Being a long-time vegan, I am thrilled that a plant-based diet has received so much media attention in recent months, and delighted that people are waking up to the health benefits the lifestyle has to offer.
The thing that bothers me, is that too many times I’ve read/heard some version of this phrase: ‘A vegan diet is the best thing you can do for your health.’
It’s true, it can be the healthiest diet on the planet, and it’s also true that just by going vegan you have done your body a blinking huge favour, but a lot more information needs to be given.
Yes, it’s very likely that just by eliminating meat, dairy and eggs you will experience better health. After all, you’ll be forgoing all non-essential cholesterol, and most forms of saturated fat. You may well lose some weight, have more energy than before, and improve a few health niggles.
However, the words that are often missed out when referring to the health promises of a vegan diet are ‘whole foods.’
Bottom line – to experience everything a vegan diet has to offer health-wise, try to swap refined carbs and sugars for whole grains. Refined products were once ‘whole,’ but they had the goodness (including the fibre) stripped out, mainly to make them white and more neutral tasting. They therefore do nothing but spike your blood, constipate, and promote heart disease and cancer.
It’s very simple to switch from white rice to brown rice, but the most ubiquitous refined products we use are white flour and white sugar, and you’d be surprised how many products contain them.
From bread (including regular sliced, bagels, veggie burger buns, baguettes, paninis, matzo), to cookies, cakes, and white pasta, there are many ways white flour is sneaking into your body.
As for sugar, not only is it in obvious places like candies and cakes, but also in ketchup, jam, canned beans, chilli sauce (most shop-bought sauces, in fact), and you’d be surprised how much it is used in restaurants – even in main dishes.
Avoiding refined products like white flour and sugar does require a certain amount of label reading at first, but after a while you get to remember which products contain them and which don’t. I think of it this way – how much refined starch goes into your body needs to be controlled by you, not huge food corporations, whose only interest is to keep you addicted to their product.
Wholewheat, whole spelt or gluten free flour can be used in place of white in baking; wholewheat or brown rice pasta are good alternatives to white pasta, and there are many quality pre-made products in health shops that contain only whole grains.
Try quinoa and buckwheat in place of brown rice sometimes.
To replace sugar? Maple syrup or brown rice syrup are a much healthier option for those times when you just have to sweeten something up a little, and they are also great for baking with.
It’s ok to adopt new habits little by little. Just as you may have given up one animal product at a time, you can sub whole grains for refined products one by one if that is easier.
(I should add here that complex carbohydrates are a massive part of a healthy vegan diet – please don’t ever fall for the low-carb nonsense. I’ll talk about this in another post).
It is so important to not misrepresent a vegan diet, saying it is the healthiest way to live without being more specific about how this is achieved.
Fries, coke and white bread can all be vegan – but good luck trying to thrive on that!
With a varied diet made up of whole grains, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and legumes, with sugar kept to a minimum, you’ll soon start to reap the benefits other vegans have been shouting about.