Making It Easy To Be Vegan

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.

 

16 Responses to Making It Easy To Be Vegan

  1. JL goes Vegan February 3, 2012 at 4:02 am #

    Recently I feel overwhelmed by the “no oil, no salt, not sugar EVER” vegan posts – you know, the only “good way” to be vegan (rolls eyes). I find it annoying personally and I see it as a barrier to introducing non-vegans to a plant-based diet. This post, as with all of your thoughtful, rational writing, inspires me to continue to eat as healthy as possible, while being compassionate to myself and, naturally, the animals.

    • Melissa February 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      Oh JL, I soooo agree! It makes me just rip my hair out to read them.

      Also, as someone recovering from EDNOS/disordered eating, I find that sort of “your diet isn’t perfect enough” food shaming to be incredibly triggering.

      The animals aren’t helped by us having contests over who is the most absolutely pristine whole foods vegan.

    • Matt February 5, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      JL, you are so right (and Ginny, too). Every inch a potential vegan moves from what people are familiar with, the more people will refuse to consider going veg. Anything other than trying to eat a balanced cruelty-free diet (e.g., has to be low-fat, or unprocessed, or no-veg-meats, or no-alcohol, etc., etc.) serves to hurt animals.

      • myvegancookbook February 8, 2012 at 11:17 am #

        (e.g., has to be low-fat, or unprocessed, or no-veg-meats, or no-alcohol, etc., etc.)

        Hey Matt, I am someone who doesn’t do drugs, drink alcohol and tries to limit processed foods, oils and sugar. I was drug free before I became vegan. Vegetarian before I became vegan. I am a work in progress, as all humans are. If you want to go vegan and eat junk food, good on you, it’s your right to do so. But it’s also my right to adjust my vegan diet the way I see fit and not be shamed for it. It’s also my right to share my journey on my blog.

        If a heart surgeon (Dr. Esselstyn for example) feels recommending a plant-based diet with no oil, sugar or whatever is what his patient needs, that’s his business. He’s an expert and he would know. It’s his job to cure his patients. Let him be and do his job. Would his patients have adopted a plant-based diet with only compassion in mind had he not suggested it to them for health? Who knows and who really cares. Are his patients more likely to be exposed to animal rights literature? Yes. And this is a good thing. So I’m not really understanding how there is a problem with those who are adopting a plant-based diet and no one has really made a case at all for how it hurts the animal rights movement. In fact, the opposite is proving itself to be true. Have you noticed that milk and meat consumption has dropped sharply? Milk alternative consumption has gone up. This is the plant-based movement at work.

        I feel like people are unfairly trying to lump together the plant-based/whole food movement with the vegan/compassion movement. They interlace because of similarities in the diet yes, but they are not the same. This constant attack on the plant-based movement from some animal rights people is bogus. One movement does not subtract from the other. We should be working in unison for the health of humanity and compassion for all animals, even the human ones.

        I will say that as someone who advocates for better human health I’d love to see all diets cleaned up, vegan and non-vegan. I do think that some vegans have room for improvement. It’s a process. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that an otherwise healthy vegan go from a SAD diet to something like Dr. Esselstyn recommends. Like my transition into a vegan diet, I started with my diet first and then my wardrobe. it took me a year to adjust. After I got use to eating vegan, then I started adjusting things like oil intake, sugar etc. It’s a process and it’s all about evolving.

  2. Ginny Messina February 3, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Thanks, JL. And this, of course, is why I love both of your blogs so much, too!

  3. Kathys Krackers February 3, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    This post is very well written! The nutrition research suggesting that going vegan is easier than most people think is a very interesting point. Definitely most people think going vegan is hard, but you showed that even restaurants are starting to have more vegan options. Thanks for the article!

  4. Bryanna Clark Grogan February 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Thanks for another excellent and thoughtful post, Ginny, particularly as it comes when sugar is being re-categorized by some as a “toxin” which should be regulated like alcohol. (Alcohol is heavily taxed here in Canada, but that doesn’t seem to deter anyone, BTW!) I’ve heard practically nothing else on radio and TV since yesterday, but not much in the way of thoughtful commentary. It seems to me that the obesity problem, with its accompanying health problems, is the result of a number of factors, not just sugar intake. I’m not advocating high sugar intake, but whatever happened to moderation? Oh, and the message is not addressing the complexity of the sugar issue– for one instance, is unrefined sugar really much better than refined sugar in the long run?

  5. D February 3, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    I have found that my children’s enthusiasm for finding and trying new vegan recipes makes it seem less daunting to non-vegans of all ages. When we combined recipes for homemade ravioli, lasagna, soups etc. and we make our version and share… then people respond with interest.
    It shows children can actively participate and plan meals on their own. The adults then often question their own ability to do so ” they can…maybe I can”. Other children seem to respond because my children’s enthusiasm is contagious.
    I have also started encouraging friends and family to “veganize” one dish, here and there. The less earth shattering of a substitution the easier they feel it is. Pasta dishes always seem to be a comforting place for people to start.

