Gone are the days where vegans were only known as animal loving, tree-hugging hippies. With the release of some popular documentaries, and the conscious awareness that’s been brought to the surface around creating a more sustainable planet… there’s no doubt about it… Veganism is on the rise!
Plus, for those of us who don’t feel pulled to veganism, there are points to ponder that veganism brings to the forefront of our minds. Many vegan concepts can be applied even if you’re still mindfully consuming animal products. Read to the end for more on that!
Still today, in 2018, saying that you’ve “gone vegan” can result in some blank stares and people wondering how you could possibly live off of ‘salad’ and ‘rabbit food’ for three meals a day.
…Which, of course, is absolutely not the case.
So let’s breakdown the vegan diet, and clear somethings up, shall we?
People may choose to go vegan for several reasons. These motivators can vary from environmental concerns, social justice, morality, and with new research being revealed, even the desire to improve health and nutrition.
Since our monthly theme is centred around ‘debunking diets’, I’ll mainly be addressing the nutritional side of going vegan. However, I did want to mention that going vegan is often considered an entire lifestyle. What I mean is, veganism can go far beyond the food. It can be about embodying a lifestyle that steers clear of clothing, makeup, personal care products, furniture, luxury items, entertainment, and medications that exploit animals or contain animal products. Ultimately it’s about being conscious about how you’re voting with your dollars, and being aware of what you’re consuming in a way that prevents harm towards other living beings.
What is the vegan diet?
A vegan diet focuses on consuming plant-based foods/ bevys that are free from ALL animal products, or foods that involve animals in their processing.
Often times vegetarians and vegans can get mixed into the same category.
However, vegetarians still consume dairy and eggs, whereas a vegan will crowd out meat, poultry, fish and dairy with plant-based foods such as veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and grains instead.
To simplify… let me break it down for you.
What Vegans Eat
- All the Veggies. If the ‘veg’ in ‘vegan’ wasn’t already clear!
- Fruits. Enjoy the sweetness of nature’s candy.
- Grains. But try to think past your everyday grains like bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Think quinoa, couscous, farro, hulled millet, and barley.
- Beans and Legumes: Say hello to an increase in fiber, and your most common protein source!
- Tofu and tempeh: they come in heaps of different varieties and flavours — and you can basically make them taste like anything you set your mind to!
- Nuts and seeds: I’ve never felt so close to almonds; butters, milks, snacks… they do it all!
- Plant-based oils: Cold-pressed is best, y’all!
- Natural sweeteners: Keep your life sweet with coconut sugar, date sugar, maple syrup, agave, etc.
What Vegans Avoid
- Meat proteins: Beef, pork, and poultry are all off the table.
- Seafood: lobster, fish, oysters, shrimp, crab, clams, all swimming creatures.
- Eggs: Scrambled tofu has got you covered.
- Dairy: Think cashew “cheese” and creamy coconut milk instead.
- Bee products: Who needs honey, you’re sweet enough!
- Animal oils/fats: Gelatin, lard and fish oils can sneak into some of the most unexpected places
What’s my experience with veganism?
My experience with veganism has been one that’s centred around love, first and foremost. Myself included.
Being someone who’s struggled with disordered eating in the past, I never wanted my decision of choosing to eat a plant-based vegan diet, to damage my relationship with food and my body by creating rigid restrictions around what I was eating.
Instead, I wanted this journey to be about getting conscious by listening to my body about what works, and what doesn’t. And so far that’s been this gentle experiment of recording how I feel when I eat animal based foods, and noticing that I feel my best when I crowd them out with plant-based alternatives instead.
Veganism has also provided me the space to explore several different types of food and food combinations that I never even knew existed until I transitioned to a plant-based diet. Hello fresh herbs, nut milks/ cheeses and nutritional yeast!
However, that’s not to say that I haven’t allowed myself to eat some animal products here and there, such as local free-run eggs, and fish. This is where the love piece comes into play. You and I are forever evolving, and so is our health.
Just because you’ve decided to commit to a new way of eating, that doesn’t mean that you need to put on the pressure to stick with it forever. Holistic health is about embracing not only the physical body, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual as well. And if you’re carrying around the guilt of eating something that you’ve labelled as ‘bad’… the shameful thoughts you carry about having that food is going to be far worse for you than the food itself. So go easy, and be gentle! Because at the end of the day, your diet isn’t your identity. And labels should really be left for the food packaging, not humans!
