As long as there have been people who have chosen not to eat animal products, there have been misconceptions about plant-based eating. Some of the common questions a vegan or plant-based eater might get include:
- but, where do you get your protein?
- how do you get calcium without drinking milk?
- can you be an athlete on a plant-based diet?
There are great ways to answer all these questions (click the links above for more info) because a well-planned plant-based diet provides all the nutrients a human needs, and truly promotes good long-term health. But it’s important to recognize that there is a difference between simply “vegan” and a vegan diet that is based around whole plant foods. The truth is that a “vegan” diet is not necessarily a healthy diet, and the reason is simple. “Vegan” defines what you EXCLUDE instead of what you INCLUDE, and there are lots of foods that are technically vegan, and yet still unhealthy (case in point: Oreo cookies). This is more true today than it has ever been because the vegan movement has grown, and with it the number of food producers and developers who are happily creating new processed products to fill the “gaps”.
You can look at this one of two ways. Many ethical vegans (i.e. people who primarily avoid animal products because of the harm they cause other living creatures) are thrilled! Today you can get virtually ANY food in a vegan version – potato chips, mayonnaise, “cheese”, “burgers”, “sausages”, chocolate, cookies – the list goes on. Indeed, the vegan convenience/junk food market has exploded in the past 5-10 years.
However, there is a problem with this. I am vegan first for ethical reasons, and 15 years ago I might have been in the “thrilled” camp. But in the past decade I have become increasingly aware of the incredible health benefits of a healthy whole foods plant-based eating style, and of the fact that people who simply switch from eating “regular” junk and processed foods to vegan junk and processed foods really are no better off health wise. (From an ethical standpoint the tragedy of this is that people who DON’T make an effort to eat healthy vegan often end up eating animal products once again because they get sick and end up believing they can’t be healthy without eating animals.) A healthy whole foods plant-based vegan diet promotes not only compassion, but good health for the person consuming it as well.
A vegan diet excludes anything that is derived from or made by animals, including:
- any kind of meat, poultry or fish
- dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc
- processed items that include any of the above
- processed items that are made using animal products – e.g. jello, which contains gelatin
A healthy whole foods plant based vegan diet also excludes these things, but the emphasis is on what is INCLUDED:
- LOTS of fruits and vegetables, preferably minimally processed
- legumes (beans, lentils)
- nuts, seeds
- whole grains, preferably minimally processed
If you’re starting out on a plant-based journey, do yourself a favour and stick to the whole foods as much as possible – and eat lots of them! Want more info? Check out this video from nutritionfacts.org on The Healthiest Foods.