No meat, no dairy, no problem.
Or at least that can be the case if you know what you’re doing, according to nutrition experts.
The vegan lifestyle requires people to avoid consuming animal products in their diets. That means no meat, no eggs, no cheese and no milk. For many vegans, it also means not using anything made with leather or other animal products.
With Vegan Awareness Month taking place through November, animal rights proponents and vegans around the country are campaigning on the positive aspects of a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans and grains.
Health and nutrition experts say it’s certainly possible to keep a proper diet and take in all the required nutrients and vitamins to stay healthy without eating meat or dairy. Studies show that vegetarians and vegans tend to have a lower-than-average risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other preventable conditions.
But it does take a little more work to keep a proper diet, especially in some specific areas.
“If someone is going to decide to be a vegan, it can’t just be taken lightly, that decision,” said Hannah Richter, a dietitian with Auburn Memorial Hospital. “One would hope they’re making it because they’re choosing a healthier lifestyle, and therefore making smart decisions about the foods they choose.”
Those two don’t inherently go hand-in-hand, Richter pointed out. Avoiding meat doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding processed and unhealthy food.
“In any eating plan, it’s important to choose and focus on whole foods,” Richter said. “You can be a vegan and still eat a lot of sugars and high-fat things that aren’t good for you.”
Priorities should include making sure you get enough calcium, iron and vitamins B-12 and D. Published reports on the subject also include proper protein and omega-3 fatty acids on the list of nutrients to remember.
Calcium and vitamin D are both often consumed in milk (which is fortified with the vitamin), and contribute to strong bones. You can buy orange juice and soy products fortified with calcium at the store, and vitamin D can be absorbed through sun exposure as well as supplements.
Vegans also need to remember to supplement their diets with vitamin B-12, and vegan-specific products can often be fortified with that as well. Richter said nutritional yeast is often a vegan’s best source for the nutrient.
As for omega-3 fats, most commonly consumed through fish, the vegan alternative can include flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, as well as walnuts, canola oil and soy nuts.
“If someone is generally healthy, I think a vegan diet can be healthy for all ages,” Richter said. “But you need to make food a priority in your life.”
Staff writer Christopher Caskey can be reached at 282-2282 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenCaskey.
Vegan sources for essential nutrients
Vitamin B-12 — Red Star Vegetarian Support, nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, fortified soy or rice milk, fortified vegetarian meat analogs, fortified snack or energy bars, fortified powders or beverage mixes
Omega-3 fatty acids — Flaxseeds, Flaxseed oil, hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, canola oil, sea vegetables, walnuts, walnut oil, soybeans, leafy greens, wheat germ, fortified soy milk
Vitamin D — Some types of mushrooms, fortified margarine, fortified soy or rice milk, fortified soy yogurt, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified nutrition bars
— Source: “The Virtues of Vegan Nutrition ... and the Risks,” published February 2006 by Dina Aronson