Luckily my vegan journey has not been propelled by philosophical ponderings alone. It turns out that I am much healthier for not eating animal protein, as I have avoided the many hormones, chemicals, and saturated fats that go along with these “foods” and began consuming way more foods rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibers (none of which can be found in meat or dairy).
But when I first started eliminating animal products from my diet 23 years ago I was bombarded by comments and questions like “where will I get my protein, calcium?” and “what about B12?” Well, at first I wasn’t so good about making sure I got all the nutrients my body needed, but over time my diet—and cooking skills!—expanded to include all kinds of plant foods that have plenty of those nutrients.
Americans seem especially to be obsessed with protein—even to the effect that many get way too much of it—leading to kidney problems, and heart disease when that excess protein comes from animal sources. Protein is a combo of amino acids, and all plants have these amino acids. By eating a good variety of legumes, whole grains, and fresh fruits and veggies and making sure you get enough calories, it would actually be difficult to be protein deficient.
Many new vegans may feel they are not getting enough protein, but that’s usually because they begin by eating only “light” foods such as salads and fruits. It is important (and more fun) to expand your idea of what a vegan diet is and include all kinds of foods including the “heavier” plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and beans and work them into your repertoire. It helps me to remember a vegan diet is not limited but inclusive of thousands of combinations of hundreds of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs, and spices. Compare that to there being only a handful of animal foods people tend to eat: eggs, dairy, cows, chickens, pigs, fish, and sometimes goats and lambs.
And thinking that calcium needs to come from animal milk is just the result of savvy marketing on part of the dairy industry. Cow’s milk is made to turn a 600- pound calf into a two-ton cow. How can this possibly be good for a 100- to 200-pound person, let alone a small child? There are naturally occurring steroids and hormones even in organic milks that are simply not intended for the human species. We are mammals and like any other mammal in the animal kingdom, we were meant to drink our own mother’s breast milk and then be weaned. Period. Not switch to another species’ milk when we are weaned from our mother’s milk! So where do I get my calcium? Leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, legumes, and seeds. And do I get enough? Apparently according to my last bone density test.
But what I’m not getting is the saturated fat, cholesterol, and pro-inflammatories that dairy contains and that contribute to heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and other major chronic disease. I’m also not getting any of the blood and mucous that also are served up in a glass of milk. Ick!
And as far as B12 is concerned, many people think it comes from animals. But actually B12 is a microorganism that naturally occurs in soil, which is consumed by animals and is stored in their tissue which in turn is taken up by humans who consume those animals. The plants that we eat are generally scrubbed clean of B12, so yes, if you don’t eat animals, it is harder to get B12. But luckily we are animals too and we store B12 in our bodies, so taking a supplement, or using B12 fortified plant-milks, even occasionally, will take care of a vegan’s B12 needs.
But really, the best improvement to my health since I began a vegan diet is really a very personal and life-changing testimony. Since I was a small child (baby really) I have suffered from severe allergies and at times debilitating bouts of eczema. I am not brave enough to post pictures of me at my worst, but I will share that I was hospitalized for complications due to eczema inflammations and have had to have steroid injections just to be comfortable enough to function at times throughout my childhood. Once I fully eliminated animal products from my diet and detoxed out all the toxins from processed foods and learned to eat properly, by the time I was 19 eczema was a rare event, and even other allergies like hayfever were a thing of the past.
I see all this as karmically being rewarded for not eating animals, but some may still want to see the science behind the health benefits of a plant-based diet. For those folks I highly recommend reading “The China Study” by Colin T. Campbell and seeing the filmForks Over Knives. These two information sources are changing more lives everyday and yours may be next.
Now I am working on my parents.