Every week there seems to be a new diet everyone is trying. From South Beach to the Mediterranean, diets vary from type to type. One diet (although many would refer to it as a lifestyle) has been gaining increasing amount of interest— vegan. Physicians refer to it as focusing on plant-based foods, animal rights activists encourage it as a humane way of eating, environmentalists teach to the sustaining value on the world resources. But what does it all mean to YOU?
Vegan diets are exclusively plant-based, and do not include ANY animal products. This varies from vegetarian, as some vegetarians will still eat things like eggs (ovo-vegetarian), dairy products (lacto-vegetarian) and even fish (pescatarian). When someone refers to vegan lifestyles, they go further than just their eating habits and take care to watch for animal use or products in their everyday life. Abstaining from use of products with animal testing, leather, gelatins, and other types of animal byproducts, are ways vegan lifestyles are practiced.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are effective in preventing and treating several chronic diseases. In a study from the Washington Center for Clinical Research, and Department of Medicine, employees from a major insurance corporation were asked to follow a vegan diet or their usual diet for 22 weeks1. Participants in the vegan diet group reported increased satisfaction with their diet and improvements in physical functioning, mental health, vitality and work productivity compared with control group participants. One of the many reasons for this improved health may be that the vegan gut microbial profile appears to be unique in several characteristics, including a reduced abundance of pathobionts, potentially disease causing/encouraging microbes, and a greater abundance of protective species2. This shift leads to reduced levels of inflammation and may be the key feature linking the vegan gut microbiota with protective health effects.
Currently, dietary changes are not considered a primary treatment for mood disorders; however, some study findings suggest there are benefits experienced when eating a plant-based diet— reductions in anxiety and stress3.
Concerns do arise around whether or not someone is able to take in enough protein and nutrients when eating only plant-based foods. Diets may lack long-chain fatty acids found in eggs and fish, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B-12 and zinc. These deficiencies can lead to abnormal neurologic and physiological symptoms including; ataxia, fatigue and weakness5. Knowing these possibilities for deficiencies, it is wise to consult with your health care provider and also a nutritionist to shape a safe vegan diet plan.
Where to Start?
Just like anything else, choosing the right way to proceed is going to depend completely on you and your needs, as well as abilities. As someone who really had not known much about vegan diets or lifestyles, I gave myself the challenge to try it out and I will share my take on some of the options. So, whether you are ready to jump in 100 percent, or take it slowly by adding a meal here and there, let’s look at some options for how to start!
The Complete Set-Up
Utilize a meal service that will cook, prepare, and deliver all your meals directly to you. Healthy Chef Creations allows you to pick exactly which meals you wish to have, and the amount per day and per week. You can set preferences based on allergens or family favorites. A combination of meat and vegan meals can be ordered. Costs range from $2.00- $17.00 per meal depending on type of meal and size, they even make custom diets if you have particular goals or requests. Using a meal prep service takes the time and guesswork out of your diet plan, but can be expensive and may feel like you are locked into a week’s worth of food when you really want some spontaneity throughout the week. You can allow for those lunches out or dinner dates by simply ordering fewer meals, and depending on how much you order you may be able to get a discount. Healthy Chef Creations offers a 10 percent off coupon for your first order: OSP14.
My Take: These meals were seriously delicious! Even my very carnivorous husband took a few with him to work for the day. Some were a little wet and ended up leaking all over the box during shipping, but a little water and towel action cleaned everything right up. It was really nice to rely on what was already cooked and portioned in my fridge, took out any guesswork or chance of falling off track with a vegan diet. I was a little confused by the ordering timeline as far as when you order and which days they delivered, but I think like anything else it would get easier with time. Cost may be an issue for some, I think with the number of options available you could find a feasible menu to stay within budget. It was also nice that you could pick and choose between vegan and meat options, in case you weren’t quite ready to be 100 percent vegan, or if you were also ordering for someone else in the household. There is also a kids’ menu.
The Partial Set-Up
In today’s busy world, wouldn’t it be nice to just have your groceries show-up at your doorstep! Purple Carrot does just that. Each week they have a seasonally based vegan menu created around the availability of fresh produce for that time of year. After signing up for their service, you select whether you wish to get meals for two or for a family and then the boxes will come weekly; you may choose to pause the service at any time. When you open your box, you will find large bags with labels for which meal they include. Inside each large bag is the exact amount of spices, oils, veggies, and other items needed to create the meals. Every meal comes with an instruction/ recipe form, complete with pictures.
