There’s a plethora of diets out there these days: ketogenic, paleo, vegetarian and considerably the most extreme of them all, veganism. Vegans consume no animal byproducts, so primarily that means no meat and no dairy, but it also includes foods like eggs and honey. Veganism is rooted strongly in the animal rights activist community, but when done right can give you added health benefits. Becoming a vegan might seem intimidating, but it can be done.

Researchers found that vegans have considerably lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol in a 2009 study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This puts vegans at a lower risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.

The same study said that vegans have higher levels of folic acid, fiber, vitamins C and E, potassium and magnesium.

On the contrary, a vegan diet needs to be done correctly, otherwise, you will be severely lacking in nutrients such as vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, omega-3, and sometimes zinc and iron.

Becoming a vegan cold turkey can put your body into a bit of a shock; prepare to feel hungry more often. Making the transition gradually, for instance first cutting out meat, will make the transition easier. Naturally occurring vegan substitutes are more accessible at the grocery store than they were 10 years ago. Start by trying out almond milk in your coffee, having coconut yogurt instead of your usual fruit-at-the-bottom, and eating a hearty salad or quinoa burger for lunch.

Beans, nuts, seeds and ancient grains are your best friends when it comes to protein. These items can easily be integrated into all three meals of the day. For example, integrating breads with seeds and sprouted wheat into your diet and switching white rice out for quinoa or farro are some easy adjustments.

The pitfall to avoid here is turning into what some dub the “junk food vegan trend,” substitute meats like “chicken fingers” for instance. If you need to quell the craving for meat, tempeh and jackfruit might become your best friend. Jackfruit is like a meaty pineapple that makes a great dupe for pulled pork barbecue sliders. Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is good for mock BLT sandwiches.

If eating foods rich in these nutrients just aren’t enough, supplements are a great source. Flaxseeds for instance are a good vegan substitute for fish oil, which is rich in omega-6, a great fatty acid. Hemp seeds pack a huge punch with its high omega-3 and omega-6 properties and can be sprinkled over salads, soups and even smoothies.

At the end of the day, it’s your body. If you’re out to eat and can’t find any vegan substitutes, it’s OK. You make the rules. Being a “flexitarian,” where you steer away from animal products and byproducts, still forces you to get more fruits and vegetables in your daily intake, which ultimately provides an array of nutrients. 

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