As soon as I hear, “you’re vegan?” as if I were from another planet, I know I’ve got some explaining to do. I suppose what they really want to know is why anyone would want to give up burgers, cheesy pizza, bacon and eggs, ice cream… They may even be wondering what’s left to eat — imagining that I just chew on carrot sticks all day. Though I like carrot sticks, there’s plenty more on my diet, and there’s more to being vegan than some might think.
What’s a Vegan?
For those of you who don’t know, vegans are people who exclude from their diets meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and other products derived from animals. Some vegans even rule out non-food animal products, such as leather, wool, fur, and products tested on animals.
Many Vegans become so for health reasons, or for ethical reasons, or environmental reasons, and some for other reasons.
Most vegans eventually see improvements in health, no matter what initially motivated them to become vegan. That is, if they’re eating a well rounded vegan diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, berries, and if necessary taking a daily multi-vitamin or supplements. Eating only peanut butter day in and day out would make you vegan, but it’s not the healthiest way to go about it.
Reverend George Malkmus, co-author of The Hallelujah Diet: Experience the Optimal Health You Were Meant to Have, embraced a plant based diet after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1976. A year later he was completely healed. Since then (over 35 years ago), he has advocated that people regain their health from supplements and the consumption of healing nutrients found in plant foods, consisting of 85 percent raw organic foods and 15 percent cooked foods. Reverend Malkmus also suggests adopting a lifestyle that nurtures the mind and spirit.
Treatment of Animals
Many vegans are animal activists, to one degree or another. These vegans perhaps became aware of the poor living conditions and abuses that animals are subjected to on many commercial farms, and love animals so much that they really wouldn’t enjoy eating a slaughtered or hunted animal.
When strength Athlete Joni Purmonen was asked by Vegan Health and Fitness magazine correspondent Pete Ryan what made him become a vegan in the first place, Joni responded, “It was animal reasons. I got disgusted by the way animas are treated in the food industry and when I realized that I didn’t actually have to do it, then it was quite an easy decision in that sense. It was tricky to start with, but a couple of month down the line it just became second nature, haven’t really looked back since.” Which, by the way, was over 20 years ago. And for those wondering if becoming vegan means loosing strength, take a look at Joni competing in Finland’s Strongest Man (105kg category) in 2012.
Some times meat eating environmentalists become vegan after considering how what we eat is produced and how it effects the environment. They learn that animal agriculture uses much of our water and creates pollution, that commercial farming methods are ruining our land’s topsoil, and that tropical rain forests are being destroyed for cattle grazing which displaces people and animals and causes an imbalanced ecosystem worldwide.
John Robbins is a vegan for several reasons. Son of Irv Robbins (co-founder of Baskin-Robins ice cream parlors), John declined the offer to join the family business in order to instead advocate a plant-based diet. In his book, Diet for a New America, John examines the food we buy and eat in the United States, how if affects our health and the environment, and the inhumane conditions in which many farm animals are raised.
Vegans don’t usually become vegan overnight, but start by making gradual modifications to their diet. The first to go might be meat, poultry, and fish, and later milk, cheese and other dairy products, or vice versa. Some vegans then take the next step of donating their old fur coats, leather jackets, suede shoes, wool sweaters, mohair hats, silk scarves and such, or will gradually replace their clothes as it is economically feasible. Some vegans choose household cleaners that don’t contain chemicals, since chemicals are a threat to the environment and our health. And some choose different beauty and personal care products than before, and avoid anything that has been tested on animals.
Why I’m Vegan
I’ve always loved animals and I care about the environment. But honestly, I became a vegan for health reasons. Years ago I was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), which means I have high cholesterol due to a lack low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors that remove cholesterol from the blood, which can lead to an early development of hardening of the arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke. FH is not the type of “high cholesterol” that goes away with a change in diet alone, but some say that a low cholesterol diet helps, and since the vegan diet is very low in cholesterol I figured I’d give it a try. Also, because my daughter became vegan first I found it easier to make one vegan meal for dinner each night than to accommodate three different diets — and now you know why my husband is vegan except when he eats out.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s not soluble in water so to circulate through the blood. Our liver manufactures 80 to 90 percent of it, and the rest we get from food. A blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile can check cholesterol levels, and measures total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides. The HDL is good to have, and as I mentioned earlier having too much LDL is bad. The triglycerides are fatty acids derived from fats eaten in foods or made by the body. Like cholesterol, increased levels of triglycerides plays a roll in the occurrence of coronary artery disease, and so the ratio between the HDL and LDL needs to be taken into account as well as triglyceride levels.