Benefits of Veganism
If you’re eating a well-balanced diet including a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and plant-based proteins, research shows that veganism can be extremely beneficial for your overall health. Just be mindful that you aren’t swapping out animal products for pre-packaged processed foods.
Heads up: just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it’s healthy!
Here are just a few of the benefits you can experience from a properly balanced vegan diet:
- Improved blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Lowered risk of developing diabetes/ heart disease
- Weight loss
- Less chance of developing arthritis
- Improved digestion
- Lowered inflammation
- Improved solid night’s sleep
- Clearer skin
Therapeutic Effects of Veganism
Not only are there nutritional benefits but also a compassion, heart felt element that comes from going vegan.
Choosing to consciously eliminate animal products from your diet/ lifestyle not only spares the animal from unnecessary slaughter and suffering, and the workers who experience the trauma from being forced to work in slaughterhouse conditions, but you’re also you’re doing good by the planet by lessening your ecological footprint. Above all other diets, going plant-based has shown to contribute the least to a lot of the environmental issues we face today.
By choosing to go vegan you can rest easy knowing that you’re drastically reducing water waste, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and climate change overall, as these are all side effects of production that comes from animal agriculture on a large scale.
Drawbacks of Veganism
As I mentioned before, swapping out animal products with pre-packaged vegan junk food can really jeopardize your health!
Poorly planned vegan diets are susceptible to nutritional deficiencies such as:
- Omega 3’s
- Vitamin D
The best way to minimize these deficiencies it to crowd out processed foods with the nutrient-rich, plant foods listed in the ‘what vegans eat’ section above.
Things to Consider (ie. How to do a Vegan Diet WELL)
Preparation is Key.
Whether you’re planning to visit with family, are spending some time on the road, or are going out to eat with some friends… planning ahead definitely helps! No matter where I go, I always have some snacks handy like chopped up veggies, nuts, or fruit (because no one likes when I’m hangry!) I’m also big on making a few dishes before family events and sharing them for others to try… they are always so impressed! Calling restaurants ahead of time works too. You’d be surprised how many places are open to modifying things for you. Pro tip: if you order a vegan dish while flying… you’ll get your food first 😉
Veganize what you already love.
There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with recipes that you hardly recognize any of the ingredients. Instead? Stick to what you already know, and veganize them! When I was first getting started I found pinterest to be very helpful with this. I’d just type in a traditional recipe that I loved into the search bar (such as quesadillas, or scrambled eggs), and then add vegan on the end. You’d be surprised at how many alternatives you’d find. You can literally veganize just about anything!
Don’t be afraid to use supplements.
Prevent nutritional deficiencies by taking supplements or being diligent about eating vegan foods rich in those nutrients.
Crowd out, vs. Cutting out.
Restriction isn’t good for anyone. So instead of focusing on what you can’t have, think of it as crowding out animal products with a nutrient based grocery cart full of things like spinach, zucchini, sweet potatoes, quinoa, berries, melon, tempeh, beans, and almond milk!
Show yourself some love, too!
Remember that veganism is all about compassion, and kindness to animals/ the planet. But what’s the point if you aren’t adding yourself into the equation?! Remain gentle, and don’t beat yourself up if you slip up from time to time, or if you choose to occasionally eat animal products.
We’re stronger together.
You don’t have to do this alone. Join an online or in-person vegan community like Facebook groups or meet-ups at vegan restaurants. It’s not only a great way to engage with new people, but it’s also a great place to get your questions answered, and feel supported in your choices.
In summary, veganism is a great way to connect consciously to what’s on your plate by considering your health, the planet, and other living beings. If done right, you can experience great health benefits and the peace of mind that you’re supporting the world in a big way. Just remember to choose nutrient based foods over processed, and to remain gentle with yourself along the way!
Even if veganism isn’t right for you, and you choose to consume animal products, many of the same principles from veganism can carry over to your life too! Ideally, every person on the planet would have a heavily plant-based diet (even if you’re doing Keto, trying out Intermittent Fasting, undertaking Paleo, or on a therapeutic diet like the Auto-Immune Protocol), and we’d all be better of considering the ethicality of the foods and products we’re consuming. There’s takeaways from veganism for everyone!
So, whether you are ditching animal products for a one-week reset, or are a #veganforlife… This one-week menu plan has you covered! Dive into plant-based eating with this one-week vegan menu plan!