Exploring Nutrition Profiles: Vegan & Plant-Based Diets

Vegan | Plant-based Overview

No meat? No cheese? No eggs? …No fun? Not exactly. Before we dive too far into any particular diet, we’re going to need to check our pre-conceived notions at the door. Every nutritional lifestyle comes with its own reputation, whether good or bad. My job is to introduce you to the most unbiased version of each.

Vegan diets consist of eating only plant-based foods and avoiding foods from animals or animal by-products. Some people have a moral conscience against eating animals, while others simply can't digest meat, dairy, and eggs easily. Instead of the latter, vegans opt for fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds.

Cost of a Vegan Diet

The criticism against veganism comes from two corners: "It’s only for rich people"; "You’ll become protein deficient." Our focus for this section is the prior. It’s not only for rich people. Taking into consideration that meat was historically reserved as a luxury item, why would not eating meat be more expensive? Or should I say, “How?”

The cheapest area in your local grocery store is the bulk section. You’ll find beans, rice, oats, and dried fruits that can feed a family for under $100 per month. That may not sound devilishly exciting, but it is cheap. The runners-up for least expensive healthful groceries are the frozen vegetables. If you take the time to find unprocessed, non-manufactured foods, they’re all relatively cheap.

Another money saving aspect of going vegan is you waste less produce. Almost everyone I know has the "veggie drawer" filled with tomatoes from last month, funny smelling peppers, and moldy mushrooms. Because produce is the center of your meals, you'll be eating much more, and wasting much less. 

The problem with increased costs in veganism is when you want to buy store-bought substitutes like vegan cheese, vegan hot dogs, vegan cupcakes, vegan scrambled eggs, etc. Not infrequently, these foods contain harmful ingredients trying to replicate the authentic “cheesy” taste you’re craving. This is where people stumble when transitioning to vegan. You’ll spend more money trying to find a tofu burger that tastes like a beef burger instead of buying quality ground beef.

Summary: Can be very low, Substitutes can skyrocket the cost

Maintenance / Transition to a Vegan Diet 

How difficult is the diet to maintain? From my experience, learning to be satisfied with your meals is the key to maintaining a long-term vegan diet. When I trailed the vegan life, I had this idea that all my dishes were missing something, whether it be meat or cheese, but once I realized I could satisfy my hunger without compromising my digestive tract, I was much happier. 

Many of your meals can be cooked in bulk and saved for later, either in meal prep containers or in the freezer. Most of the time, dishes with rice, lentils, or potatoes keep excellently in the fridge, so you don't have to worry too much about stinky leftovers.

Some of the complaints about going vegan are the lack of meal options when dining out and meal redundancy. Most restaurants cook their veggies in butter, many sauces contain heavy cream, every dish comes with an animal-protein, etc.  How often does the dessert menu not contain dairy-laden offerings? It can be difficult finding a restaurant that accommodates all of your needs, but it's not too tricky to find someone willing to bring you out steamed veggies with rice and beans. That being said, unless you keep on your creative side, you may end up repeating meals when eating out. 

As for the transition, know your body. Going cold-turkey by dumping copious amount of fibrous vegetables into your system may end up backfiring, literally. The average American diet contains barely half of the recommended daily allowance of fiber. Your digestive system may not be ready to break down hearty foods like lentils, brown rice, and oatmeal just yet. Ease into a plant-based diet by slowing phasing out meats, cheeses, and eggs, while replacing them with high-protein plant based foods.

Summary: Start slow, cook in bulk, and be prepared to ask for substitutions when you're dining out.  

Weight Loss on a Vegan Diet

Going vegan isn't how most people envision losing weight, but it should count for something. Remember those fibrous vegetables? Filling up on veggies is a staple to many weight loss diets. Seeing that fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of vegan diets, it's no wonder you'll lose weight. They're high in fiber, low in calories, and naturally filling. So a mound of broccoli might have the same amount of calories as a small container of fries. 

Simply eating vegan may not spur weight loss if you're overeating or eating the wrong foods - remember potato chips are vegan. If your body is saturated with too many calories, it will store them as fat. Period. Maintaining a balanced diet consisting of appropriate amounts of fats, carbohydrates, and protein like any other nutritional lifestyle will promote healthy weight loss. 

Summary: It'll happen if you maintain a balanced diet. Eat well and you'll lose weight. Eat french fries at every meal, and you'll gain. 

Is a Vegan Diet Family Friendly?

 Do you have a picky eater at home?  To be honest, the vegan lifestyle can be very kid friendly if you want it to be. The first step is understanding which flavors your kids like and dislike. Most of the backlash from broccoli comes from it being in the way of something more yummy - like dessert. Does this sound familiar? "Eat your broccoli, then you can have brownies."  Almost anything compared to brownies is going to be a chore to eat. 

Although it might seem impossible to get your kids to like eating their vegetables, it isn't. You can transition them slowly just like yourself. The key is to make sure they are getting all of the nutrients their bodies need in order to grow healthy. 

Cooking for a family of four is relatively simple if you adopt bulk cooking techniques we touched on above. You can roast veggies and potatoes on one sheet tray for the entire week. Big batches of rice and beans or steel-cut oats and peaches can be cooked up in 30 minutes or less. If your family is a little older, there's nothing to stop you from inviting them into the kitchen to prepare meals with you. That way, they can prepare and season their food any way they'd like. 

Summary: Take it slow. Kids will probably pick brownies over broccoli 9 out of 10 times. Invite your family into the kitchen to keep cooking a family affair. 

Nutrition and the Vegan Diet

Between the fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts, you're going to get a well-rounded nutrition plan. Many of these foods are also packed with anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, and a wide array of vitamins and minerals. However, many of these foods do not contain vitamin B12, which are found in meat, eggs, and cheese, foods obviously not eaten by vegans. Taking a vitamin B12 supplement should give the body the complete nutrients it needs to perform. 

And what about protein?  If you're looking to maintain an active lifestyle or concerned about protein intake, don't worry. There's plenty of protein in plants, if you know where to look. Consider adding nuts, legumes, peas, spinach, quinoa, or hemp protein to each meal. Most Americans tend to eat more than their recommended daily protein intake anyway, so dial it in and shoot for your specific needs. 

Drawbacks of a Vegan Diet

The primary drawback about going vegan is how inaccessible it can be when you're out of your kitchen. Your office Christmas party might not have options for you, which is why you need to plan ahead. Same for traveling: if you're on the road, bring your own snacks so you're not dependent on the unknown food in your airport, for instance. 

Another drawback comes from not maintaining a balanced diet. Yes, while eating McDonald french fries is considered vegan, you can't sustain a healthy diet on them. If your diet only contains starches and added sugars, you're going to rack up serious health deficits. For example, becoming B12 deficient may result in symptoms like depression, weakness, heart palpitations, digestive complications, memory loss, nerve disorders, and vision loss.  

Going vegan may garner a negative reaction from friends and family. You may switch over to a plant-based diet because that's how you feel best. You may switch because cows are the highest producers of methane emissions in America. Whatever your reasoning is, know that the choice is yours alone.

Summary: Without proper planning, you might find yourself snacking on carrots a lot. Not maintaining a balanced diet will be detrimental to your health. Others might give you flack for "going vegan." Don't listen. 

  

Overall Health on a Vegan Diet

People with chronic diseases like arthritis, osteoporosis, heart failure, or migraines have all found symptom relief on plant-based diets. Fruits and vegetables are natural anti-inflammatories. The body is able to break down more energy with less harmful by-products when compared to eating animal-based proteins. 

In addition, many endurance athletes have found a home in the vegan lifestyle. They claim their bodies run more efficiently on plant-based nutrition, and they've logged the ultra-marathons to support those claims. Now you may not think running 100k race is in your future, but being able to run 62.14 miles does combat the stigma of vegans being non-athletes. So if you're worrying about your active lifestyle, don't. 

 Final Word on Vegan and Plant-Based Diets

If you're willing to put the time and effort into choosing or preparing varied, well-balanced meals and supplement as needed, a vegan/plant-based nutritional lifestyle can be healthy, cost-effective, and delicious.  

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