What is Vegan Food?
A vegan diet consists of food that has not been derived from animal sources. People choose to follow this type of diet for a variety of reasons, and vegan foods can be utilized as a healthy alternative to the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Vegan foods are those that do not contain any animal products. 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 which also come from animals that are off the table, as well: gelatin, casein (sodium caseinate), whey, and, for most followers of the diet, 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. Those who are very committed to the diet will go beyond just avoiding the consumption of animal products. They will also try to eliminate all products that have been at least in part derived from animals in their lives, such as leather or fur clothing items.1
Is Vegan Food Healthy?
Vegan meals make for healthy alternative menu items when compared to food that is made of or comes from animals. All of the necessary nutrients are present in a meat-free diet, despite some of the common misconceptions about the animal-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. Rest assured, the vegan diet provides a well-balanced mix of vitamins and minerals.2
A vegan (which is pronounced VEE-gun) diet, when properly planned and followed, 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 absolutely zero cholesterol.3
People who live a vegan lifestyle choose it for many reasons. Compassion for animal suffering is one of the main reasons, making the choice to not eat animals for the sake of the livelihood and totally cruelty-free treatment of said animals.
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, the production of plant-based diet requires less water and land. As the world’s population increases, and as resources become scarcer, 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”. One might choose to follow the diet and lifestyle for any or all of these reasons.4
Meatless Mondays and More
Not everyone may want to participate in a vegan lifestyle. Many people are new to the concept and could want to take the process in stages. Some, due to allergies or other complications outside of their own control, might be unable to follow the vegan diet fully. They could instead do their best to live the healthiest lifestyle that they can for their own body and needs. While the all-or-nothing approach may not work for everyone, 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. Some might also try to first follow a vegetarian diet as a precursor to a vegan diet, beginning by cutting out a lot of unhealthy animal products, such as meat, before eventually excluding milk, cheese, eggs, and the like. There is a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian substitutes that can help someone who is new to the diet adjust to the change through somewhat familiar flavors. Those who try these fake animal products should not go in expecting them to taste exactly like what they are replacing. Instead, they should view these substitutes as transitional and find such products that taste good and work as healthy alternatives in traditionally omnivorous recipes.