A recent review of 135 studies suggests that it’s okay to consume some refined grains, as long as at least half of your grain intake is from whole foods. I’m not especially surprised. Sure, whole wheat bread is better for you than white bread and brown rice is way more nutritious than white. But the idea that we sacrifice health unless every bite of food lives up to some ideal of whole foods perfection doesn’t usually hold up to scientific scrutiny.
The findings from these types of studies may or may not always be relevant to vegans, though. Although fiber isn’t an issue for us—we get plenty of it—vegans still need to emphasize whole grains because these foods are important sources of zinc in plant-based diets. Even so, a few refined treats—like regular pasta or fresh ciabatta bread from the bakery—are okay. And for many people, these occasional deviations from a “whole foods” diet make it easier to eat healthfully overall or to be vegan.
I’ve written before about the importance of acknowledging people’s fears and perceived barriers about going vegan. Our job as change makers on behalf of animals is to put those fears to rest by making dietary change as easy and realistic as possible—without promoting practices that compromise health, of course. And the nice thing about nutrition research, as opposed to popular nutrition dogma, is that it shows us that a healthy vegan diet is less challenging than most people imagine.
The other good news is the growing availability of vegan choices in stores and restaurants. We still have a long way to go in that regard—often there is only one vegan offering on a restaurant menu—but it’s getting better all of the time. In a post last month, for example, blogger Erik Marcus pointed out the ease of finding vegan fare at fast food restaurants.
Many other blogs are endeavoring to make veganism less forbidding and more appealing by lifting barriers and emphasizing easy practices. For example, Chicago vegan Christine Cook is posting daily tips and menu ideas on her blog It’s Easy Being Vegan, and Daelyn Fortney has posted a Guide to Going Vegan (The Realistic Method) on This Dish is Veg.
Whether or not everyone will find it truly easy to go vegan, it’s definitely getting easier all the time. That’s the news that we need to share with new and potential vegans.
Reference: Williams PG. Evaluation of the evidence between consumption of refined grains and health outcomes. Nutrition Reviews 2011 Epub ahead of print.