Vegans have been a topic of interest and question for a while now. Some people do it for animals, some for the environment, and others for health reasons. Following a diet based exclusively on plants may put some people at higher risk of nutrient deficiencies-especially if you have not researched it, not planned it, and have not consulted a professional doctor. There are increased benefits also.

Simply put, a vegan diet relies on plant-based foods including fruit, vegetables, grains, beans nuts, and seeds. Such a diet can be a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet however, before switching you must have a basic understanding of nutrition. A vegan must make sure they eat enough foods with protein, calcium, iron, zinc vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, as they do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, or any containing them. This may sound daunting for some of you, but hey, switching is a huge step forward for many people and of course, it may not be for everyone long term, but do your research and make sure you’re getting your supplements, especially if you attempt to ‘give it a taste’!

Not surprisingly enough, fruits and vegetables are probably the most common food category as they offer many choices to try and include a high vitamin content. Salads, veggie sticks, dips, stir-fried veggies are just a few of the many choices you can eat as a vegan. Since the vegan diet completely lacks any animal protein, beans and legumes are your best friend! They function as good protein replacement- white beans, kidney beans peas, black eyes beans, lentils and other legumes. Soy is very popular in a vegan diet- used to make soy milk, yogurt, tofu cheese, and other soy products you can use in your main meals like breakfast, salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Check @veganshopcy and www.veganforlife.com.cy for options. Grains like oatmeal, bread, tortillas, and pasta are a great source of carbs and fiber which aid digestion and keep you feeling fuller for longer. However, it is best to go for whole-wheat grains and not refined ones (no one wants those processed impurities anyway) they are the healthiest and contain the most nutrients. Nuts, seeds, popcorn, pecans, sprouts, and so on are other snacks that can help keep your energy levels high. Hummus, tahini, and nut butter will also increase those protein levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer, not to mention add taste to those veggies. Whether you choose to be a gradualist in moving from animal-based food to plant-based food or instead choose to jump right into the swap, you have to ‘re-conceptualize the way you think of your plate and your mood’ initially.

With any change to our daily routine come temporary unpleasant feelings. In your 1st few weeks, you may experience fatigue, loss of muscle tone, and perhaps even hair loss. Without meat, vegans often have a hard time getting enough B12 and iron, as meat contains a lot of amino acids. Our body actually makes these amino acids on its own, but we also need to get it from food. All of this helps make our red blood cells and transport oxygen throughout our body; nothing which a supplement and a handful of nuts can’t do!

In attempting a few changes to your diet there is an array of choices offered in plant-based diet, you may discover that food doesn’t taste the way it used to and this is because your zinc levels have been hit, which affects taste and smell. On the bright side do expect to lose a lot of weight and experience decreases in cholesterol, blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. Several studies have found that vegans are less likely to have clogged arteries from saturated fat and cholesterol. While our arteries are better off our bones may not be, as there may be a dip in calcium levels, which may in fact be boosted, very simply with leafy greens and broccoli. You may also experience a ‘sigh of relief’ when finding alternatives to dairy, or even eliminating it completely, due to a regular call of nature! On that note, it is popular opinion that 60%

of people don’t actually have the enzyme to digest lactose in dairy which results in cramping, bloating and diarrhea.

The long and short, is that It takes 21 days to make or break a habit (true story) and in the case of a plant based diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight can dramatically change just by the food that we eat. In any case whether swapping or attempting to ‘test the plant based diet waters’ do choose to always give your brain and body nutrients. When looking at products make sure your choices are between 150-350 mg sodium (salt) in your swaps, to avoid increased blood pressure. Always add in protein and legumes to your meal.

Remember that our brain naturally wants pleasure, so it’s hard to postpone the feeling of joy and gratification for something perhaps taking a longer time to take effect. The key is to do your research, plan your choices out carefully based on your individual needs; health status and health conditions and don’t make drastic changes that are difficult to maintain.

Stephanie Koutrouza

so, can you go vegan?