Converting to a vegan lifestyle isn't easy, but it's a lot easier than it was 20 years ago . . . even if you don't live in alternative-diet-friendly California. These days, you'll find vegan restaurants in most urban centers, and vegan books and online resources abound. And, to help you get many of the nutrients and some of the protein you need, Beachbody® recently introduced Chocolate Vegan and Tropical Strawberry Shakeology.
To help you make the switch, we asked Beachbody Wellness Expert Denis Faye the 10 questions we get most often. And, as a bonus, he even decided to answer them.
- I want to build muscle. Can I do this if I'm vegan? Yes. It can be a bit more challenging to eat enough healthy calories to build serious mass, but it can be done. And, believe it or not, vegan bodybuilders do exist. Case in point is the author of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, Robert Cheeke. I'd hate to meet that guy in a dark alley and suggest he eat a pork chop.
- Will I be able to get enough calories as a vegan if I'm training with a program like P90X® or INSANITY®? Yes. Eating foods like tempeh, nuts, and legumes will help you reach your caloric needs no matter what program you're doing. In addition, the P90X2® nutrition guide has an entire vegan plan. Also, here's an article on going vegan P90X-style in the newsletter archives.
- What are the top foods I should add to my diet? I'm afraid I won't be getting enough calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, or iron. The fact that you know these are the micronutrients your diet may be short on puts you ahead of the game. Whole-grain cereals and breads are often fortified with these 4 micronutrients, but you can't live on grain alone. Here's a breakdown of what to keep in your kitchen.
- Calcium: Leafy greens, almonds, broccoli, oranges, chickpeas, soy. A salad a day should cover it.
- Iron: Spinach, sesame and pumpkin seeds, garbanzo, navy and lima beans, soy, and lentils. Add these to your salad, snack on the seeds alone, or make a hearty chili or stew.
- Vitamins B12 and D: For these micronutrients, vegetarian sources are hard to find, so you'll want to take a good multivitamin.
- Can I just substitute soy for meat in all my recipes? Technically, yes, but I wouldn't recommend it. Soy is a great tool for vegans in that it's one of the few "complete" vegetable proteins out there. It has the 9 essential amino acids you need to survive. It's also rich in the other micronutrients we discussed in the previous question.
That said, it's never healthy to overeat any food. And furthermore, soy-based fake meats tend to be packed with sodium and chemicals.
A serving of soy a day, preferably in fermented forms such as tempeh or miso, is fine. If you're worried about estrogen, don't be. The estrogen in soy is known as phytoestrogen, and these hormone-regulating compounds are different from those made by the human body. For the record, the only recorded case of someone developing man boobs from eating too much soy was a 70-year-old man who drank nearly a gallon of soy milk a day—and they went away when he stopped.
- Are there any supplements I should take? You should add a supplement that includes vitamins B12 and D to your diet. You may also be low on omega-3 fatty acids as these most commonly come from eating fish, so consider adding a vegan-friendly omega-3 supplement such as flaxseed oil.
- If a food product doesn't have dairy, honey, or meat listed as an ingredient, it's vegan, right? No! Animal products are everywhere. For example, gelatin, which you'll find in JELL-O®, puddings, marshmallows, and the casing for gel-caps, is made from animal bones. Many winemakers use albumin, dried blood powder, milk proteins, or fish bladders to remove sediment and other particles before the wine is bottled. And cane sugar is often whitened using charcoal from cow bones. But, hey, you shouldn't be eating sugar anyway.
The easiest way to avoid animal products is to eat as many whole foods as possible instead of "food products." And, when it comes to supplements, stick to those that plainly state that they are vegan, such as vegan Shakeology®.
An exhaustive list of foods that contain animal products is too long to include here, but PETA® maintains a complete guide.
- Is there any truth to combining proteins to make a complete protein? Absolutely. Dietary protein is made up of 20 amino acids. The human body produces 11 of those, leaving 9 that we need to get in our diet to survive. Animal-based foods are rich in these 9, making them "complete" protein sources. Individual vegetable sources tend to be missing one or two, so it's important to combine certain ones to get all 9. A classic example of this is the combination of legumes and grains (i.e., rice and beans).
But you don't need to eat all 9 at one meal as long as you get them during the course of the day. If you have sprouted whole-grain toast for breakfast and a three-bean salad for lunch, you're in good shape.
- Beans and vegetables like broccoli and kale give me indigestion. What can I do about this?Switching to a vegan diet can be challenging for the digestive system as you might be eating a lot more fiber. If you tough it out for 2 to 3 weeks and put up with a couple embarrassing elevator moments, