Has the thought of going vegan or vegetarian crossed your mind? Have you been doing Meatless Mondays for a while but aren’t sure where to start when it comes to cutting animal products out of your entire diet?
There are so many different variations of ‘meat-free’ that it’s hard to keep it straight: there’s vegetarian (no animal meat or fish), pescatarian (eats fish but no meat), ovo-lacto vegetarians (eats eggs but no meat), ovo-vegetarians (eat eggs but not meat or dairy products), lacto vegetarians (eat dairy products but not meat or eggs), or vegan (no animal products whatsoever).
As a vegetarian for 10 years and now a vegan for 10 as well, I know a thing or two about the challenges and benefits of a plant-based diet. You might be motivated to change your diet after learning that vegetarians and vegans overall have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, risk of heart disease cancer, and other chronic illnesses. It might be appealing since it’s an effect diet for losing weight. Or maybe you’re thinking that you want to lower your environmental impact by cutting meat from your plate.
Whatever your motivation I encourage you to try, why not play around with what you eat and see how you feel? You can start simply by swapping mayonnaise for hummus or you milk latte with an almond milk one.
However, there is such a thing as an unhealthy vegan or vegetarian diet. Simply cutting out meat products isn’t enough to magically make you healthy. With both diets you need to make an effort to ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need (which I will argue is true of any diet). Although studies have found that a vegan and vegetarian diet is higher in fiber and other nutrients, supplements may be needed for omega-3, vitamin D and B12, and calcium.
All of this can seem overwhelming and challenging but I can tell you it’s not. For me going vegetarian and then vegan was all about stages. First I cut out red meat, then other meats, and then fish. Like any goal, it’s much easier to break it down into smaller steps. Plus it gives you time to adjust, find new recipes that you like, new products, and get into new routines.
I can also tell you that my world in terms of food got broader and healthier since I began to learn more about legumes, tempeh, and beans. I took a vitamin B12 supplement but didn’t worry too much about protein (but a shake with protein powder once a day is an easy solution to that).
I felt fantastic. I was eating a much larger variety of foods, felt lighter and I felt great about my choices.
Almost 10 years later I knew it was time to go vegan. I tried to go vegan cold turkey (no pun intended) but only had success by doing it in stages again; first no cheese, then no eggs, then no dairy. It took me a while but eventually it didn’t feel like a diet at all. I was even vegan through my pregnancy with no deficiencies at all.
Protein has never been a problem, I actually find it quite easy to get more than enough protein every day. However I do take vitamin B12, omega-3 (sourced from algae), and probiotics. Even though all of these can be found in vegan fortified foods, it saves me some hassle knowing I’m getting them every morning.
I’ve never really looked back, for me being vegan keeps me happy and healthy. I encourage everyone to eat ‘consciously’ which for me means eating with purpose for your body and for your world.
Interested in learning more about healthy eating? Read An Introduction to Vitamins and Supplements next.