If you’ve spent any time in the vegan corner of the Internet, you’ll have noticed a wide range of opinions about the vegan diet. There are those that claim it’s the healthiest diet that ever existed, and those that claim it will kill you. A vegan diet, like a diet that includes animal products, can be healthy or unhealthy. Sure, it can force a wedge between you and many unhealthy foods, such as fast food burgers and poutine, but vegan comfort food (thankfully) still exists. And just as there are challenges that come with eating a lot of meat, a vegan diet has its fair share of drawbacks.
I’ve been a vegan for five years and a vegetarian for seven years before that, and while I am by no means an expert on health, my personal experiences might be helpful for anyone thinking of transitioning to a vegan diet. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the healthiest vegan on the block. I eat too much Daiya cheese and Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream, and I tend to forget about the importance of getting enough iron and B12. But I’m learning to be healthier. These are some of the things I’ve learned.
Talk to your doctor
It’s a good idea, before starting any new diet, to talk to a healthcare professional. While you may wish to avoid your doctor in fear that they will tell you to eat meat, they may have some tips for you on what nutrients you need to keep an eye on. I also recommend that you ask for a blood test. As someone who hates needles, I know how horrid they are. However, it’s a good idea to get an understanding of where your body is currently at, nutrient-wise. That way, you can take another blood test in six months to a year, see how a vegan diet affects your body, and get a better understanding of the ways in which you need to change your diet. If you haven’t already done so, register for “my ehealth” so you can view your results online.
Supplements are your friend
There are many sources from both within the vegan world and without that claim that supplements are not necessary. And sure, that may be true for some people. But as a person who’s has had vitamin deficiencies in the past, I can tell you that supplements really do help.
Within the vegan community, there’s this weird idea that if you need to take supplements, you’re not a proper vegan. You’re not taking care of your health right. You’re letting the meat-eaters win by showing that a vegan diet is so unnatural that it requires supplements. Don’t listen to these people. Listen to your body instead. If you’re not getting enough iron from your diet, it’s perfectly fine if you want to take iron supplements. This is where it helps to have the results of a blood test, as the symptoms of an iron deficiency and iron poisoning, for example, can look very similar.
Other nutrients to keep an eye on are vitamin D, calcium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and especially B12. B12 supplements are a must because there is no way to get the B12 you need from a solely plant-based diet. Talk to your a health care professional for more information.
You really do need to keep an eye on your protein
One of the first questions people ask you when you tell them you’re vegan is “where do you get your protein?” It can be incredibly annoying sometimes, especially when they say it in a condescending tone, and especially when there are so many vegan proteins available. But even though those people can be irritating, they do have a point. Protein is incredibly important. Take it from someone who ate very little protein for about three months of her life—if you do not get enough, you will feel horrible. That’s not to say that a plant-based diet is not full of protein. It is. You just need to make sure you eat it. Beans, legumes, tempeh, tofu, grains, nuts, and seeds are all great sources. There are some vegan blogs on the Internet that will tell you you don’t need to even think about protein when you’re on a vegan diet, but I think it’s important to make conscious decisions about our health.
In many ways, a vegan diet can be healthier than a diet that includes meat. I still think becoming a vegan is one of the best choices I’ve ever made. But, as with any diet, it’s important to make sure you don’t forget about your health. If you find yourself feeling fatigued or are otherwise not feeling yourself, book an appointment with your doctor.