Tips for a Healthy Vegan Diet
The connection between diet and good health is pretty well established at this point. Still, the question remains, which kind of diet is best? If you’re reading this, you might be wondering the same thing.
A vegan diet is good for general health, weight loss, and disease prevention. There is a wealth of evidence to support the belief that plant-based nutrition can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s. However, not all plant-based diets are created equal.
Simply removing meat and dairy from your diet can leave you wanting more, mentally as well as physically. It’s all too easy to deprive your body of essential nutrients while filling it up with sodium and toxins from packaged, processed products like meat substitutes.
In addition to the many vitamins and minerals we all need, plants also produce thousands of natural chemicals and compounds known as phytonutrients, which provide humans with invaluable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
With that in mind, here are six tips for pursuing a balanced, plant-based diet that will give you all the benefits that God intended.
One good thing about fruits, vegetables, legumes and other natural foods is that there are plenty of different kinds. We have been blessed with an abundance of flavors and textures that we can combine into meals and snacks that satisfy many tastes.
Beyond being merely pleasing to the senses, however, eating a variety of foods ensures we get the full spectrum of nutrients on a consistent basis. Many different foods work together to provide the compounds we need in a form that the body can use to strengthen our immune system and self-healing capabilities.
It can be daunting to think you have to know which fruit or vegetable will give you which set of nutrients, but one good rule of thumb is to include a colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables. Color is one indicator of the nutrients contained within. For instance, dark-green vegetables are good sources of vitamin K, while red and orange vegetables are known for their vitamin A.
Get your protein.
There is a common misconception that the only way to get protein is to eat meat and dairy. What is true is that regularly consuming animal products will give you way more protein than you need, potentially leading to health problems.
Common sources of protein for vegans include tree nuts like walnuts, almonds and pecans; grains like quinoa and brown rice; and legumes, including beans, peas, peanuts, lentils and soy, frequently found in the form of tofu, soy milk and meat substitutes.
In addition to protein, these foods provide fiber and a number of key nutrients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and antioxidants like omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s important to remember that Tip #1 (variety) applies here as well. Most of the plant-based protein sources listed above offer incomplete proteins, which means that one or more amino acids are missing or found in low amounts. This is why mixing and matching your vegan protein sources is essential.
Choose real, quality food.
In with the good, out with the bad. Some think that a vegan diet is just about removing meat and dairy products. However, you can do more harm than good by substituting real food for heavily processed alternatives that typically contain an abundance of sodium, saturated fats and refined sugar, which have all been shown to contribute to a range of health issues.
Seek out fresh food, which means buying locally, when possible. Fruits and vegetables from nearby family farms don’t have to travel as far or wait as long to get to your table. It’s also easier to tell whether the foods were raised responsibly without excessive pesticides or preservatives.
Drink your veggies.
There are few things that feed your body better than nutrients extracted directly from fresh, raw vegetables. The best way to do that is by juicing.
Unlike blending, juicing removes the fibrous bulk that fills you up without adding any nutritional benefit.
Avoid frozen, bottled or canned juices, which have been pasteurized to prolong shelf life. The heating process destroys all enzymes, friendly bacteria and many nutrients that are living, powerful allies in raw foods.
It’s a good idea to aim for at least two to three 8-ounce servings of fresh vegetable juice per day.
See it through with supplements.
Even the most well-rounded vegan diet will fall short on a few nutrients that are vital to our survival and well-being. Vitamin B-12 is one in particular that is not found in plants. In fact, many meat-eaters get less B-12 than they need to fully support their nervous system and vascular health.
Vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids are more nutrients that vegans—and non-vegans, for that matter—may need to add to their diet via supplementation.
Digestive enzymes and probiotics can also be very helpful in achieving and maintaining optimal gut health, which has a strong influence on all other systems.
Vitamin deficiencies don’t happen overnight when you adopt a plant-based diet, but if they are allowed to build unchecked for a matter of years, they could cause health issues down the road.
If you’re unsure where to turn for a robust supplement regimen, the Hallelujah Diet Monthly Success Kit is a good place to start.
Get enough sleep and exercise.
Consider this a bonus tip, since it’s not strictly about diet, but overall vegan health. Diet, sleep and exercise are inseparable when it comes to a healthy body and mind. Poor habits in any one area lead to degraded effectiveness in the others.
On the other hand, getting enough exercise and eating well can help you sleep better. Exercise can help your body efficiently digest food, increase blood flow and absorb more nutrients. Being mindful of these three elements will help your body restore and reinforce its natural building and healing processes.
There is no shortage of good advice out there when it comes to adopting a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet. The tips described above are some of the ones we’ve seen have the greatest impact in helping people reclaim their health over the last three decades and counting.
Any change in diet, especially a dramatic one, is not to be taken lightly. Remember, you can always ease into it, and it’s a good idea to consult your doctor or dietician before making any drastic changes.