. Eating vegan is one of the best actions you can take for the environment. Animal agriculture is one of the three largest sources of greenhouses emissions, and unlike cutting on commuting or travel, changing the content of your food from animals to plants doesn’t force you to change your life that much. You can still eat just as much as you did before.
Animal agriculture is also the main cause of deforestation. That Amazon rainforest being cut down in Brazil? It’s almost all for cattle feed and grazing. In the U.S. a full 41% of all land is used by animal agriculture, including livestock feed, pastureland, and the factory farm operations themselves. They compete with biodiversity and promote extinctions of other species living in nature. There’s very little to like about animal agriculture when it comes to the environment.
People who go vegan often have the greater good in mind. Consider the number of people who go hungry all over the planet. We’re using tons of grains and vegetables to overfeed farmed animals. Instead, we could use those resources to feed people who desperately need nourishment.
For example, most of the soybeans grown in the world is fed to the animals who are grown for human food. But this is extremely wasteful. A cow needs 25 times the calorie input to produce one calorie in meat yield. That’s like throwing away 24 plates of food every time you eat a plate of meat.
Let’s face it: it’s cool to go vegan. Lots of celebrities have spoken publicly about their veganism, for instance, and parents are passing this tradition on to their children.
People are so passionate about veganism that they often won’t consider dating someone who doesn’t have the same dietary beliefs. Friends often bond over plant-based meats and recipes.
This is the good kind of peer pressure. The peer pressure that results in positive change.
Are Vegans and Vegetarians the Same?
People often use the term vegan and vegetarian interchangeable. They’re not the same thing. Vegetarians have completely different diets.
Remember that vegans don’t consume any animal products. If you’re strictly vegan, you don’t wear leather or wool, you don’t eat gelatine, you don’t use beeswax or consume honey, and you don’t use shellac in your home-improvement projects.
These are all products that come from animals or insects. One idea behind developing a vegan lifestyle is to disturb the animal world as little as possible.
Differences Between Vegans and Vegetarians
Vegetarianism is actually a very broad umbrella term that describes a number of diets. Generally, a vegetarian doesn’t consume any meat products, such as beef, poultry, pork, or fish.
Most vegetarians don’t cut dairy from their diet. They also eat eggs. In other words, they consume products that animals make, but not meat that requires slaughter.
Some vegetarians, however, eat eggs and not dairy or vice versa. A pescetarian eats fish and shellfish, but not any other form of meat.
Vegetarians take great strides toward improving the lives of animals. They refuse to touch foods that contain meat. For instance, they wouldn’t eat certain types of soups, broths, and stir-fries because if those foods contain traces of meat.
Types of Vegans
We’ve already talked about a few of the reasons why people go vegan, but what happens after a vegan adopts this diet? There are lots of ways to be vegan, and deciding how you want to handle your diet can have a big impact on your overall health and well-being.
A dietary vegan doesn’t consume any animal products or by-products but might use products that contain them. For instance, shearing sheep for wool isn’t nearly as barbaric as slaughtering innocent animals for their meat.
However, you have to consider that using animal by-products, such as wool, can be detrimental to the animal. Sheep, llamas, alpacas, and other similar animals grow fur for a reason. Their wool keeps them warm and helps regulate their body temperatures. And like in most cases of using animals to produce anything, the animals’ welfare is not the main concern for the producers, as seen in yet another expose of the industry in the UK in 2018.
There are lots of unhealthy foods that fall under the vegan umbrella:
- Vegan cookies and other desserts (like vegan donuts)
- Frozen Vegan Meals
- Foods fried in peanut or vegetable oil
- Vegan donuts (yes, again, because donuts)
You see where we’re going with this. There’s nothing wrong with eating what you want, but remember that your body deserves good nutrition. Donuts may not be it (ok, sometimes).
A raw-food vegan doesn’t cook any of his or her food. These vegans typically sustain themselves on raw veggies, salads, whole fruits, and nuts and legumes.
Eating raw is something of a fad these days, though some people try 30-day experiments with it. You can try it if you want. Eating raw limits your diet substantially, though, and might cause some digestive upset due to the high fiber content. The upside is that after this diet, any other vegan diet will be like a walk in the park.
A whole-food vegan doesn’t eat any processed foods. No Boca Burgers or vegan frozen meals for them. Instead, they fill their plates with vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. This type of diet can lead to numerous health benefits, including weight loss, better digestive function, improved energy, and reduced risk for certain diseases.
