There are many reasons why people choose a plant-based eating
style. Here is a list of possible rationales:
- Taste/don’t like animal foods
- Emotional/Sympathy for animals
- Most of their friends are vegan
- Health and healing (scientific or energetic)
Vegan means no animal products of any kind. Vegetarian means a
consumer may want to include eggs and milk products, which are of
animal origin but do not entail the killing of a living animal.
Others won’t eat eggs because they could develop into animals.
It is possible to be a healthy vegan, but one needs to pay
attention. Here is the problem: humans are designed to just eat what
they catch or grow and not give it too much thought. But in our
society, with its hyper-abundance of edible stuff that is quite “new
to nature” as Jeffrey Bland would say, it is not advisable to eat
without giving it some thought. There are way too many food choices
that are, in fact, “vegan,” but not necessarily health supportive.
We need to be constantly attentive to what we put in our mouths, and
constantly check into our dietary model to see how we’re doing. It’s
work, and it’s annoying. Through the years, I found that being fully
conscious and alert all the time is exhausting, but unfortunately,
once you know what you know, you can’t pretend you don’t know and
just pig out. You may pig out, but if it’s with poor quality food
you may end up feeling dumb.
While food choices may be the result of a spiritual approach, we
cannot ignore the nutritional needs of the body. Therefore, in a
100% plant-based diet, we need to look at the following issues:
a) We need a good source of protein every day, in every meal
b) We need some good quality fat, every day, in every meal
c) We need good carbohydrates, but in a plant-based diet, that is
Let’s look at each of these.
A) The best plant-based protein sources are beans. There is some
protein in all plants, including whole grains like brown rice and
barley, but these are not sufficient. So, if you want to be a vegan,
you have to eat beans every day – including lentils, split peas,
chickpeas, red beans, navy beans, black beans, and tempeh. One of my
students once replied, after I mentioned this, “but I don’t like
beans!” The answer to that is – “then don’t be a vegan if you want
to be healthy!” I know people will disagree with me, but believe me,
I have not seen it work successfully. Additional vegan sources of
protein are nuts and seeds.
I do not recommend tofu as a source of protein, as it is not a
whole food and is missing the fiber; besides, soy needs to be
fermented in order to be better assimilated, as in miso and tempeh.
The main thing that happens when people don’t eat enough protein
is that they crave sweets. And the worst diet for health is a vegan
diet with plenty of sugar and dessert – too heavy on the
carbohydrates, light on the protein, and this can end up causing a
mild form of protein malnutrition.
B) We need enough fat in the diet to be satisfied. We also need
it to nourish skin, hair, hormones, and for the absorption of the
fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. The fat-free approach has not
worked out well over the past 15 years, especially in vegan diets. A
low-fat vegan diet is maybe briefly useful to counterbalance a diet
of chips and fried chicken, but in the long run, fat is essential in
a plant-based diet. So, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil – include
some good quality fats to make sure your diet is satisfying! Because
with a diet too low in fat, you get – you guessed it – cravings for
C) Make sure you eat enough quantity/calories to be satisfied and
well nourished. Soups and stews, grain and bean dishes, stir fries
and salads, a variety of colors and flavors, cooked food and raw –
remember that vegetarian animals eat all day long, while meat-eating
animals eat once and go to sleep. Three hearty meals a day with a
good balance of nutrients, and you’ll be a happy vegan.
D) Eat lots of leafy greens, roots, stalks such as celery,
cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and
Brussels sprouts. Aim for organic and non-GMO produce.
E) Careful with “products.” The best vegan diet is cooked from
scratch by a person. It is not about convenience food, it is not
about eating fake meat and fake dairy. Seitan burgers are not a good
substitute for the real thing. You either eat meat or you eat beans
– fake meat means you’re living a lie. Same with the imitation
“milks” – usually poor quality white liquids trying to be what
they’re not. The only “milk” I would consider as a dairy replacement
is coconut milk; most other ones are junk imitations. Avoid such
commercial foods as margarine and egg replacer. Careful with
tofurkey, fakin’ bacon, soy cheese, and textured vegetable protein –
whatever is in those foods, it isn’t food.
So to eat a health-supportive vegan diet, you need real, natural,
organic food – and the effort of cooking it. It can be done. In
fact, many ethnic cuisines can be made vegan. Just note such common
dishes as Japanese miso soup and vegetarian sushi – Indian dal with
rice and vegetables (hold the ghee) – Chinese vegetable stir-fry
over brown rice with sesame seeds – Italian pasta e fagioli with
broccoli rabe in olive oil with garlic – and so on and so forth.
The bounty of the plant foods that the earth provides for us can be
highly nourishing and satisfying. It needs to be approached with
respect and gratitude.