You may be surprised to learn that making the switch to the vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to become healthy or stay healthy. While a vegan diet does eliminate many foods that can have negative effects on your health, it does require you to be more conscious of getting the proper nutrients into your diet and creating balance.
What Is the Vegan Diet?
To follow a vegan diet is to avoid all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and foods from animal sources like gelatin and honey. The choice to go vegan is often one of an ethical, environmental, and/or a health-related basis.
Vegan Diet Benefits
There are some natural benefits that result from not eating animal products, including not eating many of the saturated fats that are in animal products. Additional benefits include:
- Lowered cholesterol levels
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers
- Reduced symptoms of arthritis
- Reduced risk of poor kidney function
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s
Assuming that one adheres to a vegan diet without the addition of highly-processed foods and, instead, gets their essential nutrients from natural sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, one can also experience benefits like:
- Healthier body weight
- Boosted immune system
Stay Healthy on the Vegan Diet
While it’s important to avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, staying healthy on the vegan diet is more than just avoiding certain foods and focusing on others.
Animal products like meat and dairy tend to provide necessary nutrients that are essential to our health and proper functioning of the body. It’s important to make sure that if you are not eating meat, for instance, you eat a natural alternative that provides the same level or protein and iron.
Here are some of the nutrients vegans need to be conscious about getting enough of and some of the foods they eat to get those nutrients:
Meat and dairy often provide the protein we need in our diet to keep our skin, bones, muscles, and organs healthy. Without protein, we wouldn’t have the necessary amino acids to break down food and use it as an energy source. Vegans often get their source of protein from nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, peanut butter, tofu, and soymilk.
Iron is incredibly vital to the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout our bodies. This is typically derived from red meat, but vegans get their source of iron from beans, broccoli, tofu, wheat, raisins, and iron-fortified cereals.
Because iron from non-meat sources is more difficult to digest, vegans should pair iron consumption with vitamin C consumption (i.e. oranges, broccoli, etc.), as vitamin C allows for better absorption of iron by the body.
If you didn’t grow up vegan, then you probably heard your mom or dad telling you to drink your milk. After all, milk and other dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, the key to healthy bones and proper growth. As a vegan, you can still get your necessary calcium from foods like soybeans, dark leafy greens, broccoli, kale, fortified soymilk, and fortified juices.
Like iron, vitamin B12 is important for the production of red blood cells and preventing anemia. Because B12 is often derived from meat, fish, and dairy products, it can be difficult for vegans to get enough of this vitamin in their diet.
As an alternative, vegans should look for foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12, such as some cereals and soymilk. Vegans should also consult their doctor about other possible foods and substances to supplement their diet with to ensure they get enough B12.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to heart health, preventing inflammatory diseases, reducing the risk of mental disorders, helping brain function, and maintaining eye health. Lean fish like salmon and mackerel tend to be rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but since vegans don’t consume fish, they can find equally rich sources of omega-3s in foods like flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds.
Optimal Health on the Vegan Diet
Living a lifetime of optimal health on the vegan diet is possible, but it requires one to make balanced, well-considered dietary choices. It’s easy to maintain a vegan diet and consume junk food, especially with more and more processed snacks and sweets becoming vegan-friendly.
If you are considering going onto the vegan diet, it’s best to speak with a physician and nutritionist first to plan out what kind of meals you will be eating and what foods you can implement into your diet to ensure you get the proper nutrients you need. You will also want to monitor your health to make any necessary tweaks or changes on the diet if need be.