I wanted to start off my little corner of the blogosphere with a series of post combining lessons learned from my vegan journey and hopefully, some useful information on staying vegan.
I’ve lived a vegan lifestyle for almost four years and prior to that, I was a vegetarian since my late teens. So, for almost eight years, I’ve remained a committed veg (I refer to veganism, and/or vegetarianism together as ‘veg’) head and I don’t foresee that ever changing.
One of my favourite things is pouring over veg nutrition information, studies, blogs, forums, articles and books, so I have assimilated a ton of information over the years. Plus I’ve had the experience of being a part of a thriving local health food store where I spent days surrounded by supplements, organic food and alternative health books. Even though I have my own knowledge based on my experiences and research, please note that I am not a medical expert, just a casual blogger with a decidedly vegan slant.
It’s in the best interest of veganism, animals, the earth, yourself and maybe even the universe (hello E.Ts, lol), to remain committed to a vegan lifestyle. Of course, if you are miserable while doing so, the likelihood of sticking with it is low. The same for guilt induced veganism. Guilt should not be the basis of your decision to adopt a vegan lifestyle and I do believe it should not be the basis of pretty much any decision in your life – do something because you want to, you’re aware and you care.
It’s already been long established that people can survive and thrive on an entirely animal-free diet and this is even more the case in places like North America where food is abundant and access to animal product alternatives are everywhere. It’s easier than ever before to remain vegan and feel good about it, but you’ve got to be committed to it.
So, let’s start with eating-related tips.
1. Eat enough.
If you do not get enough calories, fats or protein, you will feel bad (not just the case for vegans, but everyone). You may not feel bad right now, but it will catch up to you at some point and can, in extreme cases, lead to serious long-term health issues. Our bodies need fuel and they need the building blocks of our cells in a steady supply. Take a good look at your daily meals and take the time to use something like Pea Counter to see if your daily fare is meeting your daily needs. While you don’t have to eat perfect and well balanced meals all of time, the overall trend of your diet should be one in which you’re meeting your micro and macro-nutrient goals.
The inverse of this is eating too much, but I’ve found as an overall trend in the vegan population at large, there is a propensity to unconsciously under-eat, despite best intentions.
I was surprised when I first examined my dietary habits because I realized I was simply not eating enough calories each day to maintain my energy levels, despite eating well. When I upped my calorie intake, especially on my more active days, it made a huge difference. Remember plants are pretty low calorie in general, you need to eat more of them to feel satiated and meet your calorie target.
Other people may find they need more fat in their diets. Often, people will feel better adding more good fats (i.e. chia, flax, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, algae oil, coconut) into their daily food selections.
There’s a no-oil faction of the vegan community that tends to create the perception that oils and even fats are toxic substances, but this is simply not the case. While whole foods are often preferable, certain processed foods have their place in a well-balanced diet – flax oil or nutritional yeast are great examples. Oils can provide much needed extra calories to those who are very active or they can make eating a bowl of steamed vegetables that much more enjoyable, plus the fat soluble vitamins absorbable. Unless you are struggling with your weight or a specific medical condition, don’t shy from the oils or fats.
Of course, no matter what your condition, fats are essential to the functioning of your body, so make sure to eat them everyday. A good general rule is that fats should make up 15-30% of your daily calories. There’s also the issue of omega 3 fats, which I will write about in another post in the future.
Next up, we have consuming enough protein. While there tends to be an over-exaggerated concern among the general population about meeting protein needs on a plant diet, it is nonetheless, something all vegans and vegetarians should be conscientious about.
A former co-worker, friend and long-term vegetarian noticed her hair falling out with increasing regularity. A few weeks after she discussed it with everyone, I came across some information that low intake of the amino acid lysine can lead to hair loss. I looked into the plant foods that contained the most lysine – legumes, certain nuts and seeds and reported back to her – turned out her diet, despite containing tons of fruits and vegetables, contained a lack of protein-rich foods. Upon adding more protein rich foods into her diet, her hair loss ceased within several months. While this is an individual case, I wanted to share it to illustrate the necessity of making sure to eat a few servings of protein rich foods everyday .
Protein is also important for bone density, muscle tissues and cell growth, so while you do not need to eat huge amounts, you do need to make sure you get your protein needs met everyday.
That’s it for Tip 1, but stay tuned for more tips in the upcoming week.