This fantastic article was written by Trisha Miller, a freelance writer from Boise, ID. She is a dedicated vegan who promotes an all-around healthy lifestyle. We encourage you to check out her blog and follow her on Twitter!
About six percent of the American population now identifies as vegan. That sounds like an insignificant number, doesn’t it? Actually, in America, we’re home to over 350 million people. Six percent of that comes in at almost 20 million people, which has increased at a rate of 500 percent since just 2014. Aside from the ethics of a vegan diet, people are turning to a plant-based diet simply because of its found health benefits.
However, being a healthy vegan means that you have a solid understanding of food, what your body needs to be healthy, and what could happen if you don’t watch what you eat. There a right way to do the vegan diet, and the wrong way, so let’s take a look at the guidelines to follow.
Where Do Vegans Get Their Protein?
Vegans hear “Where do you get your protein?” probably more than any other question that is asked of us. The misconception is that meat is the only way to get enough protein — but that’s not even close. The fact of the matter is, the average adult needs about 46 to 56 grams of protein in a day or about 10 to 35 percent of your diet, which is easily attainable with plant-based foods.
If you’re eating meat with each meal, you’re likely fulfilling that amount and even surpassing your daily recommended amount of protein. After your body reaches its limit of protein, it will simply discard the rest of the protein that you’ve consumed. More protein does not equal a stronger body.
Below are some examples of protein quantities in plant-based foods:
- A single cup of almonds has 20 grams of protein. (That’s almost half of the recommended daily value!)
- Chickpeas have 39 grams of protein per cup.
- Oats contain 26 grams of protein per cup.
- Pumpkin seeds carry about 6 grams of protein per half cup
- Many vegetables (like broccoli & potato) have about 4 grams of protein per cup
As you can see, a mixture of veggies, seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes throughout the day can easily get you to your daily recommended value of protein. If you need even more of a boost, you can always go with a good protein powder. However, keep in mind that protein isn’t everything. Making sure you have a well-balanced diet is just as important as getting enough protein.
What Does “Well-Balanced” Look Like?
What do we mean by well-balanced? Basically, we’re saying stay away from processed foods as much as you can and too many of the same foods. A vegan or vegetarian diet, when done incorrectly, can actually still lead to some health problems.
For example, relying too heavily on fruits can actually lead to acid issues in the body, like ulcers and acid reflux, as well as weight gain. Not eating enough leafy greens and other foods rich in iron can lead to anemia. Not to mention, a lack of omega 3’s, like in avocados, can lead to chronic fatigue, dry skin, and poor memory. Understanding your macronutrients and a healthy balance is imperative if you choose to take up this lifestyle.
Depending on your diet goals, carbs should make up about 45 to 65 percent of your diet, which is quite easy to do even if you’re not eating any bread. Fruits and vegetables actually hold quite a lot of carbs just by themselves. For example, bananas are a great source of healthy carbs at about 27 grams per banana. Blueberries are also right up there carrying about 21 grams of carbs per cup. Certain healthy grains are a great source of carbs as well. Oats, for example, contain 103 grams of carbs per cup and brown rice has about 45 grams. Without ever picking up a slice of bread, you can easily get your daily recommended value of carbs.
Fat is necessary for healthy skin and organs. A healthy diet should contain 20 to 35 percent healthy fats. Foods high in healthy fats are avocados at 21 grams of fat per cup, peanuts at 72 grams, and sunflower seeds at 72 grams. It’s easy to get the right amount of fats in your diet, if you start reaching for the right foods.
Where Does Organic Come In?
Lastly, while ‘organic’ does not fall under the vegan classification, it does tend to go hand-in-hand with a plant-based diet and is an important guideline to follow where possible. Foods produced organically do not rely on synthetic protectants and artificial ingredients in the soil. As a result, in many cases, organically grown produce has a higher occurrence of antioxidants than non-organic produce. The fruits and veggies have been forced to produce oxidants on their own in order to fight off bugs and other irritants, which means we get to reap the health benefits of a healthier food.
In addition, organic foods are good for the environment. Adding in protectants and synthetic additives to the soil can destroy that soil for future crops. Certain crops demand certain nutrients from the soil and also deposit nutrients back into the soil, which is why organic farmers often rotate crops in order to keep the soil nutrients at optimal levels. However, when synthetics are added to the soil, in order to keep producing the same crop all year round, the soil suffers greatly and new crops many not be able to grow there in the future.
Lastly, we throw away about a third of the fruit and vegetables that we produce each year, simply because one tomato, carrot, or pea isn’t exactly the same as the one next to it. Non-organic farmers appeal to the masses by farming fruits and vegetables that are all almost identical. However, if we saved these wasted foods, we could undoubtedly make a dent in world hunger. So, when you’re grocery shopping, whether you’re vegan or not, remember that choosing organic not only makes a difference to your health but also promotes a more sustainable way of life.