Well-planned plant-based diets can support healthy living and meet all our nutritional requirements. There is no reason why most people can not only survive, but thrive, on a vegan diet.
Having said that, veganism is not a diet. It is an ethical framework for living our lives. Everyone who becomes vegan does so as much as is “possible and practical” in their own lives, and it’s not for me or anyone else to evaluate or judge what is possible or practical for anyone else. Every single human can be vegan regardless of personal circumstances or the fact that they may not be able to eat a 100% plant-based diet or completely avoid the use of animal products (medication being a typical example, though not the only one).
Additionally, it doesn’t necessarily follow that vegans are inherently healthy or that health has to be a motivating factor in becoming vegan. It certainly isn’t my motivation; not a week goes by where I don’t eat ice cream, cookies, chocolate or potato chips (sometimes all together), and I definitely lean towards comfort food like burritos and pasta on an average weeknight.
The older I get, however, the more conscious I am of my health and eating a nutrient-rich diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I’m by no means an expert in nutrition, but becoming vegan has prompted me to do a lot of reading and research, and I’m 100% convinced that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet is not only better for the animals and the planet, it’s also better for our personal health and wellbeing too.
The China Study
Based on one of the largest comprehensive studies of human nutrition ever conducted, with an enormous amount of data collected over a span of twenty years, The China Study explores the relationship between nutrition and diseases like diabetes and cancer, among others.
The data concludes that animal proteins promote the growth of cancer, heart disease can be reversed with a plant-based diet, and there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
In short: “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest.”
Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen.
When I was first transitioning to being vegan, I found the Daily Dozen phone app to be extremely helpful, and I still use it as a guide when meal planning.
However, I personally don’t follow the checklist 100% religiously. I would if I could, but to be perfectly honest, nuts and fresh berries can be expensive depending on where you shop, the type of nut or berry, and the time of year. Frozen fruit is less expensive and just as nutritious if not more, so I try to drink a berry smoothie a couple of times a week (smoothies are a great way to sneak your greens in if you’re not a big spinach fan).
I see this checklist more as a reference point than a rule book, and I freely admit that I nerd out on NutritionFacts.Org more so than practice what I learn there! If I hit half of the daily dozen I consider it a good day, and I focus more on eating a wide variety of the most affordable fruits and vegetables rather than worrying if I’ve eaten enough acai berries this week!
Where Do I Get My Protein, Calcium, Magnesium and Stuff?
There are virtually no nutrients found in food derived from animal’s bodies that cannot be better provided by plants. For new vegans, it’s not always clear which foods contain which vitamins, minerals and macros, but there is an abundance of online resources for making an informed transition to veganism. Here’s a few to get you started:
- The 24 Most Popular Vegan Protein Sources
- 11 Vegan Foods With More Calcium Than a Cup of Milk
- How to Get Omega 3 on a Vegan Diet
- Iodine & Thyroid Health for Vegans
Apparently, the rise in veganism correlates with the rise of social media. Instagram and You Tube are great for quick visuals and entertaining information. In this interview with Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org, one of my favorite YouTuber’s, Bite Size Vegan, looks at the difference between heme and non-heme iron, which is better for our bodies, and what food sources contain ideal dietary iron.
If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be following not one but two bodybuilders on Instagram, I would have jabbed you once in the chest with a puny finger then promptly collapsed from exhaustion. I don’t give a flying fook about getting jacked, but I have to admit these at-a-glance nutritional visuals are really handy, and these guys share a lot of easy recipes and daily meal plans that help you put this information into practice.
What these bodybuilders also show is that plants are powerful, and it’s a myth that meat is necessary for protein, strength, and optimal physical health. James Cameron’s Game Changers features some of the world’s most well-known action stars, elite athletes, and special ops soldiers, whose plant-based diets defy and explode traditional conceptions of strength and physical vitality.
What About B12?
B12 is an essential vitamin and, like most vegans, I take a B12 supplement as well as using fortified nutritional yeast in many of my favorite recipes.
- How to Make Vegan ‘Parmesan Cheese’
- Easy Vegan Alfredo (GF)
- Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheeze
- Vegan Stuffed Jumbo Shells with Spinach
Often non-vegans will cite B12 as proof that humans ‘need’ to eat animals, and I used to think this myself. However, I was surprised to learn that the vitamin is neither made from plants or animals but is actually produced by bacteria that live in the soil and intestines of animals (including humans).
Because they live in cages or are crammed into concrete structures, most farmed animals have little to no outdoor access and are actually supplemented with B12 too. In fact, as this article explains in more detail:
“Most of the world’s synthetic B12 is consumed by farmed animals. Even organic and pastured animals receive supplemental B12 or cobalt. This means that in industrialized societies, most meat, eggs and dairy are not any more “natural” as sources of B12 than the fortified foods or supplements vegans consume. In both cases, the B12 derives from a synthetic supplement.”
- The China Study
- The Supplements I Recommend to All My Plant-Based Patients
- Veganuary: Nutrition in a Nutshell
- Vegan Nutrition
*Queen of Qualifications
*I am not a doctor or nutritionist and am in no position to offer medical or expert nutritional advice. Additionally, I am against any ideology that idealizes certain body types and associates wellbeing with being young, thin, white, clear-skinned, and/or able-bodied, etc.