Going vegan has many health benefits. A well-balanced vegan diet is extremely low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and is rich in nutrients. From migraine relief, to increased immunity, to the alleviation of acid reflux and IBS, the perks attributed to going vegan are various and sundry.
Those who adopt vegan diets are helping the environment, too. Meat and dairy production are far more resource-intensive than the production of fruits and vegetables. And in fact, livestock production is responsible for more greenhouse gases than transportation is.
As beneficial as adopting a vegan diet can be, there are certain things about doing so that can be tricky, at least at first. With that in mind, here are some tips to follow, if you’re just now transitioning into veganism, or are considering doing so.
What Is Vegan, Exactly?
There is a wide variety of dietary regimes considered “vegetarian,” depending on who you’re asking. For example, some folks eat fish, but no other meat, and consider themselves “pesco-vegetarian.” Many would argue that fish is meat, but we’re not here to judge.
Veganism is more clearly defined than vegetarianism, but it too has some variation. Dietary vegans may avoid eating animal products, but may still wear leather belts, or use other products that contain animal ingredients.
Ethical vegans avoid purchasing any goods that contain animal products, seeking to avoid supporting the commoditization of animals entirely. Those who avoid animal products for purely environmental reasons are known as environmental vegans. In addition, some vegans choose to avoid eating honey, or wearing silk clothing, but these are a matter of personal choice.
What If You Crave a Burger?
Avoiding animal products can be really difficult, especially at first. If you were raised on an American-style, “meat and potatoes” diet, your taste-buds have been calibrated to those flavors. Fortunately, there are many vegan substitutes available.
Vegan cheeses, kielbasas, burgers, chicken nuggets, and breakfast sausages are all widely available. Some are better than others, though, and the way they are prepared will have a big effect on how they will taste. Try some of them out, and you’ll be sure to find some that please your palate and your conscience.
Know Your Animal Products
You might be surprised at how many animal products are hidden in unexpected places. Many “dairy-free” cheeses contain casein, which is actually a milk protein. Gelatin is made from animal collagen, and is commonly found in candies, health supplements, and even breakfast cereals.
Research animal ingredients on the web. Read the ingredients on food labels. It can be a frustrating experience at the outset, but once you get it down, it becomes easy. You’ll find new vegan substitutes for many of the old products you used to use, and once you know they’re vegan, you can simply keep buying them.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
If you inadvertently eat an animal product, don’t worry too much about it. After all, you’re doing your best, and we all make mistakes. Accidentally eating some gelatin won’t get you kicked out of the “vegan club.”
We’ve all encountered judgmental vegans who seem to consider themselves to be the food police. While their intentions might be pure enough, they are unlikely to win many converts. Don’t fret if you’re not “vegan enough” for these folks, because you still wear your old leather shoes, or occasionally eat honey.
After all, what one chooses to consume is a very personal decision, and such restrictions should undertaken as a means of improving one’s health, conscience, and relationship to the world around them, and not as a means of conforming to somebody else’s dogma.
Be an Epicurean
Don’t be a “junk food vegan.” Get inventive with your cooking. You can try to recreate your old favorites with vegan ingredients, or cook recipes found in books, or online. There is a wealth of delicious vegan recipes out there, both exotic and familiar. Expand your horizons, and have fun with it!
[Photo Credit: wisegeek]