A vegan lifestyle can be defined as the practice of refraining from the use of animal or animal-derived products in diet or living. Individuals choose veganism for various reasons including pursuit of good health or personal ethics such as opposing the cruelty of animals.
Across the globe, there are several movements promoting veganism. Veganism has become much of a fad with many people choosing the lifestyle without having enough idea or information.
Transition to a vegan lifestyle may seem impossible as it calls for radical changes in eating habits and practices. Vegan lifestyle is not something that is taken up overnight. It is a slow, stage-wise transformation that is brought about in order to achieve sustenance.
Switching to a vegan diet is easier for vegetarians as it usually involves giving up only dairy and eggs. For non-vegetarians on the other hand, the idea of veganism could be quite daunting, however not impossible. Giving up one’s favourite food is always difficult. However when the effort is backed by strong conviction, the goal is achievable.
The birth of the term ‘Vegan’
The term Vegan came into usage when the secretary of the Leicester Vegan Society, Donald Watson, set up a quarterly newsletter called the Vegan News. The first edition of the newsletter appeared in the month of November in 1944 and garnered a lot of response and interest. Watson received over 100 letters including one from George Bernard Shaw who mentioned that he was willing to give up dairy and eggs. World Vegan Day is observed on November 1 every year to mark the creation of the newsletter.
Why do people become Vegans?
There are a number of reasons why people are choosing to go vegan. Here are some of them:
Wholesome: Vegan diet is wholesome and includes all the essential nutrients including fiber, plant protein, vitamins and minerals. Choosing to become a vegan can therefore be a healthier choice.
Health: Studies show that vegans on an average weigh about 20 pounds lesser than non vegetarians. Adopting a vegan diet is a healthy way to lose weight when compared to diet fads that make you feel worn out. A vegan diet cuts out the fat from the diet and keeps you energized. Vegans have lower risk of developing lifestyle conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Love for animals: Many people are overcome by their love for animals. Understanding the harm that is caused to animals in the production of meat, dairy and eggs moves animal lovers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
Save the world: Do you feel the batman/superman in you coming alive? Do you want to do your bit to save the world? Being vegan can actually help save the planet. The production of meat places a great burden on the environment. Meat production causes enormous pollution and is one of the primary causes of climate change.
Feed the needy: By going vegan, you could be feeding needy people. Wondering how? It is a simple equation. The production of meat requires tons of grains that can be directly fed to the people. A lot of produce is used to raise farm animals, which puts a strain on resources such as water and crops.
Top health reasons to go vegan
Reduce risk of heart disease: A vegan diet is low on saturated fats and cholesterol. It is rich in natural plant nutrients. Several studies have shown that vegans are at a lesser risk of dying of a heart disease compared to meat eaters. In fact, consumption of red meat can greatly increase the risk of heart disease among diabetics.
Losing weight: Vegans tend to be slimmer than meat eaters. As a vegan diet is low in fat and high in fiber that is derived from whole grains and vegetables, the rate of obesity among vegans is low.
Lowers risk of cancer: Meat does not contain fiber and other nutrients that protect the body from the effect of free radicals. Besides, cooking meat in high temperatures leads to the formation of carcinogenic compounds that cause cancer. The high fat content in meat products trigger increased hormone production, thereby leading to hormone-related cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.
A vegan diet on the other hand is enriched with high-fiber plant food such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. The colorful fruits also are a rich source of beta carotene that offers protection from the effect of free radicals and cancer causing compounds.
Keep diseases at bay: Some of the medical conditions are common among meat eaters. These include gout, varicose veins, piles, stroke, indigestion, blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, anaemia and appendicitis. A study shows that, vegetarians visit the hospital 22% less often than non vegetarians.
Slow down ageing: Vegan based diets are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fibers and antioxidants. These lend strength to the immune system thereby slowing down the process of ageing. Studies suggest that vegetarians outlive non vegetarians by 6 years.
Avoid contaminants: Meat is contaminated with fat-soluble substances such as hormones, pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics. They also have the risk of carrying bacteria, viruses and other parasites increasing the risk of food poisoning.
Guidelines to begin a vegan lifestyle
Vegan 101: The first step towards veganism is learning. Begin by reading up a lot about vegan lifestyle. Understand the benefits that a vegan lifestyle has on your health, the society and the world at large. This will help you arrive at your personal reason for following a vegan lifestyle.
Dedicate time to learn about the choice of vegan food that is available. Learn more about the ingredients that go into vegan diet to make up for the nutrition that you otherwise don’t get through meat. Visit your grocery store to find out if it stocks the ingredients necessary to cook your vegan meals.
Buy a cook book of vegan recipes and learn how healthy, plant-based dishes are cooked. Read anecdotes of people who have chosen a vegan lifestyle. These will provide valuable insights from which you can gather motivation and support.
Cultivate a positive attitude: Instead of mulling over the food items that you would be giving up, think of the new, delicious food that you would begin eating. With a little bit of creativity, you would be able to turn your favourite dishes vegan. Look forward to the new change in your gastronomic journey.
Addition before subtraction: Add to your diet before you subtract from it. Start consuming whole grains, nuts, tofu and beans. Start collecting vegan recipes. During weekends, cook up a vegan meal to your taste. Use soy or almond products in place of dairy.
Vegetarian before vegan: Slowly cut back on meat, fish and eggs from your diet until you eliminate them totally. Include more plant-based foods to your diet.
Stay motivated: From time to time, recall your conviction to go vegan. Remember, veganism is a life choice you make and is not the same as dieting where you can have cheat days to go back and relish the foods you gave up.
What do vegans eat?
The biggest concern of vegans and the people around them is: How to get all the nutrition from plant sources? Here is guideline on the important nutrients that one should not compromise on while being vegan and how to look out for them in a vegetarian diet:
Protein: The question that vegans or vegetarians often get asked is: But where do you get your proteins from? Meat and eggs are the richest sources of dietary protein and people who do not consume these are perceived as protein deprived! Protein is one of the key nutrients required by the body to maintain healthy skin, muscles, organs and bones.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are quite a number of plant sources of protein that are available, much to the delight of vegans. Soy products, lentils, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts are good sources of proteins.
Iron: This is yet another important nutrient that becomes a major component of blood. Plant sources of iron include dark-leafy vegetables, dried fruit, lentils, peas, enriched cereals, whole grains and beans. Iron from plant sources are not easily absorbed by the body. Therefore it is advised that the intake is doubled for vegans or vegetarians. Vitamin C is essential for the absorption of iron. It is important to consume foods rich in Vitamin C to aid absorption of iron – broccoli, tomatoes, citrus fruits and cabbage are good sources of Vitamin C.
Zinc: Plant sources of zinc include soy products, nuts, legumes, wheat germ and whole grains. Zinc is an important component of many enzymes and plays a key role in cell division and protein formation. Zinc supplements are advised to people suffering hair loss as Zinc is essential for the health of the hair.
Iodine: Iodine, that regulates metabolism and key organ functions, is an important component of thyroid hormones. Vegetarians may find it difficult to get iodine from plant sources. However, a pinch of iodized salt added to food would provide the required amount of iodine for the body.
Vitamin B-12: This vitamin is essential for the production of blood and thereby the prevention of anaemia. However, it is very difficult to get this vitamin through a vegan diet. Vegans must consider taking vitamin supplements, fortified soy products and enriches cereals.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for bone health. Milk is usually enriched with Vitamin D. Look for soy milk rich in Vitamin D. If your intake of fortified foods and exposure to sun is limited, it may be a good idea to take Vitamin D supplements that are derived from plant sources.
Calcium: Healthy bones and teeth require calcium to back them. Plant sources of calcium include dark green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale. These however need to be eaten in sufficient quantities. Some vegan favourite foods such as soy milk, soy yoghurt, cereals and juices are fortified with calcium.
Omega-3 fatty acids: This is very important for the health of the heart. Richly available in animal sources such as fish, vegans can get this from plant sources such as walnut, ground flaxseed, soy oil, canola oil.
Popular celebrities who are vegans
More and more celebrities are realizing the benefits of veganism and are quickly adopting this lifestyle, inspiring their fans world over. Some of the vegan celebrities amongst us include:
Russell Brand, Morrissey, Woody Harrelson, Usher, Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Mike Tyson, Carrie Underwood, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Ellen DeGeneres, Carl Lewis, Thom Yorke, Joaquin Phoenix and Alanis Morissette.
Is being vegan only about changing what we eat?
People who choose to go vegan for ethical reasons not only bring about a drastic change to their diet but also in their lifestyle. These vegans refrain from the usage of toiletries, cosmetics or even household cleaners that contain animal products. Many of these products use a lot of animal ingredients as they are cheaply available.
Once the animals are slaughtered for meat, the remains are packed off to the cosmetic industry. These remains are rendered and the fat is used in the manufacture of toiletries. Some of the commonly used ingredients include glycerine that is used as a lubricant, humectant in tooth pastes, soaps, shaving foam, hair care products and moisturizers.
Tallow is used in soap. Stearic acid is found in face creams, shaving foam and shampoos. Carmine that is derived from scale animals such as cochineal is used in food and cosmetic industry to produce the red and pink colours.
Ethical vegans also exclude clothing that are of silk, wool, fur, feathers, leather, cashmere, shearling and snake skin. Some of the other animals that are killed for their skin include sheep, goats, pigs, elephants, horses, seals, crocodiles, deer, zebras and kangaroos.
Vegans choose material such as hemp, jute, cotton, linen, polyester, synthetic leather, rubber and vinyl in material such as handbags, jackets, belts and shoes.