The Vegan Experiment

The gauntlet has been thrown down and I said, “Challenge accepted!” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has issued a challenge to dietetics professionals to live a vegan lifestyle for five days.

I am not doing this for the Vitamix blender that is the prize in this contest (although I would gladly accept it). I am doing this because I believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet can be just as healthful and complete as a diet that includes animal products. In my work as a wellness dietitian at a university, I always make my cooking demonstrations vegetarian, and vegan when possible, to show the community that vegetarian/vegan meals can be yummy and satisfying. I decided I would “walk my talk” for five days.

I mean, anyone can do anything for a mere five days, right?

Let’s start with the basics: what is veganism?

There are many levels of vegetarianism. I think the definition that many people think of for a vegetarian is a person who eats no meats. However, some vegetarians still include fish (pescatarians) and some still include dairy and/or eggs (lacto/ovo-vegetarians). If carnivores (meat-eaters) on one very end of the scale, then vegans are at the other end. Vegans do not eat any animal products – meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, cheese, or butter. As a friend pointed out on my Facebook page, vegans may even decide not to eat honey since animals make honey.

For more information, see the Academy’s Web site, which includes a link to a PDF document that is their position on vegetarian diets. There is a wealth of information in the position paper.

Personally, I could easily become a pescatarian. For my health, since I have heart disease, I would choose to include fish due to the nice heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in some fish. But cutting out cheese and milk? I think I could live on tomatoes and cheese alone… so this will present a challenge.

Finally, since I am a registered dietitian, I am concerned about the nutritional quality of my vegan choices. I will have to do some planning. There are two things that I will be thinking about when I follow a vegan diet. One is to make sure I am combining foods in a way that makes complete proteins and the other is to get all the important nutrients about which vegans must be concerned (see the link to the Academy’s Web site above). Some nutrients are found mostly in animal products so vegans must have the knowledge to plan meals that include these nutrients.

I also personally tend to eat as clean as I can, so I doubt I will be including the packaged vegan alternatives. I have to look at the food labels; but the way I remember it, these products have a long list of ingredients that are not whole foods or natural flavors or preservatives. This is a personal choice; not a part of veganism.

I am beginning my planning this week. So far, I think I will try silken tofu as a scrambled egg replacement and I just bought a few bags of dry beans to play with. I would love any ideas so please post your comments and tell me about your favorite vegan recipes.

Wish me luck!

(Note: Free images from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/)

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