An extension of vegetarianism, veganism is a dietary practice and lifestyle that eschews not only flesh foods but also dairy and eggs. While some vegans choose “cruelty-free” eating to protect animals and the environment, others do it to lose weight and improve overall health. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, obesity rates are lowest among vegans, as are rates of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
While veganism is restrictive, “the best way to approach it isn’t by cutting things out,” says Jack Norris, R.D., author and founder of Vegan Outreach, “it’s by adding them in.” First, make sure you include ample plant foods at each meal, especially ones high in protein such as soy meat, tofu, beans, falafel, and nuts. The idea is that if you load up on vegan foods, you’ll naturally eat fewer animal products. In spite of his own commitment to veganism, Norris doesn’t advocate rigidity. “I tell people to avoid obviously animal-based items, but don’t quibble over every ingredient. You don’t need to quiz the wait staff about whether there’s egg in the pasta or traces of dairy in the dinner rolls.”
As for ensuring adequate protein intake on a vegan diet, Norris says that if you eat a variety of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains, you’ll likely get enough. “It’s a myth that you need to get all your amino acids at one sitting. Your body collects different ones from different foods and assimilates them as needed,” he says.
If veganism seems too strict but you like the idea of eliminating most animal products, consider one of the following alternatives: