Across print media and online resources, the vegan lifestyle seems to pop up everywhere. There are myriad reasons to embrace veganism, from saving the environment to caring about animals. Wherever you’re at on your vegan journey, from your first inquiry to complete dedication to the movement, we’ve got some information and tips to get you headed in the vegan direction.
What exactly does it mean to be vegan, and how does it compare to other diet plans? In the simplest form, a vegan diet is plant-based. Strict vegans do not eat any food that comes from an animal, including those foods animals produce such as eggs and honey. A vegan diet relies heavily on fresh fruits and vegetables but also leans into nuts, legumes, seeds, tofu, whole grains and other plant-based foods.
A vegan lifestyle is a statement against animal cruelty, so it goes further than just what a person eats. It’s a conscientious movement to not use, buy, or consume any animal-based products.
Benefits of a vegan lifestyle
People choose a vegan lifestyle for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is to protect the animals on the planet. Another predominant reason for adopting vegan ways is to benefit the environment. Raising animals is hard on the land. It requires a lot of food, typically in the form of grain, to feed chickens, pigs, cows and other animals. That food is grown, then fed to the animals before they’re slaughtered. Part of the food chain perhaps, but eating plants straight from the source eliminates many of the required resources for raising livestock. In addition, cows contribute to methane release, which is a greenhouse gas that adds to the carbon footprint.
The third primary benefit of eating plant-based food is for your health. Even with the vast array of diet plan options, nearly all include copious amounts of plant-based recipes for the same reason — eating this way has been proven to reduce inflammation and improve or reverse a host of common diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In addition, plants provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals to support a healthy lifestyle.
Those who’ve committed to the lifestyle often report additional benefits such as increased energy, clearer thinking, improved focus, better sleep, and weight loss.
Challenges of going vegan
t’s not easy being vegan. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult. One of the primary challenges is simply finding foods you can eat. Read any label, and the majority of the time you’ll find some form of animal-based product. Go into most restaurants, and you may have trouble finding anything other than a salad that fits the eating profile.
Another challenge is learning how to cook, order and eat in an entirely new way. Especially if you’re used to making meat-focused meals.
The vegan movement has been around for decades. Some even argue that select Indigenous people invented the lifestyle. In recent decades, vegan foods have brought some good and some bad to the market via vegan substitute products. Processed foods always come with loads of unnecessary fats, salts and sugars. Even those labeled as vegan can be an unhealthy choice, so try to stay away from the freezer department unless you’re shopping for vegetables.
In the dairy department, vegan substitutes can add a lot of variety to your diet. Vegan cheese, butter and milk round out your fruits, veggies, nuts and whole grains. Again though, watch for high levels of sugar, salt and anything artificial. When it comes to milk, there are increasing options in the form of nut milks. You’ll want to experiment with almond, coconut, oat, rice and soy milk.
Vegan eating tips
The number one tip to adopt a vegan lifestyle is to take it slow. Most people have been cooking and eating the same way since birth, so don’t try to reverse that in a single day. Instead, slowly incorporate changes each week or month. Swap out cow’s milk for a plant-based variety. Replace meat with beans in your soup, skip the meat in your burrito and stuff it with seasoned rice and vegetables instead. Go meatless one night each week. Aim to eat 80% plant-based. Whatever the change is, play with it until it becomes a habit. Then move on to the next goal.
Tummy issues are also common at the beginning of a vegan diet. That’s because it’s high in fiber, and your system likely isn’t used to it. It’s another good reason to make the transition slowly to allow time for your system to adjust. During the process, pay attention to how you feel. Do you feel better after a fruit smoothie for breakfast rather than eggs and bacon? Did your nighttime heartburn go away? Do you find yourself avoiding the afternoon slump? How are you sleeping? Connecting good feelings like better focus and higher energy with the foods you eat is an intrinsic reward that will keep you on track. Try working up to a plant-based diet for breakfast and lunch, so you have a stretch of consecutive hours without animal products that allow you to evaluate how you feel.
Vegan life beyond food
Going vegan is a lifestyle that stretches well beyond what you eat. It’s a movement that factors into every purchase you make. Evaluate clothing to avoid wool, silk, leather, fur and suede. Also, read your makeup, shampoo, face wash and cleaning product labels. An increasing number of brands are labeling their products so you can easily find this information. However, your decision to go vegan doesn’t mean you have to throw out everything you own. Instead, use up the products you have while you transition to new brands. Also, get good use out of your clothing, so it doesn’t meet a premature date with the landfill.
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