Eating vegan can help you, mental-health-wise, and also environmentally. It’s the most ethical step one can take. But is it, in general, good for our health? What can you do to improve your wellbeing, while doing everything for the animals? This post is about such details, using a manageable strategy.
If you’ve ever read anything about veganism, you must have seen the responses, debunks, and all the (sometimes) crazy arguments that come up with regard to it. Why is that? Simple. Eating vegan is not necessarily about health. Nor is it mainly about the environment. Today the main, leading reason why people turn towards veganism is the knowledge of the living hell we humans created in our meat, dairy, leather, honey, and any other, related, animal-based industry. I could link a couple of great sources for this, but this post is not intended to be a rant.
Instead, I want to explain what vegans do eat, and what people should focus on, if they would also like to better their ethics or longevity. It’s not rocket science, however, it’s good to understand what is out there, and educate ourselves to make better choices, if we choose so.
This post by no means intends to be judgemental if you decide to ignore the health factor, or any other part of it. You should find your own journey and stick to it, provided it doesn’t harm anyone or anything else around you.
With all that being said, here are the basics on us, vegans.
What do vegans avoid
We should start at the beginning. While some of them may be self-explanatory, vegans avoid the following, main categories of foods out there:
- Every type of meat product and derivatives, including fish and other living, breathing sea creatures with a nervous system (molluscs are commonly used as part of a bigger argument . A post leaning more towards no is found here, for more info)
- Dairy and any derivatives (FYI a lot of bacterial cultures that sound like they are made of milk, in fact, aren’t. Lacto-bifidus bacteria are indeed healthy for your gut flora and only named after milk, because it was found in it! More information here). Dairy, as a category includes:
- Cheeses of all kinds (be wary, if you’re a vegetarian, you might need to avoid cheeses like Parmesan as well, since the coagulation process, necessary to make milk, usually requires an enzyme called chymosin, which comes from something called rennet. Rennet is procured from the stomachs of calves)
- Yoghurt, and similar milk products
- Butter, Ghee, and similar fatty products
- Eggs, and related derivatives
- Anything else that is made from a part of an animal, such as food coloring (carmine), filtering (isinglass), and the like.
What do health-conscious vegans avoid
The list above is the baseline for anyone eating vegan. Obviously, veganism is not just a diet though. It’s a mindset and a conscious effort to choose alternatives to products that were made with sentient beings who were put through worse than anything we could normally imagine. I believe that we vegans can come from all aspects of life, and find this way of life for different purposes. Environment? Health? Carbon Footprint, or sustainability? Ethical existence? You name it. Essentially, and over time however these meanings intertwine with each other. Our world is built like that. So, if you feel a bit overwhelmed that you’re “not vegan enough” yet, please rest assured. Nobody is perfect, and we all can be better and better each day.
Today you can find at least a dozen medical experts with decades of research and material on what we, humans should be eating vegan (or, whole food, plant-based, as they define it), for the best outcome in our life. Anyone who looks at the health aspect of a vegan lifestyle, they would tell you to mind the following foods:
- Avoid (or, at least limit) vegetable oil intake
- Consume no processed carbs, if you can, like:
- Instant noodles
- Crisps / chips
- Sugar in all of its forms (that is not in its natural form, like in a banana, or an apple, or starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes)
- Avoid most processed foods, or at least, try to limit your intake to the minimum
This short list above is, as you can see, not hard to understand. Anything that comes out of a pre-packaged box from the store is potentially risky. This is a wide generalization, of course and there are many exceptions (like tofu, or nooch, or most of the frozen fruits and vegetables). If you understand this concept however, you’ll see that this only means that After “turning to the green side”, you’ll still have loads to reevaluate, if you also want to improve your health.
Benefits of becoming a healthy vegan
Why would you even try to do this, however? Unless you really love the green color (which, ever since I’ve tasted dino kale, I could whole-heartedly understand), this might be a rough step at first. So, before listening to my strategy I’d recommend following, here are a couple of benefits (which may vary for every individual), that many vegans experience who eat more and more healthily:
- Much less bloating
- Almost non-existent food comas
- Regular bowel movement (TMI: even compared to normal vegan standards, this can increase, due to the higher amounts of fiber and water intake)
- A possible change in body odor (many say vegans don’t “stink” the same way)
- Possible reduction of acne
- Improved mental clarity
- Improved joint and muscle health
- Lower muscle regeneration time
- Much lower chance of food poisoning
- Longer shelf / fridge life of foods at home
- 0mg cholesterol intake (vegan food literally has 0mg cholesterol)
These benefits depend on the individual, and of course, on how balanced of a diet they eat. Some of these benefits appear within 1-2 months of starting the transition, some will take more time. However, the less processed you eat, the better the benefits can be.
