Anyone who has ever decided to follow a diet that is different than the norm can attest that making this decision to eat “differently” frequently bring a mass of (often unwanted) questions from everyone and anyone that stem from common misconceptions. One of the most common questions surrounding the decision to follow a vegetarian diet is, “But how will you get enough protein?” This is often further questioned when someone decides to take it a step further and become a vegan or follow a vegan diet.
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A vegan diet does not allow for any type of animal product to be consumed, so not only does that mean no meat or fish, but it also means no dairy products, gelatin, or even products like honey. Another common question is, “How will you get enough nutrients?”
While these questions sometimes stem from a place of concern, they mainly come from a place of curiosity, misconception and myth. In North America, we’re told that in order to be lean and fit, we have to consume a lot of protein from meat and dairy products. A quick look at many diet plans out there for both slimming down or bulking up make it easy to see why people think that either of these goals are not achievable when following a vegan diet. However, it is a myth that eating a vegan diet means that you are not able to be strong, lean and fit.
This misconception and popularly held belief that you need to eat animal products to get enough protein and remain healthy is simply not true. In fact, most people who follow a traditional North American diet that includes animal products actually consume more than enough protein, and maybe even too much.
Following a vegan diet, when done properly, can actually mean getting more nutrients and variety than those who eat animal products. When done the right way, eating a vegan diet means consuming a plethora of whole foods and eating almost entirely plant-based. We know by now that eating foods closest to their natural state and are best for you, and this is often the case with a vegan diet. Most vegans eat many different vegetables, fermented foods, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and healthy fats, foods that are generally more nutrient dense.
Some well-known vegan athletes include the tennis powerhouse sister duo of Serena and Venus Williams and Scott Jurek, famed ultra-marathoner and author of Eat & Run.”
When it comes to eating enough protein on a vegan diet, the possibilities are endless. Contrary to popular opinion, being a vegan is more than eating a ton of soy products. While eating soy products such as edamame, tofu and tempeh are great sources of protein, ample protein can be found in other legumes and foods such as nuts, vegetables, seeds and grains. The trick is to eat a variety of different protein sources.
Meat contains a complete amino acid composition, crucial for building muscle. Plant-based protein sources have an incomplete profile, but by eating a variety of protein sources, vegans can ensure that they are consuming all of the essential amino acids needed. Plus, plant protein is perfectly packaged along with an abundance of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Filling up on protein from plant sources like beans can also have the added benefit of helping contribute to weight loss, due to the higher fibre content, which will help you feel satiated for much longer, and less likely to over-eat. Fibre also helps in the maintenance of a healthy digestive system.
Yes, it is certainly true that some people who make the switch can actually see negative consequences such as weight gain and lethargy. But this only happens when switching to a vegan diet is not done the right way. Swapping meat and dairy for endless carbs, while technically vegan, is not the right way to eat vegan. Remember that a processed food is still a processed food, regardless of its lack of animal product. The same thing goes for desserts. While a vegan dessert may sound healthier, this usually isn’t the case, as they’re still laden with sugar, carbs and fat. This is why making the switch takes a lot of research and knowledge, and shouldn’t be done blindly. Know what you are getting into so that you are able to plan meals accordingly and make sure that your protein consumption is complete and not missing any amino acids. Looking into supplements doesn’t hurt either; Iron and b12 are often recommended for those who are eliminating animal products from their diet.
When it comes to being fit, just take a quick look at some well-known vegan athletes and you will quickly realize that fitness and veganism truly can go hand-in-hand. Some well-known vegan athletes include the tennis powerhouse sister duo of Serena and Venus Williams and Scott Jurek, famed ultra-marathoner and author of Eat & Run.
Finding the time to plan carefully and prep meals in advance can be a struggle for some, but will help you stay on track so you aren’t struggling to find something you can eat when you are out and about or faced with a busy week. Looking at restaurant menus ahead of time and giving them a call can also assist in finding options that you can eat. The good news is that now that more people are interested in eating a vegan diet, the food industry is catching on. A trip to your local grocery store will tell just that story- plenty of vegan options are starting to show up everywhere, making it easier and more accessible.
Regardless of whether or not you are choosing to follow a vegan diet, we could all benefit with eating a little less meat, and so could our planet. Talk to a vegan friend, look up meal inspo online and don’t be afraid of falling out of shape. Certain things are harder to give up than others (hello cheese!) but eating a vegan diet can often mean consuming fewer calories, weight loss (again, when done properly), less bloating and more energy- all of which will feel so great you won’t have time to miss cheese. With the right research and planning, you can be vegan and still be your fit, strong and badass self.