For some people, the path to a vegan diet starts with a yearning for a kinder, more humane relationship
with animals. Some adopt veganism as part of a spiritual practice rooted in non-violence, compassion, and the
interconnectedness of all life. Still others may turn to a plant-based diet when their energy is low and body isn’t running smoothly.
Whatever route one takes, switching to a vegan diet can fortify the body and mind, and set you on a
more ethical, harmonious course with animals and the environment.
By giving up dairy or meat you are shunning foods that some studies have linked to higher rates of
heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer, says Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family
practice medicine clinic. And you are embracing a way of life that renounces cruelty and suffering in factory farms for animals
and slaughterhouse workers. Livestock production is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so eating little or no
meat may be as good for reducing climate change as your choice of vehicle and fuel.
But not all vegan diets are created equal. If you subsist on white bread, french fries, pizza, soda, and
candy you are a vegan but not likely a very healthy one. When you eat a diet rich in high quality plants you have a substantially lower risk of coronary heart
disease, according to Oxford Martin School researchers. But if you eat less healthy plant foods, you
actually have a higher risk of heart disease, the study found.
The key to reaping the benefits of a plant diet is eating a variety of quality, nourishing food and making
sure you get the minerals and vitamins that are mainly found in animal foods. One concern is Vitamin B12, which is found naturally only in animal foods and helps make DNA and
red blood cells. Some cereals and other foods are fortified with B12, but you may need a vitamin
supplement to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of it. If you don’t, you may become anemic
or suffer fatigue, shortness of breath, vision loss, muscle weakness, and other problems.
Calcium is also important. Look for soy milk, orange juice and other foods fortified with calcium, and
include collards, kale, broccoli, almonds, and black beans in your meals. Plant-based calcium can be
harder to absorb, and some people may need a supplement, including women who don’t get enough
Getting enough zinc and iron can be a challenge. Eat plenty of cereals, grains, and legumes to cover
iron needs, and consume nuts and spinach for zinc. An easy way to boost iron levels is to use cast iron
cookware to prepare your food, says Dr. Lamy. Small but significant amounts of iron will leach into
your food from iron pots. The increased iron concentrations usually can reverse or prevent deficiencies
without having to resort to an iron supplement that may result in unpleasant gastrointestinal side
When you start a vegan diet, you may want to go slowly to allow your body and taste buds to adjust.
Cut your dairy or meat servings by one or two each day. Replace them with tofu, beans, nuts, or other
options. Fill up your shopping cart with berries and other fruits; spinach, kale and other leafy veggies; and solid
colorful vegetables. Use dairy alternatives such as soy, almond or coconut milk, as well as foods with
little or no sugar or processing. Substitute white-flour breads and pastas with whole grains. Eat whole oats instead of cereal. Add seeds
and nuts to your salads and switch to olive oil. Drink coconut water, water, or tea instead of soda.
If you want to try veganism but worry your body may lack certain vitamins, schedule a visit with Dr.
Lamy to check for deficiencies and assess your nutrition. Also, a plant-based diet can be an issue if
you take blood thinners or other medications, so consider a visit to assess your needs.
And if you do change your diet, be prepared for a potentially pleasant surprise with your new choices: a shift in consciousness that may bring a more harmonious relationship with yourself and the world