Veganism can improve health and vitality–but it can be a daunting dietary switch even for vegetarians. Can I really cut all animal products from my diet? The food will be bland; I’ll get bored with it. I’ll have to give up eating out. Even for the open-minded, the list of reasons “why not” might seem insurmountable, but if you arm yourself with some basic knowledge and the right items in your pantry, you may discover that a vegan diet blends well with your lifestyle–and keeps your taste buds engaged.
Don’t get me wrong: Becoming a vegan takes serious commitment and discipline. Vegans are strict vegetarians who consume no meat or animal by-products, which include poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, dairy, and ingredients such as honey. However, their diet is one rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and protein, which offer many health benefits: improved cardiovascular functions and cholesterol levels and prevention against osteoporosis, arthritis, macular degeneration, type 2 diabetes, and a variety of cancers. The effects are felt more practically as well: A vegan diet promotes energy, weight loss, and healthier skin, hair, and nails.
It is true that a vegan diet can be difficult when you don’t have control over the menu, like at restaurants and dinner parties. However, some of the best vegan entrees can be found in ethnic restaurants that serve Indian and Asian cuisine, which offer meals rich in vegetables and grains, and many more restaurants are equipped to adapt their regular menus to vegan formulas.
Eating in is easier, and with the right spices and recipes, vegan meals can be as delicious as they are nutrient-packed. Before starting a vegan diet, you should first understand your daily nutritional requirements. Vegans need to pay special attention to certain nutrients: vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, protein, and iron. Most foods can be found in mainstream supermarkets, or you can grow your own produce or visit one of our state’s many farms.
Before changing your diet, make an appointment with your doctor to assess your individual needs and to test for any potential food allergies. Also, continue to eat a well-rounded diet, with all foods in moderation.
What to Stock in a Vegan Pantry
Protein/Meat Substitutes Legumes, nuts, and seeds equal protein power. Be sure to include edamame, tofu, textured vegetable protein (TVP), seitan (also called wheat meat or wheat gluten), and tempeh (a fermented soy product with a slightly nutty flavor).
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) This vitamin is primarily found in animal products, but vegans can obtain B12 from fortified foods such as soy milk (or other nondairy milk), breakfast cereal, meat alternatives, and nutritional yeast, which can be found in most health food stores. An adult multivitamin, which typically contains 6 micrograms of B12, can prevent a deficiency in the nutrient and is strongly recommended.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the most significant and effective forms of omega-3 fatty acids primarily found in fish and seafood. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted to EPA and DHA, is the form found in plant foods such as walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, soybeans, and butternuts.
Calcium and Vitamin D These bone-boosting nutrients have found their way into fortified soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, cereal, tofu, and orange juice. Calcium is found naturally in almonds and greens, such as bok choy, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage.
Iron Maximize iron absorption by eating iron-rich foods – like dried beans, fortified cereals, and dark, leafy greens -along with a vitamin C-rich food, such as citrus fruit.
Multivitamins Any diet, vegan or not, can benefit from “dietary insurance.” Consider a multivitamin with minerals to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of harder-to-get nutrients. (Note: Make sure the vitamins you buy are labeled “vegan,” as some contain gelatin.)