Of course, sometimes you really want that Boca Burger (or Impossible Burger, or Beyond Meat Burger, or Gardein, or… there are many, many delicious options).
A low-fat vegan focuses on reducing fat intake. They would cut down on olive oil, for instance, because of its extraordinarily high-fat content. They also avoid high-fat vegetables and fruits, such as avocados, and steer clear of nuts, chia seeds, nut butters, and the like.
Remember that we need body fat to survive. Without it, our bodies lack sufficient energy resources. There’s nothing wrong with a low-fat diet, but it’s not a good idea to deprive yourself of all healthy fats.
While we’re describing these different permutations of the vegan diet, remember that you don’t have to follow any strict rules. Create your own version of veganism that works for your body, your palate – and the animals and the planet.
What Do Vegans Eat?
Many times, conversations about eating a vegan diet revolve around deprivation. “Oh, I can’t eat that, it has animal by-products.” But what about what you can eat?
Visit your local grocery store and check out the produce section. Consider it your new best friend. You can, of course, eat any fruit, vegetable, nut, or grain you like. Challenge yourself to find new ways to prepare flavor-rich salads.
Many people who go vegan discover that they don’t need salad dressing to enjoy their salads. The flavors from the many ingredients provide plenty of satisfaction. Chopping your salads can also make them tastier. Chopping releases some of the juices in the fruits and vegetables and allows you to get more flavors in every bite.
We mentioned before, you aren’t depriving yourself of anything. You’re simply looking at food in a different way.
If it comes from animals, it’s not food. If it comes from the ground, it is.
What Do Vegans Not Eat?
Vegans don’t eat anything that comes from an animal. The list is not long but includes:
Learning what not to eat takes some time at first because you have to read labels. If you’re eating a food that comes in a box, can, or similar container, you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t contain any meat, eggs, or dairy.
Fortunately, you have tons of alternatives. Instead of using chicken or beef broth to cook, pick up some vegetable broth. Increase your satiety after meals by piling your plate full of nutrient-dense food. You might even want to enjoy a vegan dessert afterward.
With a dietary change, you may find it beneficial to take some supplements, such as iron or B-12 vitamin. Consult with a nutritional specialist or a physician (though many, especially in the West, are ill-equipped to prescribe diets) about your specific diet and any deficiencies you might have to correct.
Benefits of Going Vegan
Any dietary change can result in temporary discomfort. Your body has to get used to eating new things, for instance, to replace any meat products you might have consumed your entire life. Talk to your doctor about ways to relieve indigestion, heartburn, bloating, or other problems. But also keep in mind that it will pass. Give yourself at least two weeks to get used to the change before making up your mind about the results and how you feel.
The important thing is to introduce new foods slowly. Don’t dump a whole tablespoon of flaxseed on your salad, for instance. Instead, add just a pinch, the increase the portion size as your body adjusts.
Once you introduce all the foods you like, you’ll experience a wealth of benefits from going vegan. The following are just a few.
1. The Vegan Lifestyle Is Rich in Many Nutrients
When authorities talk about nutrition, the first words out of their mouths are often “fruits and vegetables.” There’s a reason for that.
Fruits and vegetables contain numerous vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients our bodies need to thrive. They’re low-calorie for the most part, but they satisfy the body’s needs and can even boost mental acuity, energy, and the rate at which your body builds muscle.
The standard American diet—it’s called “SAD” for a reason, folks—is notoriously nutrient-deficient. When you eat tons of junk food, you deprive your body of what it needs to maintain optimum health.
As we mentioned above, not all vegan food is good for you. Put down that donut except for an occasional treat. Pick up a juicy orange or peach, instead.
2. It May Protect Against Certain Cancers
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a heavily plant-based diet is best for preventing cancer and for managing it. The AICR notes that small amounts of meat products don’t seem to make a difference in terms of cancer prevention, but suggests that your diet consists of two-thirds plant-based foods.
While eating animal products in small amounts might not hurt your chances of avoiding or surviving cancer, it does hurt the animals. Assuming a fully vegan diet is best for you and for the rest of the animal kingdom.
3. It Promotes Weight Loss
If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, the meat and dairy products in your refrigerator might be the culprit. Meat contains lots of fat (both saturated and unsaturated), and dairy products often contain unhealthy fats, oils, and other ingredients.
