Let’s back up and start from the beginning. If you weren't aware, let me explain to you what being vegan means. I do not eat any animal products. That doesn't just include meat, but also dairy or animal by-products. That means, milk and butter, but also things like gelatin and lanolin.
Why Go Vegan?
The reasoning behind such a huge change can vary depending on who you ask. Initially, I went vegetarian because someone that I worked with challenged me to do so. I ate a strict vegetarian diet for 30 days and liked the way it made me feel, so I decided to stick with it. Over the next 6 months, I began to learn a bit more about vegetarianism aside from just feeling healthier.
I realized that animal products were in everything. In addition to food, I began to educate myself about other ethics within veganism, such as animal testing, which is performed on an incredibly large amount of products – anything from household cleaners to cosmetics. As time passed, I felt that I could no longer ignore the fact that the American diet and lifestyle is very reliant on animals in one form or another. So, I decided to break the mold and go vegan.
If I’m honest, I’m not always the picture-perfect image of a vegan. I make mistakes, but I do my best to learn from them. When you first begin to change your diet, it’s easy to get into a rut of ease and comfort instead of wholistic balance. Especially in this day and age, it’s easy to find vegan foods just about anywhere.
However, that doesn't mean that everything vegan is good for you. Many vegan products are processed in order to achieve a similar look, texture, or taste as non-vegan foods. This means many vitamins and nutrients could be lost in the processing of the food.
The Issue With Processed Foods
For example, many “fake types of meat” have been created to make the modern vegan’s life a little bit easier. While not every one of these is “bad” for you, these processed foods should be seen as filler and not a staple of every meal. Foods that are filled with too much wheat, sugar, soy, corn, etc. can weigh your body down.
Your body’s goal is to turn your food immediately into fuel. When you eat too many processed foods that are rich in one ingredient, your body doesn't need it or know what to do with it in such excess. So, in all reality, eating the freshest foods possible makes it easier on your body – even if it’s not always convenient for us.
Maintaining a Balanced Diet
Let’s talk about what a balanced vegan diet looks like. Carbs, protein, fiber, good fats and a little sugar should make up your diet. Now, what does that look like on a plate? Well, the vegan food pyramid consists of a base of mainly carbs and vegetables.
Starchy vegetables like potatoes, rice, barley, and quinoa mixed with various nutritious vegetables like spinach, carrots, broccoli, peas, kale, onions, etc. Next, you have a layer of beans and lentils followed by a healthy serving of fruits and nuts. Keeping things plentiful and varied is the key towards optimal health as a vegan.
Even so, it’s incredibly important to stay “in the know” about your health. Our bodies can go through changes over time and something as huge as diet change can cause a definite impact on the way your body functions. This is why getting regular checkups is so important. Even if the foods you are eating are whole and organic, your body could be missing something that you’re not aware of.
4 Common Health Issues for Vegans
As such, it’s not uncommon for many vegans and vegetarians to suffer from small health issues. Let’s go over a few of them and discuss why they happen and how you can go about fixing them.
An iron deficiency, affecting mostly women, can be caused by the lack of meat consumed by vegans and vegetarians. Iron keeps our blood cells healthy. Without healthy blood cells, it becomes difficult to fight off infections, and it is harder for our blood to clot when we get a scrape or cut.
What’s more, healthy blood cells carry all our necessary vitamins and even oxygen throughout the body in order to keep it going? If the cells aren't performing properly, extreme fatigue can become a huge issue. Luckily vegans can find iron in tons of foods like green leafy vegetables, tofu, seeds, and nuts. However, if you have been prone to anemia in the past, please consult your doctor before going vegan or vegetarian.
This compound is usually derived from bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. Sounds gross right? Well B12 actually does so much good for our bodies. It helps us keep up our energy, it regulates iron in our blood and helps keep our minds sharp.
Shockingly enough, those who don’t get enough B12 can eventually develop neurological issues. This vitamin is essential to a healthy life. It very rarely naturally occurs in plants. Vegans can take supplements if they think they aren't getting enough. Many multivitamins contain B12 complex these days, and you can even get a B12 shot if you don’t want to have to take pills every day – either one works just fine.
3. Ulcers, Acid Reflux, and Hernias
Vegans and vegetarians undoubtedly need to consume more fruits and vegetables than the average Joe. This isn't usually an issue, but it can become one if the individual doesn't maintain a balanced diet. Too many acidic foods can lead to some nasty stomach issues.
Ulcers occur when acidic foods and drinks eat away that the protective mucus around the stomach. The acid then starts to eat away at the stomach lining, causing a sore (an ulcer).
Acid reflux (or heartburn) is when excess acid flows up into the esophagus, causing discomfort. Extended acid reflux can result in sores and even holes in the esophagus, making it difficult to eat or swallow.
Hernias are categorized as an organ which protrudes into another area of the body. Hiatal hernias are what vegans have to worry about. This is when the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm and into the chest.
Excess acid also causes this, and pressure builds up in the stomach. It can also lead to ulcers and spill stomach contents into the chest and esophagus and become very painful.
Each of these issues is fairly common and can usually be treated easily, even in the most extreme cases needing surgery. However, it is recommended to eat smaller portions and eat a variety of foods together in order to mitigate against a buildup of acid in the stomach.
4. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
Essentially this is the most important part of Omega-3 fatty acids in the body. This compound is mostly found in fish and other animal foods. There is a very similar product in vegetables, but the body seems to be unable to process and use it as well as DHA. Omega-3s are essential for many “fatty” areas of our bodies including the skin, eyes, heart, and brain.
Prolonged deficiency to omega-3s can cause fatigue, poor memory, chronic dry skin, and even possibly mood swings or depression. There are a few vegan sources of omega-3s like mangoes, avocados, and hemp seeds. So, as long as you keep these in your regular arsenal, you should be just fine.
In conclusion, if you are ever concerned about your health or wellbeing, please see a doctor immediately. The fact of the matter is, there isn't one clear-cut, cookie cutter diet that works for everyone.
Educating yourself on exactly what you are putting in your body and where it comes from is the first step towards leading a healthier lifestyle – whether that is vegan or not. Fresh, unprocessed food in a well-balanced diet is one large part of the puzzle and can help give your body the tools it needs to combat minor health complications such as these.
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Source: Healthy Holistic Living
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