"Going vegan," or cutting out all animal products (including meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs) from the diet, has become an increasingly popular choice over the past several decades for both health and ethical reasons. If done right, a vegan diet can be nutritious, delicious and healthy – it can significantly lower cholesterol, reduce diabetes and obesity risk, and even reduce the risk of death from a heart attack by about 25%.
But people going vegan need to avoid common pitfalls that can lead to unhealthy food choices and nutrient deficiencies. Make sure you go vegan the safe way with these important dos and don'ts.
Get a boost of vitamin B12
Animal products are usually our main dietary source of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that our bodies need to keep our nerve and blood cells healthy. Vegans are at increased risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause anemia and neurological problems including uneven gait, numbness or tingling in the extremities, mood problems, dementia and decreased concentration. To maintain healthy vitamin B12 levels, vegans should take a 25 microgram vitamin-B12 supplement once a day. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Start off slowly
Going vegan suddenly can be a big adjustment for your body. Try starting your transition by being a part-time vegan – eat vegan until 6 PM and then finish your day off with moderate servings of fish, eggs and dairy. Continue this pattern for about a month before you cut out all animal products.
Rely on packaged vegan foods.
Many pre-packaged vegan foods are loaded with artificial ingredients and sodium, and many are high in calories. If you check out the packaging, you may be surprised to find that many veggie burgers have more calories than a beef patty and might also have extra chemicals to make up for taste and color. Limit packaged vegan foods to no more than once a week.
Forget about the protein.
Animal-based foods tend to be high in protein, so you should be sure to replace them with high-protein vegan alternatives. Beans, soymilk, quinoa, tofu, peanut butter and oatmeal are all good sources of protein. Check out these surprising sources of protein for some more ideas (but note that not all of them are vegan-friendly).
Just eat raw food.
Some vegans gravitate toward eating raw foods. In many cases, cooked vegetables, beans and grains may be easier for our bodies to digest and can provide us with more nutrients. Don't limit yourself to only raw or only cooked foods – mix it up for a healthy balance.