Dear Barb: I’m in my mid-twenties and am considering becoming a vegan. Almost everyone in my family has suffered from heart disease, including both of my parents. I’ve done some research and it seems eating a meatless diet is helpful in reducing cardiovascular disease. Also, as an animal lover, I have never really felt comfortable eating meat. I was wondering if you could suggest some food alternatives that would help me to get the vitamins and nutrients that I need to stay healthy while eating a vegan diet.
Melissa – Nova Scotia
Hi Melissa. Deciding to become a vegan is undertaking more than just a change in diet. It encompasses a philosophy and lifestyle that includes eliminating the use and consumption of all animal products. This means not only eliminating meat, but also not using any material that originates from animal-based products.
As you indicate, you are an animal lover and thus are likely opposed to the cruelty animals endure on factory farms, where their entire existence is for the fulfillment of human needs and desires. The ethics surrounding this issue stir up strong emotions in many individuals and groups. Therefore, at times, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable position, and perhaps feeling a need to explain your choice not to eat animal-based products.
There are many nutritional benefits to choosing a vegan diet, including no cholesterol and reduced saturated fat. As well, a vegan diet will provide higher levels of fiber, potassium, foliate, vitamins C and E, and carbohydrates. However, nutritional authorities recommend supplementing the vegan diet with vitamins and minerals.
There are many meat alternatives available in grocery stores, as well as health food and specialty stores. Tofu is a staple in the vegan diet. It is high in calcium and is composed mainly of protein. Tofu can be added to most dishes, including casseroles and stir fries. Meat alternatives are widely accessible in the form of veggie burgers, hot dogs, bacon and other meat-like products.
Soy and rice milk provide an alternative to cow’s milk and both are available in many flavours. They cost slightly more than cow’s milk, but are still reasonably priced. Most of these products are fortified to provide a vegan diet with the calcium required. Tempeh is made from cultured soybeans and can be as versatile as tofu, but may be preferable because of its texture and flavour.
A vegan diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, whole-wheat pastas, legumes, whole-grain breads, and nuts, although since nuts are high in fat, they should be eaten sparingly.
The following two cookbooks may be of interest.
Davis, B. and Melina, V. (2000). Becoming vegan: The complete guide to adopting a healthy plant-based diet. Book Publishing Company.
Kornfeld, M., Minot, G., and Hamanaka, S. (2000). Voluptuous vegan: More than 200 sinfully delicious recipes for meatless, eggless, and dairy-free meals. Clarkson Potter.
Good luck with your new lifestyle Melissa.
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