Beyond Vegetarian: The Vegan Diet

Eating Vegan Benefits  Both Individual and Environmental Health

With recent studies linking high red meat consumption with certain types of cancer and environmental ills such as global warming, avoiding animal products is one measure that a growing number of people are choosing to take to promote health in body and community.  “To continue supporting the meat and dairy industries made me feel sick, so it was a very easy transition to completely stop eating meat and dairy products,” says graphic artist Amy Kliever, who transitioned to a vegan diet after reading Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. “It became a fun, exciting challenge to view my body as a temple that I needed to fuel with only healthy, organic food.”

By definition, vegans consume only plant-based foods and receive their nutrients from fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts. While “vegetarian” has become a somewhat loose term, vegan diets are free of anything derived from animals, including dairy products, eggs, and honey.  Containing zero cholesterol (which is linked to heart disease), low in fat, and rich in complex carbohydrates the vegan diet has been helpful for many in controlling weight and blood sugar levels. Vegan cooking relies heavily on the use of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and are inherently fiber-rich and full of vitamins, minerals, health-enhancing phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

A properly planned vegan diet can meet one’s basic nutritional needs.  If you follow a vegan diet or are considering doing so, it’s important to know which nutrients you may need to make a special effort to get in your diet; you can learn more about them here.  Also, many aspiring vegans find that easing into a vegan lifestyle is much easier than making the switch all at once; try starting with vegan eating a few days per week and working your way up to full-time.  Alternatively, try cutting out certain animal based foods one at a time as you adapt your eating plan to one that works for your lifestyle.  Consulting a qualified nutrition professional can help you determine meal plans (and supplementation regimens) that will prevent you from nutritional deficiencies as you adjust to your new way of eating.

Despite the relatively small percentage of the US population that is vegan (approximately 0.5%, or 1 million people, according to 2008 poll by Vegetarian Times), adopting a vegan diet is no longer a fringe practice. Environmentally beneficial, health-wise, and increasingly accessible (many restaurants that used to be stymied by both meat and dairy-free palates, are now catering to vegan palates), vegan diets also boast celebrity clout. Famous vegans include rock singer Chrissie Hynde—who recently opened a vegan restaurant in her Ohio hometown—talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, actress Alicia Silverstone and actor Tobey Maguire.

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