Veganism: a meaty topic

As more options become available, people are turning to veganism as a way to stay healthy and give back to the environment

Have you ever looked back at what you ate in a day? If you have, you may be surprised to discover how many animal products you have consumed. That is, unless you’re a vegan—no red meat, no chicken, no fish and no dairy at all.

According to Dieticians of Canada (DC), approximately four per cent of adults in Canada are vegetarian and according to DC and The American Dietetic Association (ADA), up to 40 or 50 per cent of vegetarians in North America are vegan.

According to vegan.org, becoming a vegan will not only benefit your health but the environment and animals as well.

Although animal products such as eggs don’t harm animals, the conditions the animals are forced to live in are often inhumane and are frequently killed once they stop producing. For example, “free range” chickens are still slaughtered once they stop laying eggs. Still, the majority of chickens are being forced to live in cages, suffer from many diseases and have their beaks seared off.

In terms of the environment, resources used for animal agriculture can be very harmful and take away from resources that could be used for other types of food. A United Nations study showed that the 1992 food supply could feed 6.3 billion people on a purely vegetarian diet or 3.2 billion people on a 75 per cent vegetarian diet. Furthermore, animal waste, manure, pesticides and fertilizer used for animal agriculture are among common substances that cause a lot of pollution and contamination to the environment.

Research has also shown a correlation between eating animal fats and proteins and the development of heart and kidney disease, colon and lung cancer and diabetes, among others.

I began wondering how much harder it would be to go on a vegan diet. Now, I’ve never been the most carnivorous of people, but still—what about the chicken in my salad, eggs in the morning, yummy sushi or cheese (seriously, how can you live without cheese?)? Ultimately, I decided to challenge myself and try to go vegan.

The mission: Go on a vegan diet for five days.

Day One

Breakfast: Cereal with soymilk and orange juice.
Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple.
Dinner: Huge salad with vegetables, tofu and almonds.
Snack: Flavoured rice cakes.

Day Two

Breakfast: Bagel with margarine and orange juice.
Lunch: Carrots, celery and crackers with hummus and a fruit smoothie (made with soymilk).
Dinner: Stir fry with vegetables, tofu and rice.
Snack: Popcorn.

Day Three

Breakfast: Instant oatmeal and orange juice.
Lunch: Tofu lasagna.
Dinner: Veggie sub from Subway (no cheese).
Snack: Crackers and hummus.

Day Four

Breakfast: Fruit smoothie (made with soymilk).
Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple and carrots.
Dinner: Spaghetti with tomato sauce with parmesan cheese. Snack: Popcorn.

Day Five

Breakfast: Cereal with soymilk and orange juice.
Lunch: Carrots, celery, cheese and crackers with hummus.
Dinner: Veggie burger and salad with vegetables and almonds.

The verdict: I slipped up a few times and had cheese (who can blame me, really?), and I missed being able to eat eggs, chicken and lunch meat, but all in all it was a success. I did find myself not feeling full as quickly and ended up snacking more than I would on my regular diet, but I also found myself paying more attention to eating more vegetables.

Am I fully converted? Not quite, but doing this made me more aware of what I’m putting in my body.

Justin Hall, an adjunct professor in the department of Kinesiology and Health Studies, said there are many motivators and benefits involved in a vegan diet.

“In terms of the benefits, one of them would be lower weight overall,” Hall said, adding that a vegan diet also helps protect against obesity, lowers cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, digestive problems and digestive cancers since meat can often be high in fat.

“There is some research ... [that] suggests that women will turn to vegetarianism or veganism to lose weight and become healthier,” he said, adding that women tend to become vegans for weight reasons more than men.

Although there are benefits, vegans still need to watch out to ensure they’re getting the same nutrients as others, he said.

“It’s essential to have proper nutrient intake in terms of vitamins and minerals,” he said, especially ensuring adequate protein consumption. It’s important for non-meat eaters to pay attention to changes in their body, he said. “One of the reasons is because animal proteins offer complete proteins,” he said, which means they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs.

“Plant proteins are incomplete proteins.” Hall said a way to ensure proper protein intake is through protein complementation, which involves combining vegetable sources of protein with other non-animal sources.

“Any given plant protein doesn’t have all them together,” he said. “That’s why you need to combine them.”

Introducing vegetables combined with grain products, nuts and seeds help the body get all the protein it needs, he said.

“Walnuts are very good, as are cashews,” Hall said, adding that legumes, such as beans and lentils, are another good source of protein for vegans.

Website theveggietable.com says combing legumes with seeds, nuts or grains will ensure a complete protein combination. Examples include beans on toast, hummus and pita bread or split pea soup with seed crackers.

Hall said vegans also need to make sure they’re getting enough calories for their body types.

“Usually meat has higher density energy,” he said, which means that non-meat eaters miss out on this energy.

“I know someone who recently switched to veganism,” he said. “For the first couple of weeks they often felt quite weak; they noticed the sudden change in energy levels.”

If you are thinking of transitioning to a vegan diet, it’s important to be aware of your body’s needs, he said, and to recognize changes in your overall health, such as energy levels and ability to concentrate.

It’s also important to do your research properly, Hall said.

“Talking to a registered dietician and a physician is important when making that choice.”

Robin Kisbee, ArtSci ’11, was a vegetarian for five years and has been on a vegan diet for the past year and a half.

Kisbee said although she only fully avoids animal food products, she tries to buy vegan cosmetics and clothing whenever she can.

She said she made her choice for moral as well as for health reasons.

“A vegan diet has less incidences of heart disease, obesity and cancer too,” she said, adding that she watches the news and reads health magazines to learn more about veganism.

One thing she’s learned a lot about is how hard it can be to get certain nutrients.

“Vegans don’t get [vitamin] B12, which is an essential vitamin,” she said, which is why she takes supplements every morning.

“For the most part I feel good,” Kisbee said. “I don’t get sick as much.

“It’s a little hard to get enough protein sometimes,” she said, adding that she makes up for lost protein through hummus, soymilk, almonds, sunflower seeds, lentils and sometimes meat replacements such as veggie burgers.

There are also common questions and misconceptions she hears about veganism, she said.

“Most people are like, ‘oh, what do you eat?’ It’s really not that hard as long as you’re cooking for yourself.”

She said many fast food restaurants are also catching up and including meat replacement options in their menus.

“I think people think it’s a lot more difficult than it actually is,” she said.

“I think people should have a positive outlook and give it a try.”

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