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Staying healthy on a vegan diet

A happy young woman preparing a healthy meal at home

Plant-based diets have been trending for some time, and it’s easy to see why. Studies have shown a vegan diet could reduce the risk of death from chronic illness by 25 percent. While health benefits are a great reason to become vegan, there are plenty of other reasons to switch to a plant-based diet — like animal welfare, the health of the planet, or simply to try something new.

Regardless of your reasoning, here are some things to keep in mind when adopting a vegan diet.

Take it slow

A vegan diet is mainly plant-based, with no animal by-products like meat and dairy allowed. There are some surprising foods you may also need to avoid, like honey.

Going vegan can be a big change from your usual diet, so don’t be afraid to start slow. An easy first step may be to swap out the milk you use in your morning coffee with a plant-based milk alternative such as almond milk. You could also try following Meatless Mondays as you slowly phase meat out of your diet.

Always check with your primary care provider (PCP) before making any drastic changes to your diet, especially if you have a medical condition like diabetes.

Keep an eye on your nutrients

While plant-based diets can be healthy, vegans may sometimes become deficient in the following nutrients found in meat and dairy:

  • Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is mainly found in meat and eggs but can also be found in nuts and soy products. While it’s possible to get some through your diet, many vegans supplement B12 to reach their recommended daily amount.
  • Vitamin D3. This vitamin is commonly found in fish, but vegans can take supplements and get some Vitamin D3 from skin exposure to the sun. Keep in mind that many D3 supplements are not vegan because they contain lanolin (a substance made from sheep), so be sure to check the ingredients.
  • Omega-3. Like D3, omega-3s are often found in fish, but they’re also found in many plant-based foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and seaweed. Vegans can also take omega-3 supplements made from algae if they need a boost to reach their recommended daily amount.
  • Iron. Iron is easily found in red meats and seafood, but it’s also found in many vegetables like spinach and sweet potatoes. If you’re eating enough leafy greens, there’s a good chance you won’t need to supplement iron.
  • Protein. One of the main benefits of meat and dairy is the high protein content. When switching to a plant-based diet, make sure you’re still getting the recommended amount of protein through foods like tofu and beans.

As always, ensure you eat a well-balanced diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables. Limit your consumption of processed foods and sugar, even if they’re labeled as vegan alternatives. If you begin to feel weaker or more tired than usual or notice any other changes to your overall well-being, see your PCP.

Buddy up

Diet changes are usually easier to manage when your friends and family are on board. Find a buddy who is also interested in going vegan with you, or find vegan support groups in your area to meet new people who share a similar lifestyle.

With veganism’s increasing popularity, it’s never been easier to commit to this lifestyle. Find a vegan restaurant near you, ask about the vegan options at your current favorite restaurant, or try a new vegan recipe at home.

AmeriHealth Team

The AmeriHealth Team is here to provide well-being tips and health insurance education to help you be your healthiest.