Vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular, and according to the report, Top Trends In Prepared Foods 2017, an estimated six percent of Americans identify as practicing veganism. While it’s not one of the leading diets in the U.S., we’re likely to continue to see it grow. Don’t know anything about vegan diets or just want more information? We will discuss the basics of what it means to practice veganism and some of the benefits, as well as a few tips to getting started.

Basics of Veganism

Most of us have heard of veganism, but are left wondering more about the lifestyle. Despite its recent popularity, the term “veganism” was created by Donald Watson, in 1944, and people were vegans long before he put a name to the lifestyle. The primary concept of veganism is to minimize any harm to animals and use natural, plant-based products as much as possible. If you practice veganism, it simply means that you eat a diet that is free of all animal products and avoid wearing clothing or using products that include or are made of animal products. Many vegans choose the lifestyle for ethical, personal, or even religious reasons while others choose to eat an animal-free diet for the health benefits. A true vegan diet avoids all foods containing animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, and gelatin. Someone who follows the true diet doesn’t wear wool, silk, suede, fur, or leather. Some people assume that vegetarianism and veganism are the same; vegetarians avoid eating meat but may use honey, eggs, or dairy. Vegans also avoid using products that contain lanolin, beeswax, or are tested on animals. Someone who wears a wool sweater or burns a beeswax candle, but eats a vegan diet, is likely to be disregarded as a “true” vegan.

Understanding A Vegan Diet

When you consider all the restrictions, you may wonder “what is a vegan diet?” Even though committing to eating a plant-based diet may seem overwhelming for some, veganism is much easier today than decades ago. For many, the challenge of veganism isn’t so much about avoiding animal products but rather finding a healthy balance or having variety. If you want to learn how to become vegan, it’s crucial to learn how to find and create a nutritional balance. A well-balanced vegan diet should include about six servings of grains, five servings of legumes, nuts, and other protein, four servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit, and two servings of a healthy fat.

Just like other diets, vegans don’t all eat the same thing. For example, one person may enjoy lentils (a great source of protein) another may avoid any recipe with lentils. Another thing to consider is that even though vegans typically eat healthier, there are a lot of “junk” foods that are vegan-friendly so keep that in mind as you learn more about veganism. An example of a vegan-friendly breakfast is one cup of coconut yogurt, a half of cup of blueberries, a half of cup of sliced strawberries, and two tablespoons of granola that doesn’t contain honey or dairy. As you look more closely at what’s in a vegan diet, you may realize that you already eat some of the foods. Although the animal-free diet often gets a bad rap for being too difficult to follow or being boring, vegans eat a diverse diet that includes bread, nuts, potatoes, and avocado (just to name a few things). For people who are afraid that they might miss their favorite meat products or foods like ice cream, there are animal and dairy-free alternatives that are full of flavor and are difficult to distinguish from the “real” version.

Adapting To Veganism

Becoming a vegan can take a little getting used to and while some adapt to the lifestyle quickly and with ease, others “slip up” a few times before going completely animal-free. The first question that many ask is, “where can I find vegan food?” One of the convenient things about veganism, and due to the increase in its popularity, is that most of the foods you eat are at your local grocery store.

Shop Around

If your the grocery store that you frequent doesn’t have many of the ingredients that you’re looking for or have high prices, consider shopping around. Many of big box stores, with food sections, are starting to carry a variety of animal-free foods and reasonable prices. A food co-op or even a farmer’s market may have a great assortment of fresh produce at a reasonable price. The more you shop around and do price, quality, and quantity comparisons, you’ll be able to find the best food (and best deals).

Check Out Recipes

As a newcomer to veganism, it’s often easier to buy pre-packaged meals from the freezer section. While these food items are convenient, they are typically more expensive than if you created the dish from scratch. Start out by checking out a few recipes that you’d like to try that require basic ingredients. Once you get comfortable cooking without dairy or meat, start looking for more recipes. While many vegans are ready to jump right in and become completely immersed in veganism, others get overwhelmed; find what works for you. Can’t find any recipes that are of interest? Check out a few cookbooks at the bookstore or get in touch with other vegans by checking out groups on social media or even in your city.

Join A Group

Some of our best teachers can be our peers. Veganism can be much easier to understand if you have friends or peers help you along the way. If your family or friends aren’t interested in veganism, you may need to branch out and find some people in your community who identify as vegans.

Learn To Read Labels

As you start to explore a diet free from animal products it’s important to pay close attention to all food labels. Just because something is “dairy-free” doesn’t automatically mean that it’s suitable for vegans. Even if a bulk soup mix, from your local health store, looks vegan it may contain a milk powder. Learning more about the ingredients to avoid, like whey, casein, and lactose can make label reading an easier task. If you’re unsure of a product, feel free to contact the company directly; if they are unable to answer your question clearly, it’s best to avoid.

Plan Ahead

Meal planning might be a lot of work in the beginning, but as you get the hang of it (and make a habit of it), you’ll probably end up saving time in the long run. Planning out your meals is helpful, especially when you first start exploring veganism. If you’re able, try and dedicate a “prep” day, one day a week, to meal plan or even pre-make some meals that can go in the freezer. During this time, you can also plan your shopping list. Shopping lists can help you stay focused and in control while buying animal-free products. It can be easy (and tempting) to fill up your cart with foods in the freezer section or kits, but as we mentioned earlier, those are usually expensive and aren’t always the healthiest option.

Don’t Be Afraid To Try New Foods

Many vegans get bored with their diet because they eat the same thing all the time. The best solution to this problem is to try new foods. Some people think they hate mushrooms or tofu, but chances are, they just haven’t had them in the right dish. Veganism is the perfect opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and experiment with flavor combinations.

Benefits of Veganism

Vegans decide to eat an animal-free diet for a variety of reasons, but it’s important to note that a well-balanced vegan diet may benefit your health in numerous ways. Various studies and research suggest that eating an animal-free diet is a great and easy way to consume essential vitamins and minerals and it may also help you rely less on supplements and other medications. Vegans who have a well-balanced diet typically have lower risks of cancer. In cases of individuals with diabetes or heart disease, vegans had about a 40 percent less chance of either health problem. Veganism may also help reduce chronic inflammation, help to maintain a healthy weight, and improve one’s mood or overall health. As with all diets and lifestyle changes, you should talk with your doctor before exploring veganism. Depending on your health, your doctor may recommend talking with a nutritionist to ensure that you are able to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet. Adapting to veganism may not happen effortlessly or overnight. If you take your time to educate yourself, you will find that it’s much easier than you initially thought, to enjoy lifestyle that doesn’t rely on consuming or using animal products.

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