For a while, the vegan diet seemed like a trend momentarily resurrected from the ‘60s—another diet fad taken on by svelte celebrities until the next new thing. But the vegan diet has remained a strong cultural phenomenon, and it’s quite possible it can help you to become stronger and healthier.
Veganism has both a social aspect and a health aspect. Many vegans eliminate animal products from their diet because of deep-set beliefs about animal rights. Others participate for health reasons. Some people are compelled by a little of both. So whatever your reasons (and despite Fabio’s stance on Veganism), you’re seriously considering taking the metaphorical plunge into a whole new world of meatless wonder. We’re glad and we’re here to help!
But we have to tell you: there are some things you should know first. How will your body react initially? Will you for sure lose weight? How are you going to get protein? How will you make eating interesting? Can you still work out intensely? And how in the world will you continue to share meals with your non-vegan friends?
To get the scoop on veganism, we’ve contacted Kim Larson, RDN, CD, CSSD of Total Health, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who has been sought out by everyone from the Evans/Kraft Advertising Agency to the Seattle Mariners Baseball Club. Her passion, depth of knowledge, experience and no-nonsense approach to nutrition and fitness are inspiring and certainly came through in her answers to our queries.
So let’s get going on the 10 things you should know before going vegan:
1. It’s going to be hard. If you’re making the switch, you should know what you’re signing up for! There are many apparent tradeoffs: social situations may be difficult to navigate, hosting meals may take on a whole new set of responsibilities, you may need to explain yourself quite a bit at first (begin rehearsing now). But there will also be challenges pertaining to your diet. Larson says: “The biggest challenge is being sure to get all the vitamins and minerals you need that will be lacking from excluding eggs, dairy, meat, fish, poultry in the diet.” Don’t imagine that veganism is the cure-all for bad eating habits.
2. You won’t necessarily lose weight. As veganism has risen to prominence in the diet world, there is a new market for vegan sweets that are by no means healthier than their non-vegan counterparts. Most potato chips and fries are also vegan. So be warned, you will still need to be intentional about eating healthy food even after you cut out animal products.
3. It isn’t necessarily healthier. Ok, just like you won’t necessarily lose weight, you also won’t necessarily be healthier. However, with a little intentionality, it is likely that your diet will improve. There are clear benefits to the vegan diet: “Vegetarian/vegan diets are generally higher in fiber, folic acid, Vitamins A, C & E, potassium, magnesium, phytochemicals and lower in saturated fat,” says Larson, but “It really depends on the foods one chooses to eat and how well you supplement the vegan diet to get all the needed nutrients for good health.” So you still have to be health conscious on a vegan diet!
4. The transition could be hard. This partially depends on your current diet, but regardless, any diet change will affect your body—potentially in strange ways until you adjust. Larson suggests taking it slowly and continuing research about your new diet: “Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle will take time. It’s best to take it one step at a time and plan your meals to be sure you are getting the best nutrition. Also, doing some research ahead of time and learning about the foods that you will need to rely upon for protein, calcium, vitamin D, B12, etc. (those missing nutrients in a vegan diet) is very important.”
5. Good News! Veganism doesn’t have to affect your activity level. Just ask Vegan Body Building! While some people may assume that this plant-based diet will hinder their workout regimen, there is no reason to stop working out as long as you continue to consume enough calories to fuel your workout.
6. Social Events have new ramifications (at least concerning food). Potlucks, dinner parties, birthday celebrations… the list of food-centered social events goes on. You’re going to have to be mindful of your diet restrictions and ways to keep it from being uncomfortable (remember that explanation speech we talked about?) You can always let your host know beforehand or bring your own food when appropriate.
7. You’re going to have to add some supplements after removing animal products. The vegan diet doesn’t have everything you need programmed into it. Thankfully, once you know about the necessary supplements, they aren’t hard to find! Larson outlines what you will need: “Vegans must supplement their diet with Vitamin D, Calcium, B12, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, & possibly zinc supplements to get these nutrients. They also must be aware that they need to increase their protein intake by 10%, because plant sources of protein are not as bioavailable as meat sources.”
8. Memorize the best non-mean protein sources: Ready for this list? In order to increase your protein intake by that extra 10%, you’re going to learn to love this list from Larson: you’ll need to stock up on “tofu, tempeh, seitan, miso, soymilk, edamame, followed by legumes, nuts and seeds.”
9. More Good News! Eat Soy! Every once in a while, a specific food or ingredient comes under fire. Sometimes its legitimate (need we mention high fructose corn syrup?) but sometimes, it isn’t. Larson explains that Soy Products have come under fire from anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) groups but “there is not scientific evidence supporting that any GMO product is harmful to human health.” So why is this such good news? Because it’s a complete protein. Larson explains further: “it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the amino acids we need. Most vegetarian sources of protein, like other beans such as black beans or pinto beans do not have the entire array of amino acids and therefore are call incomplete proteins.”
10. You’ll have to stay motivated. Eventually, veganism may become a lifestyle that you’re accustomed to and food prep will be as brainless as making meals now. But in order to stay motivated, we suggest keeping your food interesting. If you’re looking for some recipe inspiration for your new vegan lifestyle, we recommend 101 Cookbooks and Sprouted Kitchen for resources with recipes centered on whole, seasonal foods.
So yes, becoming vegan may not be the easiest transition (if it were, we’d all be doing it), but if you’ve decided it’s worth it, our hat is off to you. A vegan diet and intentionality can make you into a health superstar (just see this vegan testimony). You may feel better, look better and live longer. Best of luck!