Being a Vegan is Hard

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Some Background

Veganism is a diet style in which absolutely no animal products are consumed.  That means no meat, dairy, eggs, or any products that contain any of those ingredients.  Many people follow vegan diets for moral, cultural, or health reasons, or, if you’re like me, for curiosity’s sake.  When done right, veganism is a very healthy style of eating and results in lots of positive health outcomes.

Those who have talked to me about it know that I’m not a huge fan of veganism.  When I think about it, though, it’s not veganism that I’m really against – it’s vegans who don’t know what they’re doing.  There are a lot of really great nutrients in animal products,  you don’t necessarily need to eat meat to get them, and there are a lot of free range/organic/local products out there if animal cruelty is your concern.  Because of that, I’ve always thought lacto-ovo-vegetarianism was a more sustainable and natural lifestyle choice.  Potential deficiencies in a vegan diet include:

  • Vitamin B12: Required for proper functioning of the brain/nervous system, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis.  Deficiencies can result in anemia, confusion, fatigue, and depression.  The main non-animal B12 source is spirulina (an algae), though this form of B12 is overall biologically inactive.
  • Calcium: Calcium is required for vascular contraction/dilation, conduction of nerve impulses, muscular contraction, and intracellular signaling cascades, while the bones act as the body’s reservoir for calcium.  When dietary calcium intake is low, the body will pull calcium from the bones (thus weakening them) in order to maintain normal levels in the blood so that all those other things I mentioned can happen.  Dairy is a great source of calcium, but certainly not the only one.  Green leafy vegetables contain calcium, and lots of foods are fortified with calcium like soy and almond milks, orange juice, tofu, etc.
  • Iron: Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, the delivery of oxygen to tissue, and for proper function of many enzymes.  Dietary iron comes in the form of heme (think: hemoglobin) and non-heme iron.  Heme iron is much more bioavailable and is present in meat, whereas non-heme iron is not very bioavailable and sources include fortified cereals, beans, and spinach.

Overall, these deficiencies can be avoided by taking a multivitamin or nutrient-specific supplements.  Plus, our food supply is so heavily fortified that you can readily get these nutrients without eating their natural sources.  You just have to be especially cognizant of what you’re eating and what nutrients those foods do and do not provide.

The First Few Days

Technically, I was supposed to start my month-long adventure of veganism on January 1, 2013.  That didn’t happen.  I was in CO for the first few days of 2013, and I spent NYE in Vail seeing Thievery Corporation (awesome live show), drinking a lot of whiskey, and being awake long after I should have gone to sleep.  Needless to say, I wasn’t much in the mood for eating a bunch of vegetables and legumes and no cheese on Jan 1st.  Instead, I had a fried chicken wrap (which later gave me food poisoning) for lunch and chorizo tacos for dinner.  The food poisoning was probably my body’s way of telling me I suck for not following through with my vegan plan and/or I have bad karma.

I spent January 2nd recovering from said food poisoning, so I was sort of a vegan that day, but mostly because I just didn’t eat much.   I have since been successful in pursuits of veganism, though it has not been without challenges, which I expect will continue for the next month.

Challenge 1: Eating out.  There are maybe 2 vegan options on a given menu, and a few more vegetarian options that can be veganized if you hold the cheese.  This makes eating out at an average restaurant fairly monotonous.

Challenge 2: Chocolate.  There is milk in most chocolate products (duh: milk chocolate).  It’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it, and it makes me sad.

Challenge 3: Airports.  There are close to no vegetarian/vegan options in an airport.  What I had for dinner at the airport Friday night was a “garden salad” (iceberg lettuce salad-in-a-bag mix) with balsamic vinaigrette and chips and guacamole.  It sucked.

Now that I’m back home, I think the veganism will take a turn for the better since I can cook for myself.  I will say that making my weekly menu took a lot more planning, and I have started reading more food labels than I ever did before (and I did it a lot).  I’m not really worried about not eating meat since I didn’t eat it much before anyways.  But cheese and yogurt make me happy, and ice cream and frozen yogurt make me even happier, so challenges certainly loom in the not-so-far-off distance.

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3 responses »

  1. Yay vegan month! Oddly enough, I like having fewer options at restaurants, it’s easier to make a decision if I’ve never eaten there before. A lot of dark chocolate bars don’t have any milk in them, and even some semi-sweet chocolate chips, even though they’re not labeled vegan (and therefore aren’t more expensive…). Totally agree with you on airport food though, it becomes even more of a ripoff than usual. Good luck with the rest of the month, let me know if you need any recipe ideas!

  2. I’ve always been fascinated by any diet that requires a supplement to make up for something you won’t get enough of just eating daily meals. Not because I think any are inferior/superior (for needing supplementation), but because it makes me think of any book/movie set in the future, where the entire diet is just pills. It is usually a story of a dystopian future.

    To be clear, I personally would be tragically deficient in a long list of nutrients were I not to drink a heavily supplemented, processed meal-replacement drink every morning. It makes me wonder how we came up with our Recommended Daily Intake values, when any diet that got the human race to where it is now would be deficient in many of those nutrients.

  3. Liz- I still haven’t tried eating out much — I’ll need to do that more over the next couple weeks! And I typically do eat dark chocolate because it’s not as sweet, and I like it more. I just hadn’t really thought about milk chocolate not being vegan! I’ll let you know if I need any recipes! I’m really liking this so far.
    Karl- Most of the DRI’s are pretty legit and have a lot of science to back them. Others are somewhat controversial (like calcium, Vitamin D, and sodium), whereas it would be near impossible to get to the DRI of potassium and there is very little science to back the 4700 mg/day recommendation. It is definitely interesting learning the politics behind our food landscape because you see how much grey area there is behind it all, like all things.

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