A vegan diet consists of food that doesn’t derive from animal sources. People choose it for a variety of reasons, and vegan foods can be utilized as a healthy alternative to the Standard American Diet (SAD).
What is Vegan Food?
Vegan foods are those that do not contain any animal sources. Vegetarians and vegans do not eat red meat, chicken, fish, or shellfish. Vegans also do not eat eggs or milk. There are some more items that are off the table, as well: gelatin, casein (sodium caseinate), whey, and (for most) honey. To very strictly follow a vegan diet and lifestyle, and to make sure no products have been sourced from animals, there are helpful and detailed lists available online.1 Vegan meals make for healthy alternative menu items. All of the necessary nutrients are present in a meat-free diet. Protein is in most plant foods, but it can primarily be found in beans, nuts, and tofu. Iron, which is best absorbed when consuming vitamin C with it, is in items such as green leafy vegetables, beans, and blackstrap molasses. Omega-3 fatty acids are in flaxseeds, soy, and walnuts. Zinc is in legumes and nuts. Soy milk and dark green vegetables contain calcium. Nutritional yeast, tempeh, miso, and seaweed have B12.2
A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) diet, when properly planned, is a very healthy diet. The American Dietetic Association said that a vegan diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, hypertension, colon cancer, and lung cancer. The foods are high in fiber, low in fat, and contain no cholesterol.3 People who live a vegan lifestyle choose it for many reasons. Compassion for animal suffering is one of the main reasons. Others choose veganism for environmental reasons. Animal advocates and environmentalists both oppose factory farming. Vegan diets “produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than meat-based diets” and “the livestock industry is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transport sector (which produces 13.5%), including aviation.” In addition, less water and land are needed to produce a plant-based diet. As the world’s population increases, and as resources become more scarce, plant-based diets will become the more sustainable option. It takes a lot of resources to use animals for food. Farming animals and growing livestock feed contributes to water pollution, deforestation, and “land degradation”.4
Meatless Mondays and More
Not everyone may want to participate in a vegan lifestyle. The all-or-nothing approach may not work for everyone; however, introducing nutritious and delicious vegan meals into the diet can help with overall health. To try vegan meals, many opt to participate in Meatless Mondays.5 Others may wish to be “Vegan Before 6:00” in order to restore health and lose weight.6 There are doctors who also advocate a vegan diet to combat diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Dr. Neal Barnard7 and Dr. John MacDougall8 have resources on the health benefits of eating vegan food.