My Take: Very tasty and a fun way to cook at home without the stress of finding the recipes, and shopping for the exact items. Some of the recipes included items that normally I wouldn’t think to combine or cook with; it was a nice way to get out of my comfort zone. Not to mention that it would be difficult to only buy a select amount of any given component, which usually ends with wasting it or having to keep finding recipes to use it up. You don’t have to be a skilled chef, but some recipes could be a little on the elaborate side. Time became a limiting factor for me with preparation and cooking plan on 30-40 minutes. This isn’t too big of a commitment, given that zero effort was spent in finding recipes and getting ingredients. However, the weeks when we were unable to cook all three meals it did become slightly taxing to make two at once so they did not go to waste. Once we found some friends to share with, it was easier to share and not worry about eating all the meals ourselves. They loved it— adults and little kiddos.
A team of women designed www.lighter.world, a FREE site dedicated to helping and empowering you to live vegan. While signing up for the site, you are asked some questions to help shape what suggestions are made for you— questions about your personal goals; eat healthy, sustainability, simplify meal planning, or just to discover new recipe ideas. How big is your appetite, and are you cooking for others? Are there food allergies or any other dietary considerations to be aware of? How much time will you have for each meal, and what do you have available for cooking/preparing meals (stove, microwave, blender, etc.)? Once selections have been made, you are shown a week’s worth of meals with pictures, as well as a labeling system for level of difficulty and time. If you prefer to eat something else, you can opt to skip a meal or select a new alternative. Say you should want to have your plan inspired by an athlete, health guru, super parents or a working professional, you simply go to their profiles and follow them for meal ideas. To keep shopping simple, a simple click on the groceries tab will lead to a shopping list created for you.
My Take: These gals really practice what they preach. During my first interaction with Alexis Fox and Kayli Dice R.D., Alexis was walking on a treadmill and Kayli was exceptionally versed in health benefits of vegan eating. They reinforce making research-based decisions when it comes to dietary changes, and provided several great links for support of the novice vegan in their search to make this their lifestyle. Their site feels like a community— a space to connect with others who may share the same lifestyle as you, or maybe it is just the lifestyle you wish to have some day. If you are worried about getting enough support or encouragement, this is a fantastic site to utilize.
Here are some helpful links they suggest:
Eat MORE Weigh LESS: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/eating-more-to-weigh-less/
Health Comparison of Five Diets: http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(14)00423-7/abstract
Plant Protein Myth: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-protein-preferable/
Once you decide how you wish to proceed with your vegan eating, either part-time or forever, surround yourself with it. We all know we follow the social media accounts of those who inspire us and give tips. One account is @TheVeganVirgin on Instagram. Erin Nicole, a vegan and health blogger at www.veganvirgin.ca, helps “inexperienced” vegans and those who are plant-based curious. She is well-versed in working with all health care providers, including naturopathic providers. You can even email her directly at VeganVirginErin@gmail.com.
1. Katcher, Heather I., Hope R. Ferdowsian, Valerie J. Hoover, Joshua L. Cohen, and Neal D. Barnard. 2010. “A Worksite Vegan Nutrition Program Is Well-Accepted and Improves Health-Related Quality of Life and Work Productivity.” Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism 56, no. 4: 245.
2. Glick-Bauer, Marian, and Yeh Ming-Chin. 2014. “The Health Advantage of a Vegan Diet: Exploring the Gut Microbiota Connection.” Nutrients 6, no. 11: 4822.
3. Beezhold, Bonnie, Cynthia Radnitz, Amy Rinne, and Julie DiMatteo. 2015. “Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores.” Nutritional Neuroscience 18, no. 7: 289-296.
4. McCarty, Mark F. 2016. “The moderate essential amino acid restriction entailed by low-protein vegan diets may promote vascular health by stimulating FGF21 secretion”. Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation. Published 2016 Feb 12.
5. Craig, Winston J. 2009. “Health Effects of Vegan Diets”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89, no. 5: 16275-16335.