For many people, the word vegan leaves a bad taste in their mouth. They either don’t know what vegan means, or they couldn’t possibly imagine a life without eating meat. The thing is, having a plant-based diet is so much more than not eating meat. So what does it mean to be vegan, what are the benefits, what are the misconceptions, and how do you transition to a more plant-based diet?
What is Vegan?
Being vegan means you do not consume any animal products. This means cutting out meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey from your diet. Many of you are probably wondering, “What can I eat then?”. Vegans can actually eat an extensive list of foods. Vegans get protein from whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, and so much more. Vegans also obtain appropriate nutrients and vitamins by incorporating avocados, coconuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, and a variety of fruits into their diets.
Health wise, a vegan diet has tremendous benefits. Naturally, by changing your diet, you will decrease your caloric intake. This means that a plant-based diet is directly linked to losing weight. A vegan diet will also help you cut down on foods that are high in fats, cholesterols, and saturated fats. This alone improves your heart health greatly and protects against diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. A vegan diet also defends against certain cancers and reduces inflammation/pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
Environment wise, eating little to no meat causes less air pollution, conserves water, protects against deforestation, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change and global warming. Animals doomed to factory farms release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, polluting the air more than all modes of transportation (cars, trains, planes, buses, ships, etc..) in the world combined. Going vegan can reduce your carbon footprint by a whopping 73%. Animal agriculture uses nearly ⅓ of the water available to humans, and on top of that chemicals and animal runoff from factory farms have poisoned 173,000 miles of main water sources.
Trees also play a vital role in protecting our planet. Factory farming is a major cause of deforestation. Trees are important because when pollutants enter the air, trees absorb carbon and remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, which in turn creates clean oxygen for us to breathe. With billions of trees being cut down each year, greenhouse gasses are left lingering to pollute the atmosphere. This is a major concern for the human population and generations to come. Take baby steps to better your health and the environment. Start small by paying attention to food labels when grocery shopping, shopping locally, and simply reducing the amount of meat you eat each week.
There are many myths and misconceptions constructed around the word vegan. For starters, many people believe it’s near impossible to gain muscle if you are vegan. This idea is extremely misleading. Vegans acquire plenty of protein as explained previously. Plant protein is, just as, if not better for you than animal protein. As long as your diet includes a wide variety of whole grains, vegetables, beans, and nuts you will achieve the proper amount of protein needed to make muscle gains.
There is also a false belief that vegan food tastes substandard and is expensive to purchase. Although it takes some practicing to perfect vegan recipes, vegan food is actually full of spices, herbs, and bold flavors. On top of that, you can be a vegan and still have cheat days! Indulge in some dark chocolate or even an Oreo Cookie on your day off. There are also endless options of vegan cheese, milk, and even meats. One should still be conscious of food labels when buying these items. On another note, when you take out the vast expense of meat and cheese, your grocery bill tends to even out. It may even lower with the cost of legumes, veggies, beans, pasta, and grains being so low.
How to Transition to a Vegan Diet
First thing is first, educate yourself about a vegan diet. Read articles, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and talk to other vegans. It is also very important to pay attention to the foods you are buying in the grocery store. Read food labels and understand where your food comes from. Is the beef you buy pasture raised? Was it fed the proper nutrients free from GMO’s? What about the eggs you purchase? Were they produced by free roaming chickens with access to natural foods like bugs and insects? Also take note of the vegan alternatives you begin to notice while shopping. Try a few of them and slowly start to buy more vegetables and grains in place of meat and cheese. You may want to start slowly cutting back your meat consumption by making vegetables, whole grains, and legumes the main star of your meals. Lastly, always start small. There is no need to make drastic changes overnight. When you take baby steps, you are setting yourself up for long-term success!
-Danielle Lasky Zero Doubt Club