Guidelines for Those Interested in Veganism

Whatever happened to regular old EATING?! Way back when, and I mean WAY BACK, before Stove-Top and the jello molds of the 1950s, everyone ate real food that didn’t come in a box, bag or out of a microwave. While I’m all for convenience (and my pantry has its share of canned soups, too!), I also want to help people get back to eating real food most of the time. Unfortunately, in addition to all the processed options on the market, we also have to navigate more and more ways to eat, like Paleo or Macro or Raw.

In order to help take some of the confusion out of these eating styles, I’ll begin a multi-column series with this piece on Veganism. Subsequent columns will cover other eating patterns, such as Vegetarianism, the Paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet, etc.

Veganism: Vegans follow the same eating pattern as vegetarians, but also exclude dairy and eggs, as well as anything made with animal products. This makes label reading important; as many items such as canned soup or baked products, often include animal products, like butter or whey (milk). Lesser-known no-no’s for vegans include gelatin (made from the hooves of animals) and honey. Vegans DO eat lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), grains, nuts and seeds and plant-based sources of protein, like soy. Because vegans tend to consume more fruits and vegetables and higher-fiber foods, their weight and BMI tend to be lower than those who eat meat. In fact, the Vegan diet was ranked #3 for weight-loss by U.S. News and World Report.

Nutritional Considerations: Because vegans don’t eat animal products, it’s important for those individuals to get their blood levels of calcium, Vitamin D, zinc and B12 tested regularly. These vitamins and minerals are found largely or only in animal products, so supplementation may be necessary. Otherwise, fruits, vegetables and grains do a good job of providing much of what anyone needs in their diet. Another important consideration for vegans is protein. Because they do not eat highly ‘biologically available’ sources of protein, vegans need to ensure they are eating enough plant-based sources of protein throughout the day. It’s important for vegans to combine grains and legumes at meals to get all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein and cannot be made in our bodies. Another consideration that has nutritional implications is the time it takes to plan and prepare meals on this diet. In order to get the required or recommended amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals, vegans will likely need to prepare many of their meals at home ahead of time, and research the menus of local restaurants to make eating out an easier experience.

Target Audience: Perhaps those who find the diet easiest to follow are those who choose not to eat animal products for ethical reasons. Others simply don’t like or miss animal foods, and prefer eating a plant-based diet. While this eating style can help some maintain a healthy weight, choosing veganism as a way to lose weight fast isn’t recommended. While weight loss can be accomplished on this diet, it’s not a ‘quick fix.’ This eating style takes a lot of planning and the desire to adhere to its guidelines. Lastly, some may find relief from gastrointestinal issues on this diet, although any improvements will vary by individual.

Foods to Highlight: Both cashews and nutritional yeast are powerhouses for the vegan. While everyone knows the benefits of soy and other plant-based proteins (seitan, tempeh), both cashews and nutritional yeast is also packed with protein. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast has 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Nutritional yeast isn’t the same yeast used for baking; it’s deactivated and has a nutty or cheesy flavor. Cashews are also a great option for vegans, as they have 5 grams of protein in one quarter-cup serving. By soaking and blending them, cashews can make a thick sauce reminiscent of alfredo sauce. Combining blended cashews and nutritional yeast is also a great option for those who are lactose-intolerant, as it is a way to make a cheesy-tasting sauce that is also dairy-free.