If you’re considering changing to a vegan diet, you might want to know exactly what you can and can’t eat. Following a vegan diet is easier if you already are a vegetarian, because you will have fewer animal-based foods to eliminate from your regular diet. Veganism is a strict form of vegetarianism, one that doesn’t allow eating any animal products, including milk, cheese, yogurt or other dairy products, eggs or honey from bees. Vegans also don’t use health products that contain animal-derived ingredients or wear clothing made from animal skin or fur.
What Can I Eat on Vegan Diet and How do I Start Being a Vegan?
Eliminating the major food groups that involve an animal source is the first step in eating a vegan diet. While it might not be an easy step to carry out, it’s fairly easy to define. All fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains are allowed on the vegan diet. All meats, including fish, pork, and poultry, are not allowed. All dairy products are also off the menu because they come from cows, goats or other milk-producing animals. Bees produce honey, so most vegans also will not eat it; chickens, turkeys and other poultry produce eggs, so vegans also can’t eat eggs.
Becoming a vegan means becoming a label reader. Many processed foods contain some form of animal product, whether it’s in the form of eggs, powdered milk or proteins. Learn to read the ingredients list found in every package of processed food. In addition to processed foods, some medications might also contain animal byproducts. Read drug labeling and ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
Meeting Your Protein Needs
Non-vegans often question how vegans get enough protein in their diet without eating meat, dairy or eggs. Most vegans have no trouble meeting their protein needs by eating adequate amounts of soybeans, legumes, and nuts, all of which contain protein. Even vegetables and grains contain some protein, although the protein differs slightly from animal protein. Vegans might need to consume a slightly higher amount of protein to compensate, an article in the October 2009 Harvard Women’s Health Watch explains.
Getting Iron and Calcium
Not getting adequate amounts of minerals, including iron and calcium, could be a problem while on a vegan diet.The iron in meat is generally better absorbed than the iron in plants. For this reason, vegans need to get more iron from their diet than non-vegans. Vegetarian men and postmenopausal women need 14 milligrams daily, while vegetarian women of childbearing age need 33 milligrams daily, registered dietitian Dr. Reed Mangels explains. Plants high in iron include spinach and other leafy green vegetables, blackstrap molasses, soybeans, dried beans, nuts and grains such as quinoa. Eating foods high in vitamin C at the same time as iron-rich foods enhances iron absorption, according to Dr. Mangels. Plants high in calcium, such as broccoli, Chinese cabbage, bok choy and kale and fortified foods such as orange juice and soy milk can help vegans meet their calcium needs. Spinach and Swiss chard, two foods with appreciable amounts of calcium, can work against meeting your calcium needs because they contain oxalates that prevent your body from absorbing calcium well.
Getting All Your Vitamins
Grains, nuts, vegetables and fruit supply most of the vitamins you need, except for vitamins such as B-12 and vitamin D. Vegans can take B-12, found mostly in meats, in supplement form. Fortified cereals, soy milk, and orange juice can provide adequate vitamin D. Sunlight exposure also allows your body to synthesize its own vitamin D, but probably not enough to last through the winter months. The American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend unprotected sunlight exposure to meet vitamin D needs. Instead, it recommends acquiring it through the diet or supplements if necessary.
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