Tips on Going Vegan

Saturday, April 03, 2010 | 0 comments »

By Denis Faye

"One farmer says to me, 'You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make the bones with'; and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying himself with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle." —Henry David Thoreau

"Why does Sea World have a seafood restaurant? I'm halfway through my fishburger and I realize, Oh my God. I could be eating a slow learner." —Lynda Montgomery

If you're into health, fitness, the environment, or any combination thereof, you've probably flirted with veganism at some point. From a green perspective, it's hard to argue against it. Eschewing meat, eggs, dairy, and all other animal products helps solve everything from dwindling international fish populations to global warming caused by methane-producing feedlots.

However, on the health and fitness fronts, the benefits of going meat free aren't as clear-cut. Thoreau's quote may be clever, but oxen are herbivores, meaning their multi-stomached digestive systems were created to eat plants. But humans are omnivores, meaning they can survive on just about anything and, therefore, thrive on variety. True, cutting out red meat eliminates a major source of saturated fats, but cutting out chicken and fish also knocks out excellent protein, iron, and omega fatty acid sources. And if you take it a step further, by going vegan and eliminating eggs and dairy from your diet, you'll really have to work hard to get all kinds of nutrients that you might have previously taken for granted, including calcium and B12. And then there's protein.

Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids. Of those, eight are essential to humans. Sure, veggies, legumes, and grain contain amino acids, but meat, eggs, and dairy are the best way to get all eight of the essential ones at once. Without meat, eggs, and dairy, you need to play some serious amino acid whac-a-mole.

Now, before you vegans out there get your knickers in a twist, I'm not shooting down your lifestyle. In my opinion, it's a very noble endeavor. I'm simply saying it's a tough choice, and if you make it, you need to pay particular attention to nutrition or you just won't stay healthy.

Fortunately, because you're not the first person on earth to go vegan, you have all the information you need at your disposal. Here's a look at some of the better sources on veganism.

On the bookshelf

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet by Brenda Davis, R.D. and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D. Even if you're not giving up flesh, this book is incredibly informative. It covers every aspect of vegan nutrition, from the history of veganism to how the macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—work for vegans. It also discusses how to get the right vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. The last half of the book is devoted to special diets, including those for the elderly, the overweight, the underweight, and athletes. Becoming Vegan is a road map for anyone adopting this lifestyle.

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Veganomicon takes less of a scientific approach and more of a culinary one. It's a cookbook, but in a Joy of Cooking sort of way. Not only are there great recipes here, but the first 44 pages introduce the reader to the vegan kitchen—from corn starch to veggie peelers—including information on various cooking methods, ingredients, and tools. There's a whole chapter devoted to low-fat cooking and another chapter that'll show every possible variation on preparing a vegetable.

Once you get to the recipes, you'll find a great international selection ranging from spicy tempeh nori rolls to soft poppy-seed polenta.

The recipes in Veganomicon are largely derived from whole, real food sources, unlike another popular vegan cookbook out now called Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. Don't waste your time with this one. The nutritional information in the introduction isn't accurate, and the recipes are littered with faddish ingredients like coconut oil (loaded with saturated fat) and meat substitutes, such as vegan bacon and vegan chicken strips. If you're embracing veganism from a health perspective, these artificial meats are nothing but sodium and chemicals. You might as well pick up a copy of any Betty Crocker cookbook and substitute fake meat for the real deal.

On the Web

The Internet holds a vast amount of great information about veganism. Unfortunately, it also holds a vast amount of loony information, so it's important to be discerning when surfing the Web. Here are a few good Web sites to try. This Web site isn't strictly vegan, but it's an excellent source of practical information. You'll find articles on vegan and veggie products available at your local grocery store as well as what you can order at various restaurant chains. You'd think that vegan recipes would be uniformly healthy, but oftentimes, meat-free chefs will try to make up for taste with salt and fat. You won't find that here. There's also a great section here that divides the recipes by region, which works for those planning their big vegan Ethiopian, Vietnamese, or Caribbean dinner parties. This site may be a little too activist for some, but the Vegan Action Web site is a great resource for people looking to bring their veganism to the next level. The site includes links to vegan clothes and cruelty-free products. is a vegan community offering recipes, articles, and coupons. As is often the case when the general public contributes to a site, the recipes can be a little dodgy, but you'll get plenty of variety and some interesting ideas. This site is actually a promotional site for Chef Beverly Lynn Bennett's vegan cookbooks, but she offers several great free recipes here.

Going vegan is a huge commitment, and if you mishandle things, it'll work against you on the nutrition front. But if you do your homework, it can lead to an (extended) lifetime of healthy eating—and you'll be able to eat at Sea World with impunity.