Any Diet Can Be Dangerous
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I needed to eat meat to get my iron or protein in, I would currently be sipping a margarita on a beach in some exotic location I’m too poor to even name. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration (except for the “I’m poor” bit— seriously, what’s a good exotic beach to dream about?), but you get my point. As a vegan, I field questions and comments like this all the time.
I heard less concern from friends and family about my diet when I was eating an extra large pizza and cheesesticks and washing it down with a bottle of cheap wine every night. By that, I mean I heard no concern at all — except the occasional fat joke from my grandma, which doesn’t count as actual concern. I was without argument at my lowest health during this time. It’s what prompted me to go vegetarian and started me on my path to a vegan lifestyle.
The truth is, I don’t need meat to get in my required iron and protein. My vegan (or plant-based) lifestyle allows me all the iron and protein I need. Yet, I constantly hear about people who were vegan or plant-based being “malnourished” or falling ill due to their diets. People always lay the blame on the vegan diet, but there is a larger problem to blame.
Going vegan or plant-based wasn’t easy, especially after twenty-some years of poor eating habits. My relationship with food has always been rocky, even now, as I slowly learn what is best for me. I was lucky to have a partner in my journey, one who is good at something I wasn’t: research.
When you change up your entire lifestyle, or even simply your diet, there is a significant amount of research to be done. You are changing the fuel you put into your body. It’s important to learn everything you can about that new fuel and what will be best for your body. If you don’t know which foods can give you the proper amount of daily nutrients, of course that’s going to be dangerous.
You also want to make sure you’re not getting too much of something. Just because a food is plant-based or vegan, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. There are plenty of vegan foods that are high in fat. There are plenty of vegan foods that are full of preservatives. This goes without saying, but beware of allergens. Make sure you know what you’re putting into your body.
Lucky for vegans in today’s society, the internet is a useful tool. There is a plethora of information out there about vegan and plant-based food. If you take the time to learn about it, your journey will be a much healthier one.
Vegan Does NOT Equal Healthy
I’m sure you’ve heard this joke before, and I’ll admit to using it a few times — albeit ironically.
If it’s vegan, it’s basically salad.
I get asked all the time if the only thing vegans can eat is salad. HA! If that were true, there would be a significantly smaller amount of vegans in the world. The world is changing, and vegan options are popping up everywhere. If I so chose, I could do all of my grocery shopping at my local Target. That doesn’t necessarily mean I should.
I’ll give an example. Field Roast makes gourmet vegan meats and cheeses. They are delicious. But if I ate these every day, for every meal (and trust me, I’ve been tempted), that would not be healthy. I know that I need some fresh greens and fruits as well.
Like any diet, veganism needs balance. Too much of one thing or not enough of another is obviously going to be bad for you. There are certainly malnourished omnivores, so why are we as a society putting so much emphasis on cases of malnourished vegans? Malnourishment is malnourishment, whether you eat meat or not.
Eat What You Enjoy — In Moderation
Look, if you don’t like salad, I’m not telling you to eat a salad with your vegan hot dogs. Don’t eat anything you don’t enjoy eating. Find ways to incorporate your “meh” foods into things you do like. I don’t like to snack on fruit slices and raw greens and veggies, so I add them to things I enjoy, like smoothies or homemade pizza. Make foods you want to eat. Just make sure it’s a healthy fit for you.
I still have weeks where I have pizza every night. I’m an emotional eater; it happens. Sure, vegan pizza is slightly healthier than a dairy and meat covered one, but every night? Not so much. I’m happy to say that those less healthy weeks are happening less frequently now, and I am in much better health, though there are still some speed bumps here and there.
In short, unhealthy people living a vegan lifestyle are no different than the unhealthy people who aren’t. The same problems (emotional eating, junk food, not eating enough, etc…) are present in both diets. The only difference is that veganism is held up to higher scrutiny. Don’t let the fear-mongers scare you away; you can be a healthy, happy vegan.
Health is about progress, not perfection. Everyone’s health journey is different. It’s important to be mindful of the foods you eat, whether you’re vegan or not.The benefits of a vegan diet are numerous, but there are also pitfalls when you’re not paying attention. Don’t be a vegan that inadvertently fuels the anti-vegan fire. I’ve found that I like my food much more when I’m feeling good about what I’m eating. Be smart about (and above all, enjoy) your food.