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Making the Right Choice: A Guide to Vegans Everywhere

Updated on June 9, 2019
Laila Hashem profile image

Laila has followed a plant-based diet for 6 years, substituting vegetarianism for veganism. Along the way, consulting many nutritionists.

Have you ever tried being vegan before? How did it turn out?

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As I am sure most people know, the vegan diet is one in which individuals choose to eliminate all animal-based products from their regimes, including eggs, diary, and sometimes honey. Reasons for choosing veganism include wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle, promoting environmental well-being, and many others.

Yet, we hear many claims that veganism increases the likelihood of deficiencies due to it being an unsuitable diet. Many of these claims are true, but only in cases were individuals do not have enough basic knowledge about essential nutrients to plan accordingly. Other claims are mere myths that do not have a factual basis.

For example, you may have heard that plant-based products do not provide the needed amino acids, but do you know which amino acids you actually need to consume? You see many vegan milks in the grocery store, but do you which are fortified? Or which or them have have more nutrients?

So, what are these 'essential nutrients' and how do we obtain them?

What do I need and How do I get it?

Dairy Products
leafy greens, soya, nuts, almond milk
beans and lentils, spinach, tofu, cashews
meat, shellfish, Diary, eggs
beans, chickpeas, lentils, seeds, nuts
Vitamin B12
beef, liver, chicken, fish, shellfish, Dairy, eggs
fortified cereal and yeast, fortified milk
Amino Acids
meat, Dairy, Chicken
legumes, soybeans, seeds, nuts
Fatty fish, Eggs
Algae, DHA fortified foods
Vitamin D
Beef, fatty fish, eggs, cheese
orange juice, cereals, soy milk (fortified)

11 Myths about Veganism

1. Vegan diets are naturally missing essential nutrients/ All vegans need supplements

While it is true that, overtime, unbalanced vegan meals may result in deficiencies, there are multiple plant-based products that contain all vitamins and amino acids that are essential to the body.

2. Plant-based nutrients and proteins are not absorbed as well as those that are animal-based.

Animal-based products contain a good balance of most amino acids, and plant-based products often lack in one or more of them, but that does not mean that they are not absorbed well. It just means that vegans need to adjust their meals to include different plant-based products that, overall, hold all the essential amino acids.

3. Vegan diets are bad for your health

From providing individuals with a diet richer in potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E, to helping them lose weight, to lowering blood sugar levels and preventing illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and high cholesterol, veganism has many health benefits.

4. Vegan diets are not suitable for children

Just as for adults, vegan diets, when thoroughly planned, are completely safe for children.

5. Veganism eliminates most of your grocery list (you'll get bored)

Here is a list of what is available to you on a vegan diet (*means sometimes):

  1. Bread and Baked Goods
  2. Vegetables
  3. Fruits
  4. Frozen goods
  5. Canned Goods
  6. Dry Packaged Goods
  7. Spices
  8. Condiments and Sauce*
  9. Drinks*
  10. Snacks*
  11. Baking Supplies*
  12. Cereal

What is not available are three aisles:

  • Meat and Deli, Seafood, Dairy

So, it seems being vegan doesn't eliminate most of the grocery list, wouldn't you agree?

6. Veganism is expensive

Ask anyone you know what the most expensive grocery items are, and they'll all tell you: Seafood, meat, poultry, eggs....

8. Veganism causes pain to animals (e.g cows) that need to be milked

Like all animals, cows need to become impregnated before they produce milk, and they become impregnated repeatedly only to increase available meat for consumers. So, logically, it is the meat industry causing them pain, not vegans.

9. Plants also feel pain, which defeats the purpose of ethical veganism

While there is evidence to suggest that plants do, in fact, exhibit responses to stimuli, there is none that suggests that they feel pain when being picked or eaten. Of course, there exists the argument that they do not feel pain because they do not have a central nervous system, nerves, or pain-receptors.

What if they are proven to feel pain in the future? Realistically, since animals that are mass bred and born to be eaten also consume plan, being an meat-eater causes more pain to plants AND animals than being a vegan.