Strategy: how to become a healthy vegan?
IMPORTANT: Please make sure you never do anything without medical supervision. My motto is the same, and it’s mandatory. Have regular blood tests, follow professional dietary advice, and make sure to do proper research on any topic.
With all that, I’ve found a simple-enough strategy to tackle this change in any situation. It not only helps you understand you, and your life a bit more, but also allows you to build a better life for yourself, at the way and pace you want it to be.
Everything I recommend is simply that; a recommendation. Nothing is mandatory. If you follow my plan though, you’ll have the time of your life, while exploring yourself in ways you could never dream of before.
Here’s a short strategy as well to be able to tackle everything that could negatively influence your body:
1. Analyse your current eating patterns
What do you eat exactly? Do you even know? If not, no worries, let’s find out! I recommend a tool like cronometer.com (which I also frequently use). Not only will you know exactly what you put in your mouth, but also, how close (or beyond) your daily limit you are. It will also show your macro-, and micronutrient challenges (basically: building blocks, vitamins, fats, and minerals you might be lacking). Also it will give you a clear list of foods, for your week, that you consume. Eating vegan is a big step already, but knowing what you eat, as a vegan individual, is knowledge not everyone has. This can already show you if you have any room for improvement.
This is only the first step though. Do this for a couple of weeks, see how you get by. When you have a little bit more information about your routine, review your logs and make an extended list of foodstuffs that might be iffy:
- Anything that’s processed (meaning: if it’s not a whole, plant form, like breads, tortilla wraps, any condiments, etc.)
- Anything that has added sugar in it (if it doesn’t fit in the previous category
- Any item that could not be found “in nature”, in its current form (example: you can find cornmeal in whole, dried, corn pieces out there. You won’t find a tortilla tree anywhere).
2. Think through how important each and every foodstuff on the list is for you
Important note: This is not the inquisition! You should be mindful of what you have at home, be sure by yourself, of what you want to keep, and what you would possibly be able to swap for a healthier version, or skip entirely. I’d never leave my sriracha mayo, curry ketchup, or rapeseed mayo out of my list. It’s not that I chug down a bowlful of them every week. But I’m aware that they are not healthy, and I aim to reduce my consumption, when I can. The point is to be aware and to make an effort. Also, understand that this is a journey that is supposed to be fun. There are no tests. Nor can the vegan police judge you. This is your life, your kitchen, your rules.
Now that we’ve covered this, check your list. Do you really need all that stuff? If yes, fair enough. If no? Well, here’s where the real fun begins. Look at some (not all!) items. Maybe even less, just one. Google it, find if you have alternatives! Next time you go shopping, check out what different variations you can try, that might be better for you.
Example: white, sliced bread. I know, I love it too. Can you buy wholemeal slices instead? Or, would you try something even darker? Something with seeds? Tesco has a huge variety of vegan loaves that are pretty tasty and are a healthier option. An artisan bread maybe, from your local baker? Or, go to your local Polonez, and try a Latvian loaf, already pre-sliced, full of beautiful seeds (omega 3s and 6s)! How about dropping it entirely, and trying to substitute bread with gem lettuce slices? Again, eating vegan has its amazing benefits, even outside of the box.
The options are endless. And, of course, the resolution, or “upgrade”, is entirely up to you! There are no bad decisions. By you thinking about it though, you’re opening yourself up for a better, more conscious shopping experience. You can only benefit from this.
3. Try new things you never knew existed!
This is the best thing I hadn’t really grasped entirely until I committed to the dark-v (entirely vegan, not just vegetarian) world. I thought I knew my plants, until I visited an Indian, then a Middle-Eastern, and then a Polish grocer.
If you’re an explorer, like me, you’ll have a blast with all the variations on food. You don’t know what you’re currently holding? Check the food’s label! Google it, find out if you can get some recipes for it! This also correlates with the mindset I’m sharing in point 5, about how I think any change should be handled.
If you’re unsure about a main nutrient, like protein, make sure to check my other blog post about it here.
4. Look into WFPB! Try to get closer to the mindset!
No, it’s not Wafer-Free Peanut Butter. WFPB, also known as the “Forks Over Knives” diet, is a Whole Food, Plant Based approach. They are basically the jedis eating vegan amongst us. And then some. Originally introduced by medical experts, the movie, that bears the same title, gave a bigger audience to this healthy approach. This is essentially where health-based vegans come from. More information on them here.
What I mean by getting closer, is to familiarise yourself about the topic a bit more, or if you’re more of a visual type, watch the movie! Maybe even read the China Study, that could implicate some really interesting conclusions. This can help you have a strong baseline for the change. The material says the same everywhere though: the more whole foods you eat, the healthier you’ll get. That’s what this blogpost is about as well, in essence.
5. Don’t worry about anybody else’s expectation! Build your own path, and make sure you’re having a fun time!
When I started eating vegan… heck, not even that. When I began my v-journey as a semi-vegetarian in early 2017 (I ate sushi every 10-15 days), I first learned a type of philosophy that I read about on nomeatathlete.com’s website. The blogpost has changed since, but in essence, it introduced me to a journey-oriented, rather than a willpower-based system. Here’s a breakdown:
- If you keep trying to better something based only on your sheer willpower, and / or mental strength, you have a very high chance of relapse, and pressure on yourself for potential failure.
- It’s an impossible and twisted way to force lifestyle changes like that. We’re human, and we are programmed to receive a high amount of negative impacts in our lives. We touch something hot, and it burns us; we try to first stand up on our feet, and fall back on our bum, because we don’t yet know how to balance things out. This is how we process what else we need to be better at, to succeed, and to survive. We humans grow every time by learning from our mistakes.
- If you find something in the process that could give you endless fun instead, however; like exploring something new every time you do shopping, or learning about the ecological, economical, or gastronomical impact of vegans on the world, or simply finding a new restaurant every week to find vegan alternatives at, you decide. By making you ignore the “potentially negative” elements of what you could be doing, and by focusing on what excites you, in your core, about the change, you could forge new paths for yourself with much less energy, and much more excitement. You basically can feel like Bilbo Baggins, when he’s running away from the Shire, with his long, waving contract in hand, shouting: “I’m going on an adventure!”.
This is exactly what we are doing. Eating vegan foods anywhere is an adventure! Not only are you becoming more responsible in every way possible, you also commit to a more conscious experience in your choices. And, besides (maybe) sounding a bit scary, but it’s the most responsible thing you can currently do. I don’t know about you, but that always excited, and amazed me.
So, my advice is to take your time, ignore anyone else’s advice, since this is your path, your journey. Do it at your own pace, in your own time! And also, make sure to have loads of fun!
You’ll have many challenges, some amazing things to learn, both about yourself and your environment (and who knows, even your kitchen). But most of all, you’ll definitely have a carnival of flavors to enjoy. Maybe you already know this, but even Dublin is packed with the best vegan options out there. Check out my previous blog posts on them here, and here.
Before I say my goodbyes, I wanted to share some studies that cover the benefits of eating vegan, in the healthy way (also known as a whole food, plant-based diet):
Mortality in vegetarians and comparable nonvegetarians in the United Kingdom
Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet
Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts
The Health Advantage of a Vegan Diet: Exploring the Gut Microbiota Connection
Comparative metabolomics in vegans and omnivores reveal constraints on diet-dependent gut microbiota metabolite production
High compliance with dietary recommendations in a cohort of meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Oxford study
A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-wk clinical trial
I hope that this post was informative to some of you. If you liked it, please share it amongst your friends, or let me know if you have anything to add in the comments below.
Wanna stock up on good foods during troubling times, and you’re not sure where to start? Click here!
Do you want to know more about vegan protein? Click here!
Here are some of my guides on what you can eat for lunch, or a night out as a vegan in Dublin:
Click here for Part 1!
Click here for Part 2!
Would you like to know how you can become a SMART vegan? Click here!
1 thought on “Benefits of eating vegan, and how to do it healthily”
Packed with an insane amount of digestible (no pun intended) information that has made an overwhelming topic tangible. Big kudos to your research and writing style, Ivan. You’re a soul as pure as the vegan food you consume, my friend!