Going vegan may seem to be the way to go for some well-intentioned health enthusiasts, but getting there may be a rougher road than anyone can imagine. Taking the plunge is difficult even for someone well-read and knowledgeable about animal-free living.
The first thing to consider is…why vegan?
Do you think eating meat and other animal products is offensive or cruel? Where do you draw the line? What about leather shoes or belts, marshmallows made from gelatin or even shampoo with trace amounts of animal residue.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Does avoiding foods made from animals seem to make the diet devoid of harmful substances like pesticides and hormones?
Perhaps it is because of a fad, peer pressure or a religious conversion. Vegan diets have been growing in popularity among teenagers, especially females.
The challenge of going vegan
Anyone interested in following such a rigid diet and lifestyle needs to plan ahead and consider the impact on relationships, family, social events, and holidays. They need to decide how they will be able to manage in a world of junk food, backyard barbeques, and animal-contaminated food from naïve relatives, neighbors, or waiters.
Health benefits of going vegan
Regardless of the reason for being vegan, there are numerous health benefits associated with following a vegan diet. Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and have a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Doing it right means eliminating all animal products from the diet without increasing the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies.
Vegan vitamin deficiency
Nutrients of particular concern for the vegan include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Regular consumption of foods fortified with these nutrients as well as certain supplements is required to maintain a healthy balance. Getting adequate protein is also a concern.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency can produce nervous system dysfunction, changes in mental status, tingling sensation or numbness in the extremities, disorientation, dementia, and difficulty concentrating. Vegan sources of B-12 can be found in fortified soy, rice and almond beverages, some breakfast cereals, meat substitutes, and B-12–fortified nutritional yeast. A daily vitamin B-12 supplement may be needed.
Inadequate protein and low calcium intake has been shown to be associated with bone loss and fractures especially in the elderly. Calcium-fortified foods include some breakfast cereals, soy, rice and almond beverages as well as some juices. Other sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, figs, tofu, and sesame tahini.
Strong bones also require adequate vitamin D. Low blood levels of the vitamin have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe asthma in children, and some forms of cancers. Adequate vitamin D can also help prevent diabetes, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis.
There are no significant vegan food sources of vitamin D so vitamin D–fortified foods such as milk substitutes, juices, breakfast cereals, and margarines are required. A daily supplement of vitamin D would be necessary especially for older vegans. Sun exposer on the skin is the best source of the vitamin. This can be limited during colder months and when using sun screen.
An inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids can compromise cardiovascular health and can cause problems with eye and brain functions. Some plant foods naturally rich in the omega-3s include sea vegetables (seaweed), flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, soy products, and products made from hemp seed. Those with increased requirements like pregnant and lactating women, may benefit from regular use of flax seed oil.
Iron deficiency is not often an issue for those following a vegan diet. Although iron found in animal products is more easily absorbed, the high intake of vitamin C and other antioxidants increase the absorption of the mineral from non-animal foods.
Go For It
Avoiding animal products does complicate nearly all aspects of life and social interaction. Learn what you can to avoid the nutritional pitfalls. Try not to be judgmental of the omnivores and carnivores that surround you. Be an example for them and teach them through your actions and attitude toward life and healthy living.
Also check out these Super sweet and satisfying raw vegan desserts