The old myths describing the vegan diet about grazing on little plates of veggies no longer apply today, and only every did where there were fewer options and less education about healthy vegan choices. One of my future projects will be to make every dish that I would eat in a given month, take a nice photo of it and offer up a DIY recipe. To tell you the truth, while I do eat tons of veggies, I almost never have veggies by themselves. I will have fruit all the time, I just prefer not to have just carrots and celery as a snack unto itself. I think that type of thing is totally fine as a snack, but pretty boring and bland. Since I just mentioned it, remember that just because it is bland and vegan does not in any way imply that it is good for you (more on that to come!), although the veggies in the previous example happen to be both. Let’s get real. I want health and flavour.
The Myth of the Healthy Vegan
I suspect that if you polled vegans they would overwhelmingly vote that they are healthier than meat-eaters. Sure, there are tons and tons of healthy vegan people out there. Keep in mind though that the old myth about the wilted, protein-starved vegan does not represent the average one, and the shining energetic vegan does not come automatically, either. Your health can still go either way. Some people will be less healthy on a vegan diet if all they do is eat exactly the same foods, in the same quantity, minus the animal products. You really have to change things up and rebalance things.
Salad Is My Robin, Not My Batman
That title alone might be sacrilege to some hard-line veggie lovers. I look first at what will give me the right combo of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and then go to trenches and battle hard for flavour and variety. If I can’t find I recipe I want, I will just think of what flavours are going to do the trick for me and try to invent something. Of course, I don’t expect any of you to be the vegan equivalent of Nicola Tesla, but I do believe that the skies are the limit and the usual veggies are just one part, and not even the main one. I mean, I haven’t had iceberg lettuce in years.
I love savoury foods. I eat plenty of avocado, black olives, seeds, nuts and nut butters, the list goes on. Every day I still read an article from some vegan blogger that makes me cringe. I cannot think about nutrition, diet, or veganism in any way but balance. That means not looking for a fat free diet. The key thing is to not overdo it with any one type of nutrient. You want lots of unrefined grains, protein, and some fat, too. The healthy vegan nutritional experts indicate that humans need a bit over one third of a gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 150, you need about 55g per day, according to the experts. Tons of other factors can come in to play with this figure, but let’s keep it simple for now. I would note that I live closer to 45% unrefined grains and starches, 30% protein, and 25% fats (by calories). As always, this is where I keep my lawyer from getting paid and note that you should discuss your dietary plan with your health-care practitioners before making changes.
Try to Get It Right in the Beginning
If you are thinking about starting a vegan diet, or have just begun, there are a few pointers to keep in mind.
- You are re-shaping your diet, not just taking animal products out, look at your overall nutrition. If cold-turkey veganism is too intimidating, approach it like an "elimination diet" and get used to eliminated one type of food completely and healthfully at a time.
- Be curious. Read books, blogs, and articles that will provide ideas and education about veganism
- Be bold. Mix it up and try new things before a routine sets in. Don’t be afraid to cook something new just because it might turn out horrible. Maybe just not on date night.
- Don’t depend on once source of protein. Vegans need 9 essential amino acids that are the building blocks of protein that the human body doesn’t make. You have to eat a ton of some foods to get a enough of these. Why eat 12 cups of corn when you can just mix proteins and generally eat more than one type per day.
Don't Buy into the Product Hype
I think that the biggest reason for someone failing in their attempt to become a healthy vegan is because the buy into all the clever advertising that is around today. Naturally, misleading ads have been around for a long time, even before the actual snake oil vendors that created an entire marketing category that today, is bigger than ever. Companies big and small are cashing in on the vegan trend now. Often, companies will look for catchy labelling that sounds healthy. I will just give you two examples that stick in my craw (what is a craw anyways?).
- Fat free: I see this all the time on refined, low quality, mostly corn syrup or sugar products with no redeeming qualities. They will even advertise how low in calories it is, cashing in on the fact that fat-free + low calories equals diet food to some people. Unfortunate, that pure sugar will cause an insulin spike and then an energy crash, which will ultimately result in feeling sluggish while your body converts that sugar into fat. It will not help if this product also has a big foil vegan emblem on it. Not part of a healthy vegan diet.
- Vegan: Read above. How much of the candy and chip and soda section of the supermarket is vegan. Don’t fall victim to this marketing ploy. Look for nutrients, not a buzz word.
Ultimately, the key is to mix it up, try to eat whole foods, and to be curious and learn about the options. There are so many. I hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to email me if you have any questions or want more info beyond what is here and my links in the signature box to the right. Good luck creating some amazing healthy vegan meals!