Can You Be a Healthy Vegan/Vegetarian?
(The following is a guest blog post composed by Caitlin Evans.)
Vegetarianism has had millions of followers for centuries, but veganism has a particularly interesting narrative in modern society. It came a long way from being the choice of a few men and women to becoming mainstream. Now we have many celebrities swearing by the vegan lifestyle, including Ellen Pompeo, Gisele Bündchen, Natalie Portman, and Jessica Chastain. When describing why she became vegan more than a decade ago, Chastain said, "Being vegan was not anything I ever wanted to be. I just really was listening to what my body was telling me".
But what does your body feel about you wanting to become vegan or vegetarian?
Of course, your body could experience a whole scope of benefits that a plant-based diet offers. But it could also suffer from the lack of specific nutrients that are essential for your overall health. This is particularly delicate for women, who require a certain amount of fats and protein to maintain hormonal balance and reproductive health.
Another thing that’s often mentioned as problematic in regards to veganism is eating a diverse diet despite the limited options. Making sure you’re regularly getting balanced meals with varied ingredients takes up a lot of your time, which is especially troublesome for busy women.
So, if you’re thinking about going vegan/vegetarian, but have some doubts, read on. We’re going to address each of them so that you can make your decision based on facts.
Why Could Vegetarianism Be Good For You?
It’s no wonder that vegetarianism and all its forms, including veganism, have become popular considering its potential health benefits. First of all, because a vegetarian diet is naturally low in cholesterol and saturated fats, and high in plant nutrients, it can contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, a diet filled with fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cancer and a healthier metabolism. Other perks that are important to mention are a lower body mass index, stronger immune system, and healthy skin.
Why Could Vegetarianism Be Bad For You?
The protein found in meat is essential for balancing women’s hormones. When you stop eating meat, your estrogen levels drop. In fact, estrogen levels in vegetarians are up to 20 percent lower than estrogen levels in omnivores.
This is even more important for women going through menopause because their estrogen levels are already naturally decreasing. Hot flushes, dizziness, increased perspiration, and vaginal dryness are all symptoms of lowered estrogen. These problems are often accompanied by headaches, weight gain, and insomnia.
Another essential nutrient that is frequently left out of the vegetarian diet is healthy fat. Fats are a vital part of hormone synthesis, and without them, your body’s hormone production suffers. The lack of fats could also impact your body’s ability to absorb crucial vitamins.
How Can You Go Vegan/Vegetarian Without Hurting Your Health?
As you might have realized from the previous two sections, vegetarianism is not bad or good per se. Depending on how you are practicing it, it can be both.
Meeting daily nutrient requirements on a meatless diet demands planning, and sometimes even supplementation. Here are the nutrients that need extra attention while on a vegan diet, and the ways to consume them:
Protein: As mentioned, the lack of meat-origin protein can be a problem in a vegan diet, but there are plenty of ways to compensate with plant-based protein. Some of the healthy sources include vegetables, beans, lentils, soy food, soybeans, tempeh, nut, and seeds.
Calcium: If you’re on some kind of a vegan diet, you’ve most likely given up dairy products, which are one of the main sources of calcium. To meet calcium requirements, make sure to eat almonds, tofu, spinach, rice, and soy. However, sometimes even that won’t be enough, and you may have to turn to supplements.
Vitamin B12: This nutrient is found only in animal foods (e.g., poultry, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy). It is frequently added to vegan-friendly foods like soy, cereals, and veggie burgers. Nutritional yeast found in some food stores is packed with vitamin B12. You can take multivitamins or Vitamin B supplements to meet your daily needs.
Vitamin D: There is no diet – vegan or otherwise – that can provide you with sufficient vitamin D, but you can always rely on vitamin D3 supplements. Sun exposure is also a great contributor to vitamin D intake.
Iodine: This nutrient is essential for thyroid function, which contributes to hormonal balance and regulates the metabolism. Iodine is naturally found in dairy products and seafood, while it is inconsistent in plant foods. This is why vegans are advised to take a 150 mcg supplement every other day if they’re already using iodized salt. If not, they should supplement daily.
Healthy fats: By eating healthy fats, you’re supplying your body with (good) cholesterol, which is later converted into estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Healthy plant-based fat sources you can include in your diet are avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil. Vegetarians also have ghee, pastured eggs, and grass-fed butter as healthy options.
Vegan/Vegetarian Cooking Crash Course
Contrary to popular opinion, the vegetarian diet can be diverse, flavorful, and easy to prepare. The recipes vary from delicious avocado treats to sweet potato delights. Here are a few tips that will help you master the art of vegetarian cuisine in no-time:
Get the freshest organic food from local farmers.
Try out different kinds of ingredients. Don’t only stick to the basics like leafy greens and potatoes. For example, you can experiment with kohlrabi, romanesco, and sea beans.
Fill your pantry with non-perishable foods such as rice, flour, noodles, pasta, nuts, and beans.
Use different herbs, spices, and seasonings.
Don’t use only one type of oil. Include olive, sesame, and coconut.
Some of the dishes that offer a lot of variety, while being easy to prepare, include stir-fried veggies, salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, roasted vegetables, fruit salads, and smoothies.
Vegetarianism is an excellent opportunity to explore world cuisines, many of which are actually meatless. Middle-eastern, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian cuisines can all be a fantastic starting point.
Finally, outfit your kitchen with the essentials that will help you prepare your meals in a healthier and quicker way. You will need quality knives, a cutting board, a skillet for sautéing the veggies, and non-stick pots and pans.
Becoming a vegetarian/vegan is an important decision not to be taken lightly. After all, it will change things in your body and your life in general. Hopefully, this article can help you consider all the crucial factors, see how you can make the most out of the meatless diet, and make a smart choice.
Caitlin is a bookworm and recreational dancer. She is also a medical student in love with science in all its forms. Her fields of expertise could be summed up in health, nutrition, and well-being related topics. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and hiking. To see what Caitlin is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard.
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