10. Humans are nature carnivores

Many evidence and studies now suggest that we are anatomically herbivorous.

11. Veganism reduces strength

This result only occurs when the vegan diet is unbalanced and inadequate to a person's needs. However, if they correctly obtain all the essential nutrients needed, they obtain the same muscle strength as a meat-eater.


The Amino Acid Complex

Amino Acids...We've heard them spoken about a lot, yet we never fully understood what they are. In fact, amino acids are not a single nutrient that are obtained from one source, as some of us may presume.

In total, we all need 20 types of amino acids, named essential amino acids. Eleven of them are produced by our bodies.

The remaining 9 Amino Acids need to be consumed and are found in these plant-based products:

  1. Leucine (soybeans, pumpkin, seeds, nuts, peas, beans, plant proteins).
  2. Isoleucine (soy, cashews, almonds, oats, lentils, beans, brown rice, legumes, chia seeds).
  3. Lysine (beans, peas, chia seeds, spirulina, Parsley, avocados, almonds, cashews).
  4. Methionine (beans, seeds, chia seeds, brazil nuts, oats, wheat, figs, whole grain rice, beans, legumes, onions, cacao)
  5. Phenylalanine (spirulina, seaweed, pumpkin, beans, rice, avocado, almonds, peanuts, quinoa, figs, raisins, leafy greens, most berries, olives, seeds).
  6. Threonine (nuts, seeds, lentils, watercress and spirulina, pumpkin, leafy greens, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, almonds, avocados, figs, raisins, quinoa).
  7. Tryptophan (chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seed, pepitas, spirulina, bananas, and peanuts).
  8. Valine (nuts, beans, spinach, legumes, broccoli, seeds, chia seeds, whole grains, figs, avocado, apples, blueberries, cranberries, oranges, and apricots).
  9. Histidine (soybeans, beans, legumes, chia seeds, buckwheat, potatoes).

But, of course. Do not forget that, while plant-based products do contain these amino acids, they may not contain them in the same amounts. One ounce of Soybeans, for example, does not contain the same amount of Histidine as an ounce of red meat. So, to get the desired results of sufficient nutrients, you have to carefully balance your meal.


Vegan Products: How to Choose

When I first turned vegan, I lived in an area where vegan milks did not exist. After moving and discovering them, I was ecstatic. As the months went by, and I loaded my fridge with coconut, almond, soy, and rice milk, along with vegan cakes and cheese, I started to feel nauseous, tired, depressed, and anxious most of the time. A combination of physical and mental stress caused me to abandon the vegan diet all together.

After a sitting with a nutritionist, I realized that the vegan diet was not to blame. My poor planning of meals and choice of products were what caused me to have certain deficiencies and unbalanced hormones.

Here are a few notes on each of the Vegan milk products:

  1. Rice Milk: has no type of protein what-so-ever, and, in many kind of vegan diets, only adds to the carbohydrates which are raised to begin with.
  2. Coconut Milk: has no amino acids either, and may cause allergies.
  3. Soy Milk: may cause hormonal problems if ingested in large amounts or along with amount of other soy products, such as tofu or soy yogurt, due to its estrogen content.
  4. Almond Milk: Is now my go-to when I want to add milk to my tea or coffee or make a desert. Why? It has the most amino acid content of these four listed milk types. It also provides calcium and zinc, which can be deficient in vegans. Finally, it has less carbohydrates than other alternates and barely any sugar.

What does 'Fortified' mean?

It means that a certain nutrient is added to a product. Vegan milks and cereals fortified with calcium and Vitamin D are especially common, and could be used to make up for the lack of certain nutrients.

My advice to you

1. Check nutritional facts before you consume.

2. Do not be fooled by 'facts' about veganism and check your sources.

3. Balance and plan your meals according to your needs.

4. Get check-ups every two or three months to assure you are on the right track.

Do you now understand veganism and your experience with it better?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Laila Hashem


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