People adopt a vegan diet for a variety of reasons: health, taste preference, religion, ethics. But whatever the reason is, it is important to eat a well-rounded diet. It is entirely possible to eat vegan junk food all day (yes, Oreos are vegan) in place of nutritious vegan food, plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. A vegan diet can be an easy, healthy, filling, nutritious way to eat, if you do it right.
If you’re new to veganism or looking to test it out, here are common pitfalls to avoid.
The vegetable hating vegan
I’ve actually met vegans who don’t eat vegetables and can survive on white bread peanut butter sandwiches and protein bars alone! Of course you can eat a bread-, pasta-, fries- and processed bar-based diet every day, but that’s not exactly healthy. Try incorporating new veggies into old standard meals, to get used to them. If you’ve never tried turnips, mash them into your next batch of mashed potatoes. If kale intimidates you, sauté it with spinach. And if roasting beets is too intimidating, start with the canned variety first and use them in different dishes. Our taste buds change over the years so veggies you once turned your nose up at may be your new dinner staple. Try preparing them in different ways to find our new favorites.
The low-pro vegan
When you go from eating animal products to not, you reduce your total protein intake. But its important not to forget to add back an alternative protein source. Eating protein builds, repairs and maintains your muscles; it also keeps you feeling satisfied. Everyone’s protein needs vary — depending on our age, size and activity level. Beans, legumes, tofu and nuts are all great protein alternatives. I like to boost my spaghetti and sauce with white beans instead of meatballs, fill my veggie wrap with a lentil spread, or for something like stir fry, I’ll swap the chicken for tofu.
The Processed-Food Vegan
So you’ve swapped your ballpark frank for a soy corn dog and chicken nuggets for soy nuggets. Sure you’ve moved away from meat, but these meat-replacement products are still heavily processed. The ingredient list tends to be pretty long and contain chemicals, additives and lots of words you can’t pronounce. Some of these meat substitutes actually contain animal ingredients such as egg whites, cheese and dry milk. Experiment with whole-food protein sources, such as tofu and beans, instead. Use seasonings and marinades to jazz up baked tofu slices. Make your own veggie burgers with mashed chickpeas or grated veggies. Save those processed foods for when you’re in a pinch, and enjoy them as you would any other processed foods: in moderation.
Following a vegan diet takes some extra planning to make sure you keep it healthy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.