When you eat a plant-based diet, you’re forced to think more about your food. You have to determine whether it’s vegan, for instance, which might lead you to think more about calories. After you prepare a few delicious plant-based meals, you’ll discover that whole foods taste better than processed ones, which leads to better decisions at the supermarket.
Going vegan isn’t a fad diet. For one thing, you should never sink too far into a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight while maintaining and building muscle. Second, your body has to adjust to the new foods you’re eating.
If you steer clear of processed food and junk food, though, the pounds should start to melt away after you become vegan. Not only will you lose weight, but you might notice that your skin becomes clearer, you have more energy, and you can work out for longer periods of time.
4 Most Common Myths About Vegans
Disinformation is available on almost any topic, and veganism is no exception. Some vegan myths come from people who champion eating meat, while others come from well-meaning people who simply pass along what they hear.
Eating is one of the most basic necessities for human life to continue. Consequently, it deserves careful consideration. When you’re deciding what to eat, make sure you’re doing adequate research and relying on legitimate sources.
Let’s look at some of the myths about vegans that still manage to flourish.
1. Being a Vegan Is For Hippies
The hippie movement originated in the 1960s and formed a counterculture among people who believed in free love, copious access to hallucinogenic drugs, and a generally loving approach to everyone and everything in their lives.
Of course, that extended to animals.
Some hippies refused to eat meat, while others did with wild abandon. There’s no connection between veganism and hippies.
This myth stems from the fact that later generations often view anything that goes against mass cultural beliefs and values to be “for hippies.” However, veganism isn’t a countercultural movement. Doctors, lawyers, postal carriers, teachers, celebrities, parents, kids, and cooks alike choose veganism.
2. It’s Hard to Be a Vegan
Lots of things are hard in life. It’s hard to go through a divorce, but exiting a toxic marriage is healthy. It’s hard to quit smoking, but people do it every day to prevent lung cancer and other damage to the body.
Becoming vegan isn’t hard. You might want to stay away from your favorite animal products for a while so you avoid feeling tempted and deprived, but there are plenty of delicious foods that you can eat on a vegan diet.
Your mindset makes the difference between a positive or negative association with veganism. Try gratitude. Every time you eat a meal, thank yourself for sparing animal lives.
You can make this process easier by focusing on vegan foods you loved before you decided to remove animal products from your plate. Love peaches? Buy them by the bushel. Enjoy smoothies? Stock up on bananas and berries.
3. You Cannot Really Live as a Vegan
It’s true that vegans sometimes struggle to find restaurants that cater to their diets. However, finding food as a vegan is far from impossible.
Many chain restaurants now have vegan dishes on their menu. Those dishes are often identified as vegan by a word or image, so you don’t even have to question it.
Research vegan-specific restaurants in your community. Make a list, and try them out with your family or friends.
If you’re forced to attend a meal at a restaurant that doesn’t offer vegan-friendly cuisine, have a backup plan. Eat before you go. You can also often get a restaurant to prepare a vegan-friendly meal, even if it’s just a bowl of fruit at a diner.
People sometimes say you can’t really live as a vegan because you won’t get sufficient nutrients. The opposite is actually true. As long as you’re eating a rich and varied diet of plant-based foods, you can’t go wrong.
Vegan-friendly foods have fat, protein, carbs, and minerals and vitamins. That covers all of your bases.
4. The Vegan Lifestyle Makes You Weak
The logic behind this vegan myth suggests that people need animal proteins to stay strong. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider that some of the most powerful animals in the world, such as elephants, eat entirely plant-based diets. They don’t make the conscious decision to eat only plants. It’s what their instincts tell them to do. Yet elephants have tremendous bulk and strength.
The same goes for cows, horses, and many other creatures. A horse, for instance, can run, compete in sports, jump many feet off the ground, and carry people over great distances. They’re plant eaters.
The vegan lifestyle will only make you weak if you don’t choose your food appropriately. Look for foods that offer a wide range of nutrients, and make sure you’re getting plenty of carbs and protein in your diet.
Becoming a vegan isn’t as tough as people think, and it certainly doesn’t make you sick or weak. It’s simply a decision you make to improve your health and protect animals from needless slaughter.
People don’t have to eat meat to survive—or even thrive. Scott Jurek, one of the most successful runners alive today, eats a vegan diet. So do other athletes, such as mixed martial artist Mac Danzig and baseball player Pat Neshek.
What’s stopping you from eating a vegan diet? Do you have any tips for non-vegans who want to make the switch?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.