Being Vegan and Enjoying the Whole Package
Everywhere we turn, “clean eating” and “whole foods” are being touted as the newest rage in eating. Unprocessed and unrefined foods and foods that are only found in nature are the basis of clean eating. However, before the clean eating rage started, there were vegans. While vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, vegans also do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products. A vegan’s diet includes staples of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Packing a Protein Punch
When people embark on the journey of veganism, many times family and friends show concern or curiosity as to how vegans get their proteins. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most of us eat more protein than we need. Protein is in many foods that we eat on a regular basis. While vegetarians can get some protein from dairy-based foods such as yogurt, milk or cheese, vegans do not consume any dairy. Vegans turn to legumes, nuts, tofu/soy products and vegetables that are high in protein such as many kinds of nuts, beans, and veggies including spinach, broccoli and peas. As per the Plant-Based Dietitian, Julieanna Hever, a woman age 18-70 needs 8 – 10% of her diet to be comprised of protein. Check out these great examples of animal-free protein*:
- One cup of dried beans = 16 grams
- One cup of oatmeal = 16 grams
- 2 slices whole wheat bread = 7 grams
- One cup of spinach = 7 grams
- One cup of quinoa = 9 grams (replace quinoa for any rice dish!)
- Two teaspoons of most nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter) = 8 grams
- One cup of beans (kidney, black, pinto, etc) = 13-15 grams (plus LOTS of fiber!)
*Another great example of a healthy plant-based protein is Hemp. Not only is it a complete protein, it’s also rich in omega-3s. Adding some hemp seeds t0 smoothies or salads is a great way to easily increase your protein intake.
Vegans are hitting the dietary gym in order to keep their brains in shape. Omega-3 fatty acids are the “it” food for the brain and so many of them can be found in vegan-friendly foods. Walnuts, flax, spinach, olive oil (sounds like a great salad right there!) all include this mega nutrient. Topping the list of brain foods are blueberries, nuts, seeds and avocados – all vegan friendly and ready to boost brain power.
In addition, a plant-based diet can get us in the mood – a good mood! According to a study published by Bonnie Beezhold in Nutrition Journal, a randomized group of omnivores reported improved mood states after only two weeks of eliminating meat, fish and poultry from their diets. Another way to improve mood? Saving money! Vegan diets typically cost less as meat, fish and poultry can be some of the more expensive items in the grocery stores.
A vegan diet has been shown to help many illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. According the American Diabetes Association, vegan diets are naturally higher in fiber, much lower in saturated fat, and cholesterol-free when compared to a traditional American diet. The high fiber in this diet may help people feel full for a longer time after eating and may help people eat less over all. These factors, in turn, can promote weight loss or weight maintenance. When fiber intake is greater than 50 grams per day on a vegan diet, it may help lower blood glucose levels.
Research also supports that following this type of diet can help prevent and manage diabetes. In fact, research on vegan diets has found that carbohydrate and calorie restrictions were not necessary and still promoted weight loss.
Since vegan diets are without any animal products, they are also usually lower than non-vegetarian diets in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer, according the American Heart Association.
Eating a vegan diet can have a cleansing effect on the body, also. The average diet can burden and overwork our bodies, sending them into a hormonal overload, due to toxins in processed and refined foods (as well as many meats and dairy). A vegan diet of natural, whole foods can help heal the body so that it can function as it was meant to and hormonal levels can then normalize.
Quite simply, sometimes it’s just knowing we are clearing out all the junk and focusing on real food and whole food that we start to make a change in our minds and feel better about how we are living.
At the end of the day, we all want to feel as if we have done something good. We try to live “green” – we recycle, we plan our errands so as not to use too much gas, we turn the water off when we brush our teeth, we shop with reusable bags – and we can eat green, too. By veganizing our diets, we take the load off the land.
There are many factors associated with eating meat and animal byproducts that have aided in the destruction of our environment:
- The most common species that we breed – chickens, cows, sheep and pigs – all of which need vast amounts of food and water, emit methane and other greenhouse gases and produce mountains of physical waste
- Animal waste contributes to disease like E coli
- We use antibiotics in animals’ feed that gets passed along to humans contributing to the rise of resistant bacteria, the concentrated factory farming of animals contributes to ozone pollution
- And the list goes on…
Finally, let us not forget compassion. As “Human Beings” we are the race that is “being humane”. We have the power. In connecting the body, mind and soul, we want to treat others humanely and with respect, and that too, includes our farm animal friends. A vegan lifestyle takes care of the whole package.