By Anna Richardson
Vegan diets are all the rage – and one of the most prominent diets of the past few years. Head to a bookstore, and you’ll see a ton of vegan cookbooks – everything from vegan cupcakes to raw food diets to gluten-free vegan nutloaf.
Vegans consume no animal products – no meat, fish, dairy, or eggs. The vegan lifestyle is more than just removing animal products; it takes time and dedication to embrace a new way of eating and to stay healthy. When removing such significant sources of nutrients and energy, you’re going to need to do your research to keep up your nutrient levels and not eat bagels and potato chips all day.
There are lots of reasons to try out a vegan diet. Meat is an inefficient use of resources – it takes much more energy to produce it than the energy contained within it. Factory farms take a huge toll on the environment and have questionable practices in animal welfare. Most animals are kept indoors in small cages or pens for the entirety of their short lives, and then slaughtered – check out the YouTube clips if you have a strong stomach.
In a well-balanced vegan diet, saturated fat and cholesterol intake are lower. The plant-based diet is highly regarded as beneficial to health, as it is based on nutrient-dense, low calorie foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Eating a diet high in vegetables gives us an awesome amount of phytonutrients, which are excellent for health. Phytonutrients include lycopene, the pigment that gives watermelons and tomatoes their red colour, which can protect against cancer. Other phytonutrients include carotenoids and flavonoids, which can protect against disease.
However, vegans are at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies, namely iron, calcium and B12, nutrients that are plentiful in animal products. Getting enough protein can also be a problem – but as long as you regularly eat nuts, beans, and whole grains, it’s likely you aren’t at risk. B12 supplements are often recommended for those eating a vegan diet.
If you decide to take the plunge, we’ve got some tips for you!
Tips on going vegan
- Start slowly. There’s no need to hurry into it! Start by cutting back on meats and incorporate things like beans, lentils and tofu into your diet, then start swapping out your milk for soymilk or other alternatives.
- Think about why just as much as how. Whatever your reasons – human health, animal welfare, or pollution reduction – do it because you are passionate about it, not because it’s trendy.
- Plan. Check out the countless resources online and browse your grocery store for vegan options.
- Meat alternatives like veggie dogs and ‘fake’ ground beef are even more processed than their animal counterparts and loaded with sodium and mystery ingredients. They’re a great stepping stone, but eat them in moderation!
- Check your labels. Soy beverages are a great substitute for milk, but check whether they are fortified to have similar nutrition profiles to dairy. Many almond, rice and oat beverages aren’t high in calcium or protein!
- Don’t rely too much on the carb crutch. It’s easy to fall into a habit of replacing animal products with more bread, fries, and pasta. You’ll be missing out on a whole ton of nutrients!
- Get creative! Nearly every recipe can be made vegan if you play around with it.
Not interested in going vegan? No big deal. It’s an intense commitment and university isn’t the easiest time to make a big change. Simply cutting back on animal products, even one day a week, can significantly reduce your environmental impact.