To treat high levels of cholesterol, most doctors suggest supplements or prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicines and a low-cholesterol diet. Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, in their documentary Forks Over Knives, promote a plant-based diet, because they believe that it can control or reverse most diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Dr. Archibald D. Hart, in his book Adrenaline and Stress, believes that smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and lack of exercise can also contribute to poor health, as well as stress. and so shares methods for relieving stress, such as meditation, moderate exercise, and plenty of sleep – to name a few.
My doctor suggested that add fish oil to my plant-based diet for the omega-3s, which is good for heart health. I asked, “why not get my Omega-3s from from ground flaxseed, walnuts, leafy dark greens, and Chai seed?” At the time I didn’t know about vegan DHA Omega-3 supplements made from algae. He answered, “fish oil might be better” so I agreed to try it for a time. Now technically, adding fish oil strips me of my vegan title, but I’m curious to see if it helps*.
Besides my doctor, there are others who think the vegan diet could use a little help. In The 10 Things You Need to Eat, Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor promote a nearly vegan diet, with ‘Super Fish’ being the only non-plant based food listed among the ten they suggest. Still, there are those mentioned earlier in this article, along with many more, who feel that a well balanced vegan diet is all that’s needed for optimal health. The decision is up to you with the help of your doctor or nutritionist.
Since many of the foods that vegans exclude are fortified with vitamins and minerals, they need to replace what is lost by eating plant-based foods that have the same nutrients.
You can ask your doctor or nutritionist what supplements you can be taking, and what dosages are right for you. You may want to specifically ask about the vitamins and minerals listed below, because some of these are hard to come by on a vegan diet and others might be missing if you fail to eat a large variety of plant-based foods. And if you do decide to supplement your diet, read the labels to be sure that they are vegan and gluten-free.
Vitamins and Minerals
• Omega – 3
• Vitamin D
Not Always Easy
The vegan diet isn’t exactly easy. At first, and for a while, I craved some of the foods that I used to have, but then I got used to the diet, and now I actually prefer it. Shopping was also difficult at first, but that too got easier. And yet there are still times when keeping on the vegan diet isn’t easy. I might eat something that isn’t on my diet due to a hidden ingredient, or when there are no vegan options in a social setting. But I try, which takes some effort. For example, when I’m invited to someone’s home for a meal I ask if I can bring something, and if they don’t mind I bring a large vegan dish to share, and if anything offered looks to be on my diet I have some of that too. Before going to a restaurant that I’ve not yet been to I might call ahead to ask if they offer any dishes for vegans, or just go and ask the waiter what he recommends for vegans, or carefully look over the menu for something (anything) on my diet. I usually find something. Even at a Bavarian restaurant I was able to find one thing. It was their all-you-can-eat sauerkraut, which satisfied after having thirds. The next time I go out with friends it will be my turn to decide on the restaurant. I might suggest Thai food, Indian, or Chinese.
*Since my cholesterol didn’t improved while taking fish oil for more than a year, my doctor said that I could try a vegan alternative for omega-3s. After six months my blood test showed no improvement. After another year it was the same. The conclusion for now is that one doesn’t work any better for me than the other in lowering my LDL. However, this doesn’t mean that omega-3s aren’t good for the heart. The Mayo Clinic reports that omega-3s are thought to reduce inflammation (a contributing factor to coronary artery disease), though further research is needed to be sure. I should add, what is right for one person may not be right for another, so check with your healthcare provider before making changes to your diet or choosing supplements. And if you think veganism might not be right for you, check out a more recent article of mine, titled Real Wild Turkey.