We are taught that we need a balanced diet that includes many plant products (such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains), but that also includes many animal products (such as meat, dairy, and eggs). When someone decides to cut all the animal products from their life, others get concerned whether or not it is healthy and when one considers doing it they may also find they have many questions and concerns about living healthy as a vegan. Can a vegan diet really be healthy?
It's Vegan - It Has To Be Healthy
Somewhere along the line many people bought into the vegan health crazy. After all, if it's vegan it has to be healthy. However, just because it is vegan doesn't mean it is healthy. Some potato chips don't contain meat, dairy, eggs, or any other products that are on the no list for vegans, but potato chips will never be healthy. Likewise you have, a lot of junk. Another thing that has happened in modern times is that you have a growing number of replacement options. You can go by vegan cheese, sausages, pepperoni, lunch meat, and even vegan ice cream. While some of these things might appeal to you, they are still high in fat and many times low in nutrients making them less healthy. If your diet is composed of many of the things that aren't healthy for you then it doesn't matter if you are eating a giant bowl of vegan ice cream or a giant bowl of regular ice cream, it is still bad for you.
A Healthy Vegan Diet
All that being said you can have a healthy vegan diet if you are aware of the things that your diet might lack and you make up for it elsewhere and if you strive to eat a balanced diet. A vegan diet needs to include lots of fruits and vegetables as the foundation of a healthy diet!
What Can Vegans Eat?
It isn't common for people to come up blank when they begin to wonder what vegans can eat. After all, most meals are planned around a meat source. You have steak and potatoes, chicken and rice, or some other combination that makes most think of vegans as rabbits. However, there are lots of different foods that you can eat while still being vegan!
- Vegan breakfast can consist of cereal with an alternative milk (almond, rice, or soy just to name a few), hot cereal (oatmeal, wheat, or any number of other options), bagels (there is even vegan cream cheese), toast, tofu scramble or burritos, and even hash browns loaded with vegetables. You can add veggies or fruits, nuts and seeds, and juices for a rounded out meal.
- Lunches can consist of foods like what you always ate. Vegetable soup is a great choice as are vegetable sandwiches, tofu sandwiches, vegetable subs (Veggie Delight at Subway), salad, or any variety of wraps.
- Dinners are also easy once you wrap your mind around not having meat at the center of the meal. You can do many different grains and add loads of vegetables to go with it. Think rice, barely, or even whole grain pasta. You can also rely on all time favorites such as tacos (using nut purée or beans as the base) and top it with lettuce, tomatoes, and even vegan cheese if you want. Pizza is another one that's easy to do. If ordering from a pizza place you should choose a place that has a vegan crust, top it with extra sauce, and all your favorite veggies (or fruit). Very good, and way better for you than adding cheese and meat. You can also make your own with crusts, sauce (blending up a bunch of vegetables and sticking them in the sauce will allow you to get even the kids to eat a lot of vegetables), top that baby with all of your favorite toppings. You can even add vegan cheese and vegan meats if you want.
This is just a starting point. You can enjoy many recipes by altering them to meet your vegan restrictions and you can also try a lot of new things by using a vegan recipe book.
Vegan Protein Sources
One of the biggest concerns that people have either for their vegan loved ones or when deciding to go vegan is the protein issue. Most people think that you have to eat meat every day to make sure that you are getting enough protein and with out it you won't be healthy. The good news is that your body doesn't need that much protein. You only need 10 grams of protein a day. The second bit of good news is that it's easy to get enough protein as long as you are eating a variety of foods and you are getting enough foods and calories (healthy foods, not unhealthy ones). Protein comes in lots of great vegan packages. You can enjoy beans, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and soybeans for vegan protein. You can also eat nuts and seeds (you won't get fat if you are eating the right amount of foods and not a lot of junk even with nuts and seeds in your diet). Other great plant sources include mushrooms (okay, not quite a plant), broccoli, oatmeal, corn, and even whole wheat bread.
Vegan Calcium Sources
Another concern that many people have is the “calcium issue”. We have been taught from a young age that milk is very important for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. This leads people to be concerned about getting rid of dairy products. After all, recommendation is that you have 3 servings a day. However, studies show that dairy products actually cause osteoporosis and bone fractures. Even if you don't think about that there is a lot of great ways to get calcium from plants including collard greens, kale, broccoli, and almonds. You can also find fortified milks and juices to get all the calcium you need.
Vitamin b12 is an interesting vitamin. It is actually produced by a bacteria and not really animals or plants. However, the bacteria is consumed by animals and ends up getting vitamin b12 into the muscles. Eating the meat provides your body with vitamin b12. There aren't many great resources for vitamin b12. That being said, many people world wide have a difficult time getting enough vitamin b12 (both meat eaters and non) and deficiencies are found in many people of all sorts. The solution is a good supplement. A good vegan multi-vitamin will have your regular supply of vitamin b12. You can also eat fortified nutritional yeast, cereals, soy and rice milk, and fortified vegan meats.
Vegan Vitamin D
The “sunshine vitamin” is manufactured by the sun when it gets enough light. However, exposing yourself to a daily dose of sunlight without sunscreen doesn't come without it's own set of risks and getting enough during the winter months can be difficult. You can buy fortified alternative milks including rice milk and soy milk in the same way that you buy fortified cows milk. Your high quality multi-vitamin will give you vitamin D as well.
Vegan Iron Sources
Iron is commonly found in red meat. There are a lot of people out there that consider vegans as a group of anemic people about to keel over from a lack of iron. However, that's not the case. If you are eating that wide variety of foods that we discussed then you will get plenty of iron. Iron is found in Spinach. It also is found in many of the beans and lentils including black-eyed peas and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). You can get iron from oatmeal, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, nutritional yeast, grains and seeds (including quinoa and millet), and even molasses. Another cool thing is that your body absorbs iron better when it has plenty of vitamin C and that wide variety of fruits and vegetables you should eat as a vegan ( I suppose as a person, but definitely as a vegan) will include plenty of vitamin C.
You can have a very healthy vegan diet if you eat a variety of foods and aim for eating mostly healthy foods. Avoiding junk is something everyone should do, whether they are vegan, vegetarian, or full on meat eaters. You don't have to go without nutrients your body needs because you are vegan. Just make sure you are eating the right foods and take a good vegan multi-vitamin and you can be a very healthy person.