There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what it really means to be a vegan. The veganism philosophy can extend beyond the plate ("I won't eat anything that has a bladder or a mother") to not wearing animal products (leather, suede, fur, wool, silk, feathers), and avoiding products with animal
ingredients or testing ("cruelty-free" labels). Here, we debunk the fact from fiction.
Even eating vegan part-time can benefit your health.
Vegans and those who avoid animal products (even part of the day, or part of the week) often have low rates of obesity, and on average weigh 5 to 20 percent less than meat eaters. Vegetarian diets on the whole are
linked to lower BMIs, reduced risk of type II diabetes and lower
incidents of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables lower rates of
certain cancers, especially colon cancer.
According to traditional dietary standards, a 140-pound woman should
have 50 grams of protein a day, and for a vegan that might come from a cup each of cooked spinach (5 grams), lentils (18 grams), and tempeh (a soy product with 41 grams). (You can find more suggestions from the Vegetarian Resource Group.)
In fact, large-scale research like The China Study have revealed that too much protein, namely animal protein,
is harmful for your health. Other research shows that excess protein in your body can strain your kidneys or cling as fat.
Vegan diets can be extremely economical. Many vegans center their diet
around grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, all of which can
be purchased cheaply in bulk. Buying in-season veggies and fruits is quite easy on your wallet. Eating Vegan on $4 A Day outlines an entire day's-worth of nutritionally-complete, delicious meals that cost less than a take-out sandwich or double cheeseburger dinner.
PETA's comprehensive list helps identify what popular supermarket foods are vegan, including dark chocolate, Oreos (reformulated from a lard-based recipe), Twizzlers, Betty Crocker Bac-o's Bacon Flavor Bits and Kraft Taco Bell Taco Dinner.
Surprisingly, these foods are not: Altoids (contain gelatin), BBQ Baked Lays ("natural flavor" with milk and chicken powder), and Kellogg's Raisin Bran (the vitamin D source is animal-based). Vegans ought to check non-dairy or lactose-free cheese closely, as some contain casein, rennet, and whey. Since cholesterol only comes from animal products, "cholesterol-free" is likely vegan.
Other foods to watch: some wines are clarified with gelatin,
isinglass (fish bladders) and albumin, and certain
vodkas and spirits have ingredients like cochineal
(food coloring from insect shells) and bone charcoal. Organic, biodynamic, or natural labels likely indicate vegan drinks; for a detailed list check out Barnivore.
Nearly 20 percent of man-made pollution comes from the meat industry, putting factory farming ahead of transportation in contributing to the greenhouse effect. What's more, it takes about 40 calories of fossil-fuel energy to create every one calorie of feed-lot beef in the U.S. (compared to 2.2 calories of energy needed to create plant proteins).
According to VeganOutreach.org,
one person can
spare about 50 animals per year by eliminating animals from his diet. In 2011, USA Today reported that nearly 50 percent of Americans
are trying to cut down on meat, while approximately one-fifth of
students are vegetarian, vegan, or trying to eat less meat.
Vegan chefs took home the trophy at the 10th Annual Grilled Cheese
Invitational with a nondairy cheese winner, and vegan bakers have dominated the butter-and-egg fest that is Cupcake Wars twice: Chloe Coscarelli and Doron Petersan both gained top honors with nondairy creations.
So how do they do it? Petersan shares, "You can replace eggs and
dairy in any recipe, if you know what you are looking for. Moisture and
color? Try applesauce in your muffins. Lift and fluff? Use seltzer in
place of milk in your pancakes. Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache?
Use a recipe without eggs, like the ones in my Sticky Fingers Sweets!
It’s not always about replacing dairy or eggs, but rather using
science to recreate recipes so that you get the textures and flavors you
crave without the animal products."
There's the Vegucated challenge, with daily email support around a plan that helps users eat vegan for a month, or eliminate different food groups each week; another popular option is the 28-day Engine 2 Diet.
It may have gained momentum recently as a backbone of certain environmental and health movements, but veganism existed in ancient India and Greece, and is part of many religious beliefs such as Buddhism and Seventh Day Adventists.
Vegans who eat well don't need to buy additional supplements.
There's just one: To help with brain and nervous system functions, vitamin B12 is key. Since B12 only occurs naturally in animal-sourced foods, vegans can instead eat fortified nutritional yeast and often sprinkle it over pasta, tofu ricotta, or fresh popcorn for a buttery taste.
It's not as extreme as it once was: a 2012 Gallup poll found that 5% of adult Americans consider themselves vegetarian and 2% vegans. They've joined the likes of dozens of public faces: actors like Alec Baldwin to Woody Harrelson; politicians like Bill Clinton; and top
athletes including Brendan Brazier, Scott
Jurek, and Carl Lewis, and Mike Tyson.
Even if you're the only vegan in your personal circle of family and friends, a simple search on Meetup.com for "vegan" yields thousands of events across the country, from vegan potlucks to "Vegan Ladies Who Lunch" to "Raw Vegan Singles."