Whilst it is necessary that I identify myself as a vegan for practical purposes, I actually don’t like labeling myself in that way. And whilst I am in fact a vegan by definition- I don’t eat, wear or otherwise use any products that come from an animal- I would prefer to refer to my diet as one that is plant-based.
One of the reasons for this is because there are so many negative connotations that go with being a vegan. In mainstream society, people often think of vegans as pains in the ass, especially when it comes to wining, dining and catering.
Vegans are often considered to be tree-hugging hippies or extremists. It also seems that some people think of being a vegan as “being on a diet”. I’ve been asked many times if I am on a diet to lose weight because it is unclear why I would want to eliminate meat from my world. Other times people seem to think that all I eat are salads and tofu.
Different types of vegans
The thing is, just like there are many different types of people on the world, there is also a huge range to the ways that people who are vegan express their beliefs. It isn’t possible to place vegans on any kind of continuum, though I guess the two extremes could be on one end the unhealthy junk food vegans and on the other would be the health nut purists.
Where do I fit along the scale? Well, I eat a whole-foods vegan diet, 70% of it is raw, the other is nutritious, cooked vegan food. I avoid gluten, I avoid eating too much soy, and I avoid anything that is processed. I eat a lot of lentils and beans, nuts and seeds, and heaps of fruit and veg. I like experimenting with superfoods. I enjoy healthy fats like avocado. I love quinoa and red and brown rice and steer clear of the white carbs. I prefer home cooked meals to eating out and I’m not so much into baking. I do love dark chocolate. I guess you could say I eat a predominantly clean raw vegan diet.
I consider my plant-based diet to be well-balanced and I know from tracking and calculating using a food tracker that on most days I get enough essential macro and micro nutrients from the food I eat.
Unhealthy vegan diets
However, I have met many vegans who are really unhealthy. Their diet is not balanced or nutritious. If you think about it, there are vegan options at KFC and McDonalds- fries are vegan. Coca Cola is vegan. Oreos are vegan. Corn chips are vegan. So are Pringles. There are vegans out there who will live off this kind of junk. They usually end up getting all sorts of health problems and they revert back to being a vegetarian or a meat-eater because they are not supporting their body healthily and don’t feel good.
There are also vegans who rely heavily on soy protein, what I refer to as fakey-meats, for their protein sustenance. While I might indulge in these every now and then, for the novelty more than anything, I don’t rely on fakey meats for my protein because these “foods” are highly processed.
For those vegans who make processed soy protein isolates a part of their daily diet, they are basically eating a lot of junk every day that is not nutritious and which can have all sorts of negative side effects long terms including nutrient deficiency.
The fact is that soy is not a health food, soy beans are usually GMO, processed soy food usually has heaps of other additives and the processing involved in making soy beans look like “chicken” makes me feel that it is actually risky to follow a processed and junk food diet.
Being a healthy vegan
So, yes, being a vegan can be unhealthy when it isn’t done properly. When people make the choice to go vegan they should read about what is entailed in being a healthy vegan first. Then they will know how to replace animal products with healthy plant-based options. There are lots of swaps that don’t rely on processed foods and which are really nutritionally dense.
Being a vegan can be healthy if the diet is whole-foods based , with soy eaten in moderation and only that which is natural and/or fermented, such as miso, tempe, edamamee. It is a diet that doesn’t rely on junk food and fast food every day. As explained by Colin Campbell research in The China Study (I highly recommend reading this book of you haven’t already!), there are many benefits that come from being a vegan including reduced risk of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes and having stroke. A well planned, plant based diet can also extend life expectancy.
Don’t be a junk food vegan
However, simply eliminating animal products from the diet can be just as unhealthy as being an unhealthy carnivore. To enjoy the long-term health benefits of veganism, meat, dairy and eggs need to be replaced with fresh fruit and veg, lentils and beans and other nutritionally dense foods with a variety of these eaten every day. A healthy vegan diet would also mean ensuring enough B12 is consumed from fortified sources or taking a supplement, as well as getting enough Vitamin D from sunshine- things that even meat-eaters should be cautious of.
It is all about how you approach the plant-based diet that decides how your body takes to being a vegan. The long-term health benefits definitely make the transition worthwhile taking, and knowing what to eat gets easier with practice over time.
- What are your thoughts on veganism? If you are a vegan, would you consider your diet to be healthy? If you aren’t a vegan, is your diet one that is healthy? Please share in the comments below!