Thinking About Becoming a Vegan? Great, Do It In a Healthy Way, Here Are The Essentials!
Jack Norris, RD | VeganHealth.Org
Following a vegan diet can provide many health benefits. Vegans have a much lower risk of type-2 diabetesthan do meat-eaters – in fact, it’s not even close. Research has also shown that vegans have a slightly lower risk of cancer by virtue of our diets. Vegans also have, on average, lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body fat.
Even though there are numerous benefits, there are also some important nutrition issues vegans should be aware of in order to thrive.
Calories, Protein & Fat
It is important for people trying a vegan diet to include some high-calorie, high-protein foods in order to feel satisfied.
Simply removing animal products from a typical American diet is going to leave you with mostly low-calorie foods such as salads, vegetables, and fruit. Eating only these foods could quickly leave you feeling hungry and weak, and thinking a vegan diet is a real challenge.
While severe protein deficiency is nothing to worry about, not eating some high-protein plant foods could leave you craving animal products. Legumes (beans, peanuts, peas, lentils, soy), seitan, and quinoa are the best sources of protein for vegans. Include a few servings of these foods each day – maybe even each meal.
A very low-fat diet might improve someone’s health in the short term, especially if they have high cholesterol, but it might not be ideal for longer periods. If you are avoiding all added fats and you start to crave animal products, it might be time to increase the plant fats. People tend to think of animal products, and especially meat, as “protein,” but many are 50% fat.
In rare cases some vegans might not get enough fat or calories to produce adequate amounts of steroid hormones (which are produced from cholesterol). Two studies have shown vegans to have sex hormones on par with meat-eaters (1, 2), but one report showed vegan women to have lower levels of estrogen (3).
A few anecdotal reports provide some evidence that low cholesterol problems might be an issue for some vegans (see Bonzai Aphrodite’s story of regaining her health as a vegan, Facing Failing Health As A Vegan). In such cases, increasing saturated fat, such as coconut oil, could improve certain symptoms (such as increasing libido or resuming menstruation).
Although the research is still preliminary, it appears that some people do not have the genetics to do well on a high carbohydrate diet (see Dieting by DNA? Popular diets work best by genotype, research shows). For such people, an eco-Atkins diet, high in plant proteins such as soy meats, legumes, and seitan, might be a better choice.
Finally, if you find yourself craving animal products, it could be because you have a strong preference for the taste of glutamate, also known as umami (see Is Umami a Secret Ingredient of Vegan Activism? by Ginny Messina, MPH, RD).
Vitamins & Minerals: For the Long Haul
Although a vitamin or mineral deficiency is very unlikely to occur in only a few weeks or months as a vegan, there are some nutrients you need to pay attention to if you want to thrive over the long term.
Vitamin B12 in vegan diets has been a source of controversy and myths (see Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It?). Although it rarely happens quickly, if you don’t get a reliable source of vitamin B12 through fortified foods or supplements, the chances are high that you will eventually find your health suffering.
The need for calcium on vegan diets has also been surrounded by misleading claims with many vegan advocates saying that animal protein, including milk, is the main cause of READ MORE at: http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/intro