    Also I have often had to point out which stores carry what item. Lately though, we are finding ingredients in regular stores. For me this is very exciting. Tahini in a regular grocery store, tofu for my daughter’s birthday cake…… yeeahhh.

    Positive encouragement of others and moderation in our own diets. It’s been a running theme in my head since your losing weight post. Maybe a positive example is my goal this year.
    Best wishes to all.
    D.

  6. The Valley Vegan (lisa f.) February 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    I once received important advice from my yoga instructor: deprivation leads to “failure”.

    If I want a cookie but deny myself the cookie, I am more likely to go overboard the next time I do allow myself a cookie. But if I want a cookie, help myself to one cookie, then I am less likely to over indulge & feel guilty.

    The same thing with “going vegan” or at least trying to follow a whole foods diet: if I beat myself up every time I want something, or give in and actually eat it, then I would have no chance of following any sort of “diet” or “lifestyle”!! I allow myself some treats here and there, and that is certainly a key ingredient to being satisfied and enjoying myself when necessary.

  7. Ilene February 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I found your blog from another vegan blog and really like your message. My friends at work are curious about what I’m having for lunch since I went vegan a few months ago. Simply sharing what you are doing can make it easier for others to think it’s possible.

    People who think they have to be perfect all the time get stressed and end up eating more junk than if you just give in a little. My trick is to have treats I like around in small sizes (no Costco tubs of junk!) and I take a little when I want it. I’ve had a small bag of my favorite candy sitting in the pantry for a month. Guess I wasn’t really in the mood for it.

    When my husband wants to go out to eat somewhere that’s not vegan friendly I’ll just make do the best I can. It might mean white rice with vegies but that’s one meal not every meal. You need perspective in life.

    Great blog. I’ll be checking back regularly.

  8. Dee February 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    I agree with you Ginny, that is so easy to go vegan now than it has ever been. All you need to do is substitute the meat and dairy with alternatives. We can have vegan casseroles, moussaka, lasagne, cakes, ice creams…the list is endless. What’s good about it is that the vegan versions taste hundred times better and we live with a clear conscience that no animal has been harmed to satisfy your stomach.

  9. Ellen Kimball February 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Hello! I took the CHIP course (http://chiphealth.com) last year (March 2011) and it changed my life. I was never interested in cooking, but never knew that vegetarian cooking would be simpler and more fun than when I took home economics years ago. I stopped eating animal products, including dairy, and cut back on processed foods, sugar and salt. My total cholesterol dropped from a terrifying 361 to almost-normal 214 in five weeks. This program is taught worldwide and was developed by Dr. Hans Diehl at Loma Linda University in California. Our CHIP alumni group meets every month for potluck dinners. It’s been a wonderful experience to eat healthy, and not have to deal with “dead animal carcasses and blood” or worry about their revenge: Animal fat with cholesterol adheres to our arteries and clogs our hearts. It’s one of the major causes of death in our so-called modern world.

  10. Heather April 3, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I agree with so much of what has been said. At the same time I can see both sides. I get so sick of the perfection that I hear lately. No oil EVER! No salt EVER! No sugar EVER! Or you will die! I am on a certain doctors message boards a lot and the message there is that if you don’t follow his diet 100% you will get cancer or heart disease. It stresses me out and all I do is thinking about death and disease. I want to enjoy my food and enjoy this lifestyle. I don’t want that pressure to be perfect. When I am pressuring myself to be perfect I always end up binging!

    BUT, sometimes I get confused because the “animal rights” fanatics like PETA because they don’t promote a healthy vegan diet. Yes, they want to save the animals( which I do too!) but they sure don’t want to save the humans!

  11. Debrah April 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Hi Heather, one of those animal rights fanatics here. Actually PETA does encourage veganism but maybe not as obviously as they push the vegetarian option and I think the reasoning is that they are not preaching to the choir (because they know that we are already vegans) but they are talking to omnivores who may not have thought til that moment that going without meat is even possible. And at the same time, PETA also knows that to start getting heavily into the ‘health’ aspect of how to live as a vegetarian is going to frighten a lot of the possible vegetarian newbies. You just gotta ask yourself, “who is it that they are trying to reach?” and then you can tell if they are fulfilling their mandate.

    As to the ‘perfect’ diet you hear about everywhere, I think that is a natural consequence of how many years of absolutely foul processed ex-food being foisted on an unaware public. Now that we are all learning that the way we ate as we grew up was really the slippery slope and we’ve almost hit the bottom by now, we are all frantically looking for truth on what our food should be and should be doing for us.

    It’s just a signal that you as a consumer need to be ever vigilant and figure out, based on lots of reading and research, what works for you.

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