You've made up your mind - you're saying goodbye to animal products. Whether for ethical reasons or your health, there are a few things to know when going vegan. So you start doing research. Chances are, you'll be faced with a lot of contradictory information.
On one side, you'll hear about all the health benefits. Lower cholesterol, weight loss, better blood sugar management, and overall better life expectancy are only some of the pros. On the other side, you'll hear the warnings. "Where are you going to get your protein?" "What about healthy fats?" "You'll become deficient in various vitamins."
Who's wrong? Neither and both at the same time. Going vegan is beneficial for your health. But it also comes with challenges. You can get all your nutrients, but you may also need some supplements. Here's what you need to know when going vegan.
1. You can still get plenty of protein and healthy fats
One of the myths that still prevails around veganism is that you can't get enough protein, which couldn't be further from the truth.
Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy contain plenty of protein. You may, at first, need to calculate things more carefully if you want to make sure you get a certain amount of protein during the day. This is especially true for bodybuilders and crossfitters, for instance.
But if you're just someone trying to eat a healthy amount of protein, things will require less effort. Make sure you include things like quinoa, lentils, beans, soy, seitan, or other legumes at every meal. Snack on nuts and seeds for an extra boost, either raw or as nut butter.
As for healthy fats – nature provides plenty of those without the need for animal products. The same nuts and seeds that help with protein will also help in this department. Avocados are another fantastic source of fats. And don't forget oils such as olive oil or coconut oil, which are great both when cooking or used as a dressing for your salads.
2. Watch your micronutrients
When talking about any diet, we're quick to wonder about macros – carbs, proteins, and fats. But micronutrients - vitamins and minerals are just as, if not more important.
When going vegan, you might wonder how to get vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega 3.
While vegan foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, you might need some supplements.
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in bacteria in the soil and is found in animal products. By going vegan, you're left with no alternative but supplements or foods fortified with vitamin B12.
Vitamin D is rarely found in vegan foods. The amount you need to get from supplements depends on several factors, including the seasons. The sun is, after all, one of the best sources of vitamin D. But the fact remains that it is a supplement many vegans need.
Finally, we need to mention omega 3. This is a group of fatty acids that contribute to your overall health. The brain, endocrine system, immune system, heart, lungs, and blood vessels all need some omega 3's for optimal function.
The best source of omega 3 is fish, with salmon being the best. In plants, we find it in walnuts and chia seeds. However, you might not be able to get your daily recommended intake from plant-based foods alone. As a vegan, you may consider supplementing (but don't forget to make sure your supplement is vegan!).
3. When going vegan, make sure you eat enough
Many people report they lost weight easily when they switched to a vegan diet. Some say that wasn't even their goal; it just happened.
There are several possible explanations here. When going vegan, you're most likely eating more fruits and veggies, which means you're eating more fiber, so your digestion improves. But there's another fun fact.
Fruits and veggies tend to make you feel full faster. The fiber we just mentioned is one of the reasons. But there's also their volume. You need a lot of veggies, beans, legumes to get to the same number of calories a steak would provide.
But because you feel full quicker, you might end up eating fewer calories. Sometimes that's great, and other times can lead to under-eating.
Under-eating is never good, and it will make you feel hungry all the time, and you'll have less energy. If you keep this up, you'll soon feel vegan isn't a good lifestyle for you, when in reality, you're not eating too little.
In other words, when going vegan for the first time, make sure you're eating enough. I'm not saying you have to count calories. Paying attention to how you're feeling may be enough.
Are you hungry all the time? Do you spend the day wondering when your next meal will be? Do you get all sorts of cravings, especially for carbs? Do you feel tired or have difficulty concentrating? All these may be signs you're under-eating.
4. Vegan doesn't always equal healthy
Going vegan is great for your health. It can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of coronary diseases and even help manage blood sugar.
But it's important to know that being vegan doesn't always equal being healthy. On the one hand, vegan junk food exists, and it's not even hard to find. Do you need an example? Just look at fast-food restaurants. Nowadays, most of them offer vegan options that are just as unhealthy as their other products.
But there's another more hidden issue, and that's foods that aim to replace animal products while imitating them – fake meat and cheese. Often, these foods come loaded with preservatives and chemicals that are anything but healthy. They may also contain a lot of salt or sugar.
If you want to try out fake meat or cheese while still eating healthy, make sure you read the ingredients. Do you see anything you can hardly pronounce and have no idea what it is? You may be safer not eating it!
A diet consisting primarily of whole foods is the place to start if you want to get healthy. Research led by National Geographic a few years ago about the Blue Zones confirms this.
Blue Zones are areas on the planet where people seem to be healthier and live longer than the rest. Researchers identified five such zones: Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, Oglistra Region in Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
Further studies showed diet and a generally healthy lifestyle play a massive role in their longevity. Most people in these zones eat plant-based diets, and some eat animal products, like those in Greece, whose Mediterranean diet is famous. But fruits and veggies make up the most significant part of their diet, as do whole foods in general.
The bottom line? Yes, veganism is a healthy diet. But you still need to prioritize whole, natural foods. Junk food exists even among vegans, and it is just as harmful as "classic" junk food.
5. You don't need to spend a fortune on food when you're vegan
Many complain that the vegan lifestyle is expensive. It's true that in many places, animal products are, at least at first sight, cheaper. Fake meats and cheese, on the other hand, are often expensive. But as we said, these products are not needed for a successful, healthy, vegan diet.
Whole foods are, again, your friends. When buying fruits and veggies, prioritize things that are in season. They're often cheaper and can easily be found in your local farmers' market. Beans and legumes, which are very healthy and provide many nutrients, are also inexpensive.
You don't need to fill your pantry with superfoods when going vegan. It's okay if you want to have those expensive little treats once in a while. But they're not essential for a successful, healthy, vegan lifestyle. Simplicity is often the best solution!
The bottom line
Going vegan can seem complicated and scary. Whether you want to do it for ethical reasons or improve your health, know that it's easy to succeed.
There's no need to worry about getting enough protein or fats despite myths, and plant-based foods provide more than enough. As for vitamins and minerals, you may need to supplement things like vitamin B12, D, and even iron. But there's otherwise no need to worry about not getting enough nutrients.
Do remember, though, being vegan doesn't always mean being healthy. Try to avoid fake meats, and choose whole foods instead. Simple is often better, so don't believe you need to spend a fortune on vegan superfoods.
This blog post does not provide health or medical advice. This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health or medical advice. Before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. We do not provide any kind of health or medical advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this blog is solely at your own risk.