How To Stay Healthy on a Vegan Diet
Going vegan is a big decision. Many people choose to become vegan for their health, the environment or humanitarian reasons, but many may feel overwhelmed or discouraged at first. Just like any lifestyle change, vegans will find some challenges along the way. For vegans, what was once simple in your life (like eating in social settings, or getting the necessary vitamins your body requires) can become more difficult as you make the switch.
But don’t be discouraged if you are looking at becoming vegan or are currently struggling with the vegan lifestyle. There are ways to overcome all of these obstacles so you stay healthy and don’t fall off the wagon. Transitioning is difficult. Keep this in mind and don’t be too hard on yourself. Luckily, veganism is becoming more mainstream and there are more options and support available.
Here are some tips to maintain a happy and healthy vegan lifestyle:
1. Take your supplements
There are certain vitamins and minerals our body needs that can only come from animal products. However, with the array of supplements accessible at any health food store, there are plenty of ways to obtain all the necessities. Be sure to stock up on:
- Vitamin B12 – This supplement is only found in animal protein and is essential for brain and nervous system health. Not getting enough of this nutrient could lead to anemia and pregnancy problems.
- Iron – This nutrient aids the red blood cells in transporting oxygen and nutrients to the body, and a deficiency in iron could lead to anemia. The iron found in plant foods is harder for the body to absorb, so for an extra boost, eat foods that are rich in vitamin C like peppers, citrus and broccoli to aid in iron absorption.
- Zinc – Zinc is found in every cell in the body. There are many benefits from zinc, including a healthy immune system and reproductive organs. Although you can find zinc in many plant sources, phytates in plants can hinder its absorption, so ensure your zinc intake is sufficient.
- Enzymes – Enzyme supplements are beneficial to all diets, not just vegans. There are three types of enzymes: metabolic enzymes (speeds up the energy producing process), digestive enzymes (properly breaks down food into nutrients and waste), and food enzymes (which can only be found in raw foods). Each enzyme can help reduce irritation and inflammation.
- Vitamin D – Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium – which keep your bones healthy – and is essential for vegans. It is not as easy to get vitamin D from a vegan diet as it is calcium, so adding a supplement to help calcium absorption is essential.
- Iodine – To function, the body needs iodine. It is a necessary nutrient for a healthy thyroid, and not consuming enough can disrupt your metabolic functions. Iodine is not easily found in plant sources, so obtaining a supplement is crucial.
2. Make being vegan about you
Friends and family may not be so open to a plant-based lifestyle. Just like religion and politics, nutrition and diet can be one of those topics that people have adamant, opposing opinions. When someone begins to grill you about, Why? What? and How?, just explain you are doing it for your own reasons and that this lifestyle works for you. Simple. Done.
If they are truly interested in the vegan lifestyle then going into detail may be beneficial to both of you, but if this person has only negative comments about your decision, just move on. This is your life, your choice and you are not required to defend your decision or explain it to anyone.
3. Make sure you are getting enough protein
The recommended daily intake of protein for adults is as follows:
- Males need an average of 56 grams per day
- Females need an average of 46 grams per day
- Pregnant or nursing women need an average of 71 grams per day
One misconception about a vegan diet is the lack of protein. Many argue vegans don’t get enough protein because they don’t eat any animal products. But thankfully Mother Nature has our back, providing us with many plant options to get the right amount of protein with very little effort. Reach for things like broccoli, lentils, tofu, quinoa, black beans, amaranth, hemp seeds, artichokes, oatmeal, nuts, seeds, tempeh, and spinach and you will easily meet your daily protein quota.
To learn more, read A Vegan’s Guide to Protein.
4. Don’t swap your animal products for junk food
A vegan trap is to load up on bread, pasta, and refined sugars because they are vegan and easy to consume. Do yourself a favor and just say no. These items have little nutritional value and are counterproductive when it comes to achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Instead, eat more whole foods like whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Sticking with fresh foods that have a high nutritional value is an important goal of a vegan diet. This will save you from mood swings, gaining weight, or giving up on your new lifestyle altogether.
5. Go easy on the meat substitutes
When grocery shopping, I’m sure you come across the “meat alternative” section. Although it is nice to be able to have a “burger” now and then, keep in mind that these meat substitutes are highly processed and contain dangerous amounts of soy and other harmful ingredients. Stick to the healthy alternatives such as tempeh, edamame, miso, and tofu rather than the packaged preservative-filled options.
6. Read food labels
Animal products are very sneaky and can be found in almost every product. Make sure you read the food labels very carefully if they are not whole foods to be sure they are vegan. Also, keep an eye out for high amounts of sodium and highly processed foods – if you cannot pronounce every ingredient on the label, skip it.
7. Make a plan for when you socialize
Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain a vegan diet and be social. Luckily, restaurants are now accommodating different diets and lifestyles, including veganism. However, you cannot always rely on vegan options being accessible when you attend work functions, meet up with friends, or head to the family’s house for dinner.
Being vegan does not mean you cannot go out with friends or live your life, it just means you need to be a little more prepared. The extra preparation will keep you from worrying and allow you to enjoy yourself.
Some ways to help ensure you stick to your vegan diet and still have a social life are:
- Check the menu before you go to a restaurant
- Bring a vegan side dish to a dinner party
- Eat before you go out
- Become knowledgeable of which restaurants are vegan friendly
- Keep vegan snacks with you
There are many health benefits to veganism and you do not have to give up delicious meals to eat healthy. Remember – variety is the spice of life, and that doesn’t fall short of being vegan. Going vegan is a great opportunity to try new foods, get creative in the kitchen with different recipes and to eat more mindfully. Don’t be afraid to indulge now and then, I mean, have you tried vegan chocolate mousse? It is all about balance and vegans still know how to have fun.
Becoming vegan is a personal choice. Just as you expect others to respect your lifestyle choice, others expect you to respect theirs. So let’s not make this a lifestyle war, but instead be an inspiration and example of a positive, healthy lifestyle.
Are you a vegan? Are you interested in making the transition to a vegan lifestyle? Have you found any of these tips to be helpful? Please leave us your feedback, comments and advice on your experience.