If you decide to try a vegan diet, you will eat only foods from plant sources – fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. A vegan diet can provide many long-term health benefits, according to the American Heart Association®, and several studies show that following this type of diet may lower the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. But there are a few important tips to keep in mind when going vegan so you reap the benefits of a plant-based diet without any downside.
Here’s how to get the most from your vegan diet:
1. Carbohydrates – A common issue among vegans comes from replacing meals once made up primarily of meat with meals rich in carbohydrates, like quinoa, pasta and bread. This can lead to an excess of glucose in the bloodstream and may cause weight gain. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables offer numerous health benefits, but watch your portions and keep your diet balanced between protein, carbs and fats.
2. Protein – It’s easier than you think to eat enough protein while on a vegan diet. There are tons of good sources of plant-based protein, including edamame, tofu, black beans and peanuts. How much protein do you need every day? The average woman should consume about 46 grams of protein and the average man needs 56 grams daily.
3. Calories – Too many calories from any type of food can lead to weight gain. Calories quickly add up even when you’re only eating plant foods, especially if you consume a lot of grains and nuts. If your goal is weight loss, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Watch portion sizes and exercise to control calories.
4. Vitamin B12 – It is easy to become B12-deficient while on a vegan diet since vitamin B-12 is found mostly in meats, fish and dairy products. Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy metabolism, red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis and brain health. Be sure to get your B12 levels checked and talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
5. Processed foods – There are many products on supermarket shelves that cater to a vegan lifestyle. Be aware that just because something is labeled “vegan,” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Some vegan food products, such as cookies, crackers, and meat and cheese substitutes, contain an excess of sugar, salt and preservatives. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the real stuff.
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