Friday, June 14, 2024

Vegan Diet for Beginners: Eating for the Planet and Your Health

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These vegan diet for beginners tips can help you eat better for your health and the planet.

Can you call yourself an environmentalist if you’re not eating plant-based? Many experts say no. That’s because animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change, accounting for some 15 percent of all emissions, chiefly methane. While CO2 lingers in the atmosphere longer, methane traps more heat — over the span of 100 years, methane does 27 times the damage of CO2.

Animal agriculture and deforestation

But it’s not just greenhouse gas emissions that put a vegan diet at the top of the list of for environmentalists. Animal agriculture is exceptionally resource intensive, requiring far more land, water, and energy to produce than plant-based products.

It’s a leading cause of deforestation as well, with the Amazon rainforest a prime target; it’s being decimated in large part for the production of soy for livestock feed. More than eight million hectares of Amazon rainforest have been felled in the last several decades at a rate of more than 14 percent per year. The rising demand for soy is clearing an estimated 4,800 km2 of rainforest each year.

climate targets
Courtesy Michelangelo Op | Motion Array

According to research published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, corporate pledges to avoid soy linked to deforestation have fallen flat.

Corporate pledges to avoid purchasing soybeans produced on land deforested after 2006 have reduced tree clearance in the Brazilian Amazon by just 1.6 percent between 2006 and 2015, the researchers found. This amounts to 2,300 km2 in the Amazon rainforest, “barely the size of Oxfordshire in the U.K.,” the researchers point out.

“Zero-deforestation pledges are a great first step, but they need to be implemented to have an effect on forests — and right now it’s mainly the bigger companies that have the resources to do this,” said Professor Rachael Garrett, Moran Professor of Conservation and Development at the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, a joint senior author of the report.

“If soybean traders actually implemented their global commitments for zero-deforestation production, current levels of forest clearance in Brazil could be reduced by around 40 percent.”

Vegan diet benefits

Scores of health studies have linked the vegan diet to improved health and longevity, from reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease to increased lifespan and reduced risks of certain types of cancer.

The World Health Organization declared processed meats human carcinogens in 2015 — that’s on top of meat and dairy’s links to heart disease, high cholesterol, among other health risks.

A plant-based diet, on the other hand, can help reduce the severity, and even reverse, some of these conditions.

whole foods market trend predictions
Courtesy Jason Briscoe | Unsplash

The American Dietetic Association says appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and for athletes.”

According to Dr. Reshma Shah, a physician, plant-based eating advocate, co-author of Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families and Stanford Healthy Living instructor, “Ninety-seven percent of Americans meet their daily protein requirements, but only four percent of Americans meet their daily fiber requirements. I’ve never treated a patient for protein deficiency. If you eat a wide variety of foods and eat enough calories, protein should not be a concern.”

Vegan diet tips for beginners

Whether going fully vegan or easing into the diet a few meals a week, these tips can help make the transition easier and more delicious!

best plant-based cookbook
Courtesy Polina Tankilevitch | Unsplash

1. Start slow 

First, you need to ensure that you are going slow with changes like this. If you have never removed meat and dairy from your diet before then it may be a bit of a shock to your system You might even find yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms where your body begins to crave the foods you’re replacing. It’s hard to go vegan without providing your body with the right substitutes. For instance, you might want to think about eating more nuts to get additional levels of protein, or adding chia seeds to replace the omega fats from fish, for example.

Courtesy Mind Food : Plant-Based Recipes for Positive Mental Health, Lauren Lovatt (2022, Leaping Hare Press)

2. Use exciting recipes

One of the biggest misconceptions about the vegan lifestyle is that it will lead to a bland and dull diet. This isn’t the case. You just need to make sure that you are exploring a wide range of different vegan recipes that will allow you to sample different tastes and all kinds of possibilities. You might even want to think about investing in a vegan cookbook. Most likely there are already many vegetable-forward dishes you love that you can already include in your new diet plan. Try adding beans or tofu for additional protein and experiment with fun plant-based recipes.

chinese food
Courtesy Debbie Tea | Unsplash

3. Dine out

We should all be cooking at home — vegan or not. It’s healthier for our bodies and has a smaller impact on the planet. But we also need a break. Dining out at a vegan restaurant or one with a range of plant-based options can help introduce you to new vegan foods that you may not have dreamed of cooking yourself—and yes, that includes vegan fast food, too. So many restaurants are now offering vegan or modifiable options. So take a break from the kitchen and give a vegan menu option a try.

quick vegan recipes
Courtesy August de Richelieu | Unsplash

4. Take notes

If you’re not used to doing this it might feel a little strange at first, but recording what you’re eating could just be the thing that makes it all easier. Keeping track of what you’re eating will not only help you to change things up every once in a while, it will help you to ensure that you’re getting the correct vitamins and nutrients from your foods.

And for beginners, if you’re transitioning to vegan slowly, then this will help you see how to phase out the meat and dairy products from your diet. You can see your progress in your documented foods, and this makes things so much simpler for you.

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