What is a vegan?

The general definition of a vegan is “someone who does not use animal products.” And one reason to avoid these products is to prevent pain and suffering. But it is not clear which organisms are considered animals, nor which organisms can experience pain and suffering.

The behavior of animals is probably the criterion most people use to base their opinions on whether animals feel pain. Most people agree that cats, dogs, and other mammals feel pain. In fact, when some people say ‘animal,’ they mean ‘mammal’. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists mammal’ as a synonym for ‘animal.’

It is not as easy for everyone to agree if birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates feel pain. On the other hand, many people seriously claim that plants feel pain. Therefore, defining ‘animal’ by what people generally believe is not going to be productive.

Is a vegan diet healthy?

As with any diet, a vegan diet requires planning. However, when properly planned, a vegan diet can be considerably healthier than a traditional American diet. In its 1996 position paper on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association reported that vegan and vegetarian diets can significantly reduce one’s risk of contracting heart disease, colon and lung cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, and a number of other debilitating conditions.

Cows’ milk contains ideal amounts of fat and protein for young calves, but far too much for humans. And eggs are higher in cholesterol than any other food, making them a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease.

Vegan foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Vegans can get all the protein they need from legumes (e.g., beans, tofu, peanuts) and grains (e.g., rice, corn, whole wheat breads and pastas); calcium from broccoli, kale, collard greens, tofu, fortified juices and soymilks; iron from chickpeas, spinach, pinto beans, and soy products; and B12 from fortified foods or supplements. With planning, a vegan diet can provide all the nutrients we were taught as schoolchildren came only from animal products.

For many this is a deeply rooted prejudice, even among the vegetarian and vegan community. In the US we are constantly inundated by misleading claims made by the meat and dairy industries, and after a lifetime of such indoctrination even the most well-intentioned veggies can find themselves worried that their diet may negatively affect their health. Like all myths, just a little research proves this to be false.

While there are always exceptions to the rule, human bodies flourish when eating a well planned plant-based diet. (A poorly planned vegan diet is usually the scapegoat for people who try vegetarianism/veganism but “don’t feel healthy”. It should go without saying, but any diet should be thoroughly researched before undertaking.) The goal of eating is to obtain certain vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, etc. and to get sufficient calories to sustain our activities. When you look at eating in such an abstract way, and give up any preconceived notions about which specific foods seem to be the only way to obtain those certain essential nutrients, you’re ready to really understand nutrition. The 4 food groups were created by the USDA so people didn’t have to worry about the specifics of their nutrients. Instead of looking at a huge table of what foods contain what necessary nutrients, people were able to simplify things by looking at a table with just 4 sections, each with a recommended daily dose of foods. While this may simplify our lives, it’s also trained us to think of nutrition as FOODS instead of NUTRIENTS.

When you look at what nutrients are contained in plant-based food compared to what our bodies need, it’s obvious that a vegan diet is plentiful in good stuff (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.) and low on the junk (saturated fats, cholesterol, hormones/antibiotics, etc.). Animal-based sources of the good stuff (protein, calcium, etc.) are also loaded with the junk, a problem vegans don’t have to worry about. (The only deficiency vegans are at risk for is the vitamin B12. Although, when you discover B12 is a bacteria and animal-based foods contain B12 only due to bacterial contamination, it makes taking a supplement sound like a smart idea all around).
One of the main precepts of a vegan lifestyle is to do the least amount of harm, and that most definitely includes oneself! A varied vegan diet is not just good for animals and the earth, but is the absolute healthiest possible diet for humans.

It is expensive?

There is nothing inherently more expensive about a vegan diet. If a person wants to replicate his/her previous diet with animal analogous, then yes, it can be more expensive to buy veggie burgers, prepared seitan, Rice Dream Supreme, etc. But pasta, beans, potatoes, breads, fruits and vegetables are all generally less expensive than the animal products of similar nutritional value.

Sources: Veganoutreach, Sugar Rocket

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