Karen Flemming, NP Internal Medicine
Chances are, you probably know someone who has “gone vegan.” While this type of lifestyle has become more popular than ever, it’s still a bit controversial. Vegans are vegetarians who in addition to not eating meat, fish or poultry, also do not consume or use other animal products and by-products such as milk, eggs, cheese, honey, fur, silk and wool as well as cosmetics and soaps that are derived from animals.
Veganism is more than just a diet. People often choose to be a vegan for overall health, environmental and ethical reasons. For instance, one of the reasons vegans do not consume meat is because they believe that by not consuming animals for their food (and other products) they are helping to promote a more humane world.
A Vegan Diet Can Help You Eat Healthier
There’s no doubt that a vegan diet is restrictive compared to most diets, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be tasty and healthy too. In fact, many people report that a vegan diet helped them achieve a healthier overall weight. Vegan diets are free of cholesterol and are generally low in saturated fat. An emphasis on consuming more fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants, is also very healthy and can lower blood pressure. Many researchers also believe that a proper plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
One criticism of the vegan diet is that the restrictions make it hard to get all the nutrients a person needs. However, it is not hard for a vegan to meet daily dietary recommendations as long as their food choices and calorie intake is adequate. A typical healthy and varied vegan diet should include fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain foods, nuts, seeds and legumes. In the absence of meat or fish, protein in a vegan diet is easily provided by chickpeas, lentils, tofu, peanut butter, almonds, spinach and kale.
Some Key Nutrients to Watch For
Vitamin D is an important vitamin not typically found in the vegan diet. However, ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure on hands and face two to three times per week during the warmer months can allow your body to produce the vitamin D it needs. Food sources such as soy and rice milk fortified with vitamin D can also help you get adequate vitamin D, especially during the colder months. Other nutrients that vegans should make sure they get enough of include iron, vitamin B-12, calcium and zinc. A little research into the foods rich in these nutrients will help you get enough of them. Supplements can also be used if necessary.
But Wait, is Dessert on the Menu?
You’ll be happy to know that vegans can enjoy baked goods such as cakes and cobblers as long as they are made without butter, eggs or albumin. Jello is a not on the menu since it is made with gelatin, an animal product. (Keep in mind that there are substitutes that can be used to help you mimic many of your favorite foods, including Jello).
There’s no doubt that it takes some work to be a full-fledged vegan. However, there are many cookbooks and websites that can help make it easier. It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor or other medical professional and try the diet out for one or two days a week before telling everyone you’ve gone “vegan.”
About Karen Fleming, NP
A graduate of Framingham State College and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Karen Fleming has been involved in medicine for over 24 years and has been a Nurse Practitioner since 1995. Practicing in the department of Internal Medicine in Auburn, she works with a team of doctors and nurses helping patients with their urgent and chronic healthcare needs. She has enjoyed working in this role for over 12 years. One of the things Karen...View profile View posts by this doctor