Going Vegan for Health Reasons

By Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

I’ll be honest: you shouldn’t become vegan just to become healthier.

Why not? Because while it’s very possible you’ll get healthier as a vegan, it’s not the best reason to give it a try. Veganism doesn’t equal health — you can be unhealthy or healthy on a vegan diet, and you can be unhealthy or healthy on a diet that includes dairy or eggs or seafood, and so forth.

That said, it’s likely that if you add more plants to your diet, you’ll be healthier. Many people lose weight when they replace fattier animal foods with plant foods. Many people experience other health benefits of adding more vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and so on to their diet.

Plant-based diets, including a healthful vegan diet, are the basis of a healthy lifestyle for many people, including some of the healthiest people in the world.

So … how can you get healthy on a vegan diet? A few guidelines:

  1. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Especially greens, but veggies of all colors are great.
  2. Eat a variety of whole foods. Whole grains are great, but don’t just add starches to your diet. See the next couple of items.
  3. Beans and other legumes and nuts and seeds and soyfoods (tofu, tempeh, soymilk) are your friends. Lots of good nutrients, including protein.
  4. Don’t be afraid of a moderate amount of healthy fats — olive and canola oil, avocados, walnuts and almonds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Lots of people equate veganism with a low-fat diet, but good fats are an important part of a healthy diet. Veganism naturally has very little saturated fat (which mostly come from animals — saturated fat from plants are generally healthier).
  5. If you do it long term, you’ll want to supplement with B12. People with kidney disease should take the non-cyanocobalamin form of B12. It’s also good to get lots of Omega-3 fats, calcium, iron and Vitamin-D. It’s not hard (soymilk, for example, already contains these nutrients). You also don’t need to worry about these nutrients if you’re just doing it for 7 days, though actually everyone should pay attention to these nutrients (not just vegans) over the long term.

Losing Weight on a Vegan Diet

Many people look to the vegan diet to lose weight … again, veganism isn’t a weight-loss diet, but vegans on average do tend to be thinner and have fewer health problems than non-vegans.

So if you’re looking to lose weight on a vegan diet, some things to keep in mind:

  1. You shouldn’t try to lose a lot of weight in 7 days. It’s not realistic to lose weight quickly, and even if you do, you’re likely to gain it back again quickly. Don’t do this challenge expecting to lose a lot of weight. Do it for compassion and to explore something new and learn a little about yourself. And in the process, start forming some healthier habits that will help you find your healthy weight over the long term. This is a lasting approach.
  2. Eat whole foods. Lots of fruits & veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, tempeh, seeds … these high-quality ingredients should form the bulk of your diet. Soymilk and seitan and tofu are fine too. If you have lots of high-quality plants in your diet, you’re likely to lose weight over the long term.
  3. Do strength training. Even bodyweight strength training, but after awhile consider adding some weights (while focusing on proper form). Weight help strengthen your bones while ensuring that you’re not losing a lot of muscle as you lose weight. Adding some cardio to your exercise plan over the long term will also help (I like running and walking and hiking).

With these components, you’ll lose weight (if you’re overweight) over the long term. Be mindful of your fullness, don’t eat just because food looks good, and avoid fried, fatty, and sweet foods and refined grains (with small indulgences on occasions).