Veganism is a growing culture alive and well in the United States and throughout many countries of the world. Almost all restaurants in the U.S. offer at least a one to three options for vegan cuisine and there are even entirely vegan eateries popping up in larger cities. Love them or think they’re all a bunch of hippies, no matter what, vegans aren’t going away anytime soon. You may as well know who they are, what they eat, and what they’re all about.
What is Vegan?
It can be confusing for those unfamiliar with the lifestyle, and the terms used to describe the many types of vegetarians confound the matter even more: ovo, lacto, flexitarian, pescatarian, macrobiotic, raw, fruitarian, vegetarian, and then vegan. Some eat eggs, some drink milk, some only eat fruits, seeds, or nuts, and then some are vegetarian most of the time, but not always. It can get hard to follow along.
Vegan is one of the easiest types of vegetarian lifestyles to define. Vegans do not use animal products of any kind. That’s it—short, sweet, and to the point.
This means vegans don’t eat meat, fish, poultry, or eggs. They don’t drink milk or eat any dairy products, like cheese or yogurt. They also don’t eat processed foods that use animal byproducts to create the final results. Most vegans also refrain from using other non-food products that come from animals, like leather, fur, silk, and wool or any cosmetics and soaps that come from animal products.
What Can Vegans Eat?
To many people, this sounds like there’s little left for vegans to eat. They think meals and snacks have to be bland and boring. They imagine vegans sitting around bowls of bark, leaves, and berries, looking forlornly at their meager meal while wasting away before your eyes. That isn’t the case at all.
Vegans are left with all the wonderful variety created naturally by plants, the powerhouses of nutrition and energy from the sun that in turn drive all the diversity of the animal kingdom. Grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes can be combined in endless recipes. Herbs and spices add to the variety and flavor. Salads, burritos, jambalaya, soups, curries, fajitas, pastas, and even brownies are still on the menu along with countless more.
Smoothies are another vegan treat. Blended fruit, leafy greens, and protein in a sweet smooth mixture make for an easy meal that whips up in minutes and puts typical fast food to shame nutritionally speaking. There are also many vegan add-ins and supplements, like protein powder, hemp seeds, coconut oil, and dried superfoods, that can be tossed in the blender for extra protein, vitamins, and minerals.
There are also plenty of vegan products that enliven meals further. These can be made with a little preparation and effort or purchased when there isn’t a lot of time to make your own. Almond, soy, rice, or coconut milk goes great with whole grain cereals, in tea, or as the liquid part of a smoothie recipe. Meat replacements, like tempeh and seitan, add texture and protein to many meals. Always go for the GMO (genetically modified organism) free ones though. Lentil or black bean patties taste great on whole wheat hamburger buns. There are even vegan hotdogs, ice cream, cheese, and bacon for those that want them, especially those still making the transition to a healthier lifestyle.
Why Be Vegan?
There are many reasons people choose to follow a plant-based diet. Some of the common reasons are religion, to support animal rights, to be healthier, and to limit the environmental impact we make on our world. Many religions promote animal rights or encourage a vegetarian or vegan diet. Some vegans begin their lifestyle out of a desire to see animals treated humanely and left to live happy lives as long as possible. Others wish to lower their carbon footprint by cutting out animal products, which contribute to the burning of fossil fuels as livestock and feed are transported, produce large methane output, and create other environmental problems. Still more vegans choose to eat this way for some combination of the reasons above and the one below.
Health is probably the biggest reason people turn to a vegan lifestyle. Vegans are less likely to have cardiovascular problems as they consume little to no cholesterol, smaller amounts of saturated fats, and very little to no trans fats. Vegans also eat foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial enzymes from raw plant-based foods. A vegan diet lowers the risk of obesity, many types of cancer, diabetes, and degenerative diseases. As a bonus, vegans tend to fall in the optimum body mass index range, have clearer skin, and look healthier too.
So there are many reasons to include more plant-based foods in your diet. Do you have to go vegan to reap all the benefits? Maybe or maybe not; there are many arguments either way from many sources. The choice can only be yours. Start where you are comfortable and then slowly break out of your comfort zone bit by bit. The majority of people who decide to become vegan do so gradually, eliminating animal products a few days a week to begin with or by cutting out meat alone, but not dairy and eggs initially. They then work toward removing all animal products from their lives. It’s easier than most people know and a proven way to improve your health and fitness in a myriad of ways. Start today if you’re interested in changing your diet and your lifestyle for the better.