Making A Transition To Veganism

A vegan diet is one that is absent of all animal products–not only of meat, but also of products made by or of animals, such as beeswax, dairy, eggs and honey. Often, vegans don’t wear or use animal products, either–such as silk, leather and wool.

Transitioning to veganism can be a very involved process, particularly if you’ve previously been a meat eater. Finding a vegan recipe or a ready-made vegan meal may be a challenge, since these items are not yet universally available. The careful reading of package information plays a key role in the process, since not all animal products are as easily recognizable as meat (for example, gelatin contains ground animal bones, and some food dyes are made from acids produced by insects).

The Challenges of Transitioning to Veganism

One of the primary challenges of maintaining a vegan diet is the fact that many commercially available foods use animal components in ways that may not be immediately obvious. Mayonnaise, for example, is composed largely of eggs, which many people do not know. Other foods and condiments may use trace elements of meat broth, animal protein or gelatin as a preservative or as part of the manufacturing process. Sometimes, animal components are used to add texture or color to foods.

A vegan must be aware of all the mechanisms by which food producers make use of animal products to avoid ingesting these products. This can require research in addition to the careful reading of packages and labels.

Health Concerns for Vegans

When a vegan diet is well planned, it can contain adequate nutrients, calories and vitamins to sustain a healthy lifestyle. However, a poorly planned vegan diet can result in nutritional deficiencies. Vegans should ensure they’re getting enough:

  • Calcium: Necessary for vegans to maintain healthy bones, non-dairy calcium sources includes pinto beans, red beans and white beans, dark green leafy such as kale, broccoli, and spinach, Calcium-fortified foods include orange juices, tofu and other soy products.
  • Choline: Choline is an important nutrient that affects cell health and functioning. Most carnivores consume adequate choline from eggs, chicken and fish. Vegans can ensure they’re getting enough by consuming brussels sprouts, broccoli, and peanut butter.
  • Iron: Sufficient iron consumption is necessary to maintain healthy blood cells. While the most common sources of iron are animal-based, vegans can supplement their diet with molasses and soybeans to keep iron levels healthy. Drink orange juice, a source of vitamin C, with iron rich foods to enhance iron absorption.
  • Lean protein: Lean protein is a vital part of any diet. Though it’s often consumed in a typical diet as chicken, fish or lean beef, vegans can easily get enough lean protein from sources such as seitan, tofu, kale and oatmeal.
  • Vitamin B12: A lack of vitamin B12 has been linked to neurodegenerative disease and some types of anemia. Supplements and eating Vitamin B12 fortified foods can help ensure you’re getting enough without eating meat.

The Health Advantages of Veganism

Some people transition to veganism for health reasons, but many people make the change based on ethical, moral, philosophical or religious principles. Moving from standard vegetarianism to a vegan diet is often part of a search for greater clarity and absolutism as one distances oneself from the moral complications of harming animals.

Countless studies have linked a carefully planned, balanced vegan diet to:

  • Decreased risk for depression and anxiety
  • Decreased risk for heart disease
  • Healthy cholesterol levels
  • Healthy weight and body mass index
  • Increased energy levels.

These studies often stress the health detriments of a diet high in animal fat and protein. For assistance in transitioning to the vegan diet, speak with a dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition or a local support group and create nutritionally balanced and nourishing meals.

Resources

“China-Cornell-Oxford Project On Nutrition, Environment and Health at Cornell University”. Division of Nutritional Sciences. Cornell University. Retrieved 2006-09-15.

Linus Pauling Institute. (2010). Minerals Retrieved November 2, 2010 from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/inforcenter/minerals.html

Segelken, R. (2001-06-28). “China Study II: Switch to Western diet may bring Western-type diseases”. Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-09-15.

The Vegetarian Resource Group. (2009). Veganism in a nutshell. Retrieved September 2, 2010, from http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm#what

University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. (2010). Dietary sources of iron. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/dietary_sources_iron.html

Vegan Outreach. (n.d). A healthy way to live. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/health.html

VeganHealth.org. (2010). Staying healthy on plant based diets. Retrieved September 2, 2010, from http://www.veganhealth.org/

VeganHealth.org. (2010). Where do you get your protein? Retrieved September 14, 2010, from http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/protein