Thinking about going vegan? You’re not alone. With the rise of celebrities embracing veganism, many people are wondering if this solely plant-based diet might be right for them. Before you take the leap into vegan lifestyle, here are some important things to consider:
- Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism. To be a true vegan, you have to give up all meat, poultry, fish and animal-based products—not even eggs or dairy are permitted. Other forms of vegetarianism, such as pescatarianism (which prohibits meat and poultry but allows seafood) and lacto-ovo-vegetarianism (which permits dairy and eggs) can be an easier way to transition from an omnivore’s diet to one that emphasizes more plant-based foods. Allowing for fish or some animal/animal-derived foods may also help to ensure you’re receiving all the nutrients you need.
- Vegan diets can be healthy; however, vegans need to pay special attention to meet their needs for protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. For instance, vitamin B12 is generally found in animal-based foods, so it’s important to take a supplement or seek out vitamin B12-fortified foods (some types of almond milk, soy milk, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts are fortified with B12). Inadequate vitamin B12 can lead to a condition called megaloblastic anemia, which results in diﬃculty walking, memory loss, and disorientation. Also it’s important to consider that folate—typically high in vegetarian and vegan diets—can mask the presence of vitamin B12 deﬁciency. Because of the potential nutritional gaps that can result from a strict plant-only diet, I recommend that anyone considering veganism first consult with a registered dietitian who specializes in this area.
- Dining out can be difficult for vegans. If you live in a major metropolitan area, finding vegan restaurants (and places that serve delicious vegan dishes) is a breeze. But in other areas of the country, vegan dining is still uncommon, which means you may need to make most (or all!) of your meals at home if you want to stay true to your plant-only plan.
- Veganism is not necessarily healthy. Don’t assume that veganism is always healthy. A recent study found that not all vegan diets are created equal. For example, if you eliminate all animal-based foods but rely mainly on refined grains, chips, cookies, sugary juices, french fries, and other less-nutrient-rich foods, you aren’t benefiting your health. In fact, the study found that those with the least healthful plant-based diets were, on average, 32 percent more likely to be given diagnoses of heart disease than those who adopted a more healthful vegan pattern (one rich in healthful oils, beans and legumes, nuts and whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.).
The bottom line: A vegan diet can one of the healthiest ways to eat, but only if it includes a wide array of nutrient-rich, plant-based foods. Adopting a vegan lifestyle that meets all of your nutritional needs requires both commitment and knowledge. If you’re not ready to make the plant-only leap, you can still have a very healthful diet. Look to incorporate more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, plant oils (like olive oil) and lean sources of protein (vegetable and animal, like fish) and cut down on processed meat and red meat.