Becoming vegan has become a popular lifestyle trend. People choose it to stay healthy, protect animal rights, and minimize environmental damage. However, many people are still confused as to what veganism entails and some hold pre-conceived notions as to what vegans do.
Veganism is a movement that officially started in 1944. Donald Watson came up with the term and co-founded a society to encourage vegetarians to stop eating eggs. Later on, the term "vegan" expanded its meaning to oppose all exploitation of animals. Over the years, the movement kept growing in popularity. In 2008, there were roughly one million self-claimed vegans in America.
Vegan: do not eat meat, seafood, eggs, or dairy; do not use animal-derived products.
Dietary veganism: also called strict vegetarians. They eat only plant-based foods.
Ethical veganism: to these followers, veganism is more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
Environmental veganism: they become vegans to consume less natural resource and leave minimal environmental footprints. Animal factory farming is seen as exploitation and cruelty to animals. Animal agriculture in general is linked to pollution, land erosion, energy consumption, and even climate changes.
Vegetarian: do not eat meat
Lacto-ovo vegetarians: do not eat meat, but consume milk and eggs
Pescetarians: do not eat meat, but can eat fish
Veganism is more than eating natural foods, it’s a lifestyle choice. Besides the obvious meat, seafood, milk and eggs, vegans also exclude other less obvious products. These include gelatin, whey, lanolin, casein, and others. Many of these ingredients may not be obvious in a product, but a careful examination of the list of ingredients will reveal more information. In addition, Ethical vegans do not use products tested on animals. When adopting the lifestyle, people tend to donate all animal-derived belongings to charity.
All plant-based foods are considered vegan. Common protein substitutes include tofu, tempeh (fermented soy), and wheat gluten. Cow’s milk is replaced by almond, rice, or soy milk. When baking, ingredients such as apple sauce, mashed potatoes, or soft tofu can be used instead of eggs. Vegan cheeses are often made from soy, nuts, and tapioca.
Health Concerns of Veganism
According to the American Dietetic Association, a well-balanced vegan diet can be healthy enough for all stages of life, from children to pregnant women to elderly. It’s even enough to sustain a few of the top endurance athletes through Ironman triathlons and ultramarathons. Studies have shown that people consuming plant-based foods have lower cholesterol, which is expected as cholesterol is present in animal products. In addition, they also enjoy lower mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular diseases. Such diet tends to be high in fiber, certain vitamins and minerals while low in fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and zinc. Vegans must take measures to replenish those nutrients commonly present in meats and dairy products.
Adopting the vegan lifestyle takes knowledge, motivation and dedication. It takes a bit of research to get acquainted with all animal-derived products in our lives. Whether you decide on the change for health, animals, or environmental reasons, be sure to make small changes over a period of time. To avoid nutritional deficiency, make sure your diet is varied and well-balanced. Keep in mind that a vegan lifestyle can be extremely rewarding and healthful if planned properly.