Being a smart vegan

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard comments like, “I have a friend who was vegan but she got so sick her doctor told her to go back on meat and dairy” or “I tried to be a vegan but I just gained a ton of weight and had no energy...”  Many people assume that simply by avoiding animal products they will magically become thin and healthy.  But that’s not the case.

I have perused vegan websites with lists of “junk food” that are “surprisingly vegan!  Now you can enjoy your old favorites without guilt!”  Some of the items that are on this list have so many chemicals in their ingredient list, sugar and fat and artificial everything, that you would expect them to be made by men in HAZMAT suits.  But, hey!  they’re vegan!

It’s time for a primer on how to be a smart vegan.

  1. Read the ingredients!  Don’t just glance for the Vegan symbol -- see what it is that you’re about to put in your body.  If there are things you can’t pronounce on there, put it back!  For a list of food additives and their sources, dangers, and definitions, see here.  Foods that contain more than roughly five ingredients should be viewed as suspect.  You can also visit the Environmental Working Group’s website for more information on food toxins and ways to avoid them.
  2. Don’t overdo it on meat and dairy substitutes.  Sure, it’s fun to have some soy yogurt or some soy sausage on occasion, but remember these are processed foods and don’t contain much by the way of nutritional value.
  3. Avoid sugar and other sweeteners.  Fresh, whole fruit should be your main source of sugars.  Even the more healthy versions, such as agave nectar, honey (not vegan) and brown rice syrup, can still upset your metabolism and cause you to crave more sweet foods.  If you need to sweeten your herb tea or bake with a sweetener, I would recommend stevia.  It actually can lower your cravings for sugar and has no calories.
  4. Eat organic when possible.  A great site for learning more about organic foods is The Organic Consumers Association website.  They have a buying guide also.
  5. Eat raw at least 70% of the time.  It’s a good policy to eat your fruits and veggies raw most of the time.  Eating them raw preserves their nutritional integrity and teaches your taste buds to enjoy food in their natural state, not processed or flavored.
  6. Teach your children to be smart vegans, also.  If you feed your child the traditional baby foods, be aware that you are teaching them to enjoy processed foods.  If you make your own baby food, compare the flavors to the national brands.  They are completely different.  I made fresh peas for my first child and she spit them out because she had grown accustomed to the jarred peas, which tasted to me more like canned peas than fresh.  Also, try them on more unique foods, not just the familiar combinations like apple cinnamon or strawberry banana.  If making your own baby food intimidates you, try HappyBaby frozen baby food with ingredients like lentils and quinoa.  For older children, give them lunches of just fruits and veggies and nut butters or tofu ranch dip.  Once they train their taste buds to enjoy fresh foods, the processed ones will have less of an appeal.
  7. Get plenty of sun -- that’s the best source of vitamin D.  Go without sunscreen for about 20 minutes a day with as much exposed skin as the season allows.
  8. Take B12.  B12 comes from bacteria, so there are plenty of vegan sources.  The best one I’ve found is Bioentopic B12 Creme which is derived from methylcobalamin rather than cyanocobalamin (a cyanide derivative).  Their creme also has no parabens and is absorbed through the skin.
  9. Drink water!  Make filtered water your primary source of hydration, not juices or sodas.  Limit your caffeine intake to one cup of coffee or tea a day.
  10. Get plenty of sleep -- sleep is crucial to health, so make it a priority.
  11. Limit stress -- make sure you are breathing deeply, not shallow breaths more symptomatic of stress.  Take time to relax and evaluate what is really important in life; you can’t be everything to everyone and you can’t do it all!
  12. Exercise!  Make a point to MOVE at least once a day, be it cardio or weightlifting or pilates or a favorite sport.  The more active you are, the more you need to eat, so make sure you don’t go more than two hours without a snack.  Little meals are more efficient that large ones, also, so munch away!

Being a smart vegan means being aware of what you are putting in your body and that knowledge is power!