Monday, February 17, 2014

Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?

Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?
Before giving up animal products, I imagined vegans to be lean, fit, and healthy people. I had visions of charging up the side of a mountain with endless energy and never, ever, having to count calories or watch what I ate. During my first month without meat, my vision was becoming a reality. I felt great, lost weight and ate as much as I wanted. Veganism was the panacea ... the ultimate diet for weight control and health.

And then, a strange thing began to happen. The weight I had lost began creeping back on. The energy I was enjoying ebbed a bit and that mountain that I wanted to climb looked a little too daunting.

Here's an important vegan truth:

A vegan diet does not, necessarily, equal a healthy diet.

Even more shocking:

Vegans can be overweight.

Like any diet, not all vegan foods are nutritionally dense. In fact, some can be filled with empty calories. Consider these snack foods:

Surprisingly, each of those snacks are vegan. However, we can all agree that they aren't packed full of healthy ingredients.

Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?
Some vegan foods are filled with calories
The same is true of many plant-based recipes.

The use of oils, starchy ingredients and rich sauces adds calories.

Processed meat substitutes and non-dairy products are typically high in fat and sodium, and low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Sweet cakes, candies and cookies are an indulgence whether they are vegan or not.

At this point you might be saying, "I don't need to watch my weight so what's the problem?" Unfortunately, empty calories cannot give us sustained energy. Our bodies burn them quickly and, within a short amount of time, we're left feeling lethargic.

We can't climb a mountain on corn chips, orange slices or vanilla wafers (all vegan).

Here are some tips for keeping a plant-based diet healthy:

5 Ways to Keep a Vegan Diet Healthy

    5 Ways to Keep a Vegan Diet Healthy
  1. Eat plenty of raw vegetables. Raw vegetables contain vitamins and minerals. They are typically low in calories and, because of their fiber content, offer us sustained energy. They also give us a sense of feeling full.
  2. Avoid processed foods. These items are typically full of empty calories (fat and sugar). While the list of ingredients might include wholesome ingredients, the fact is that the health benefits are lost during the processing phase.
  3. Cook at home. Restaurants tend to use a lot of high-fat, high-sodium, and sweet ingredients. When we cook at home, we can control what goes into a dish.
  4. Apply portion control. A plant-based diet is not a license to overindulge. Since all foods have calories, it's wise to pay attention to serving sizes and cook accordingly.
  5. 5 Ways to Keep a Vegan Diet Healthy
  6. Eat good fats in moderation. Things like nuts and nut butters, avocados, and coconut oil are all considered healthy choices. They are "good" fats which are essential to normal body function. However, they tend to be higher in calories than other foods. According to WebMD, a healthy diet should include 20%-35% of calories from fats.

Choosing plant-based foods is a healthy choice, for us and for the environment. Like any choice, it can become unhealthy if we don't pay attention to nutrition.

How do you incorporate healthy plant-based foods into your diet?

Sneak Peek: Join us on Wednesday for an exciting Change The World Wednesday challenge.

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