The Vegan Lifestyle

VeganBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

A vegetarian diet eschews meat, fish and poultry.  Veganism excludes all dietary animal products including dairy, eggs, gelatin and even honey.  Strict vegans will not only avoid eating animal products, they will also refuse to use any animal based product such as leather, wool, fur, down or silk.  Vegans may also make an effort to avoid using goods such as soap, cosmetics, and toiletries that can contain animal oils or secretions or that may have used animal testing in development of their products.  Veganism encompasses a philosophy which, in addition to diet and lifestyle, includes an environmental, ethical and equitable relationship between humans, and other living creatures. 

A vegan diet gives a whole new meaning to the term, “Eat your vegetables.”  In addition to shunning seafood and meat, vegans also avoid white sugar, beer, white bread and animal fats.  The key to this heart healthy diet is to enjoy a variety of foods.  A vegan diet includes plenty of leafy greens, all grains, beans, legumes, soy, nuts, vegetables, and fruits and the infinite number of foods that can be made by combining them.  The diet is restrictive so it can be challenging to get all the nutrients you need on a daily basis. 

Studies show that vegans tend to eat fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower body mass index than their meat-eating peers.  A vegan diet is considered one of the best at keeping cholesterol levels and blood pressure under control, and reducing the risks of developing heart disease and diabetes.  Beans, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables contain no cholesterol, are low in saturated fats and salt, and are high in fiber, promoting good digestion.  A vegan diet takes careful planning but you can forget about calorie counting.  Pay special attention to the following nutrients:

  • CalciumEat sufficient quantities of dark green leafy vegetables such as collards and kale and include calcium-rich fortified products such as juice, soy milk and tofu. 
  • Iodine –  A vegan diet can be deficient in iodine.  Certain foods such as soybeans and sweet potatoes increase the risk of developing a goiter.  Be sure to include about 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt daily. 
  • Iron – Because iron from plant sources is not readily absorbed, the recommended intake is higher for those following a vegan diet.  In order to help your body absorb iron, combine foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, cabbage and broccoli, with foods rich in iron, such as beans, whole grains and dried fruit.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids Diets that do not include fish and eggs are generally low in omega-3s.  Walnuts, ground flax seeds and soybeans are good sources.  However, as plant-based omega-3s are difficult for the human body to convert to usable forms, fortified products and supplements should be considered. 
  • Protein – Plant based foods can provide enough protein as long as a variety is eaten each day.  Soy products, legumes, nuts and meat substitutes are good plant sources of protein.   
  • Vitamin B-12 –  This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products.  In order to avoid deficiency, vitamin supplements and fortified products should be considered.
  • Vitamin D –  Check fortified food labels to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D.  A vitamin D supplement derived from plants may be necessary.
  • Zinc –  Plant-sourced zinc is not as readily absorbable as zinc found in animal products.  Plant sources include whole grains, soy products, legumes and nuts.

If you are currently considering following a vegan diet, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor and a dietitian.  Ramp up slowly.  Start by increasing the number of meatless meals each week.  Eliminate meat and substitute vegan foods such as beans or tofu in your favorite recipes.  Try adding more ethnic foods.  Indian food, for example, contains many vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Branch out and explore new cuisines.  The more variety you bring to your vegan diet, the greater your chances of meeting all your nutritional needs. 

B-12 1000 mcg by Now Foods –  Chewable vegetable-sourced lozenge with natural fruit flavors. Contains no wheat, gluten, soy, milk, egg, shellfish or preservatives. 

Brown Rice Protein (Mixed Berry Flavor) by Jarrow Formulas –  This protein concentrate is specially processed to provide a complete amino acid profile, providing a vegetarian/vegan protein alternative.   Made with non-GMO organic brown rice protein and natural berry flavors. 

Vegan Vitamin D3 2500 IU by Metabolic Response Modifier –  MRM Vegan Vitamin D3 is a unique micro-encapsulated Cholecalciferol form of Vitamin D3 that is extracted exclusively from lichens  to meet calcium and bone health needs of both vegans and vegetarians.

Flax Seed Oil Capsules Organic Cold Pressed by Ortho Molecular –  One serving contains 1000 mg of linolenic and alpha-linolenic essential omega-3 fatty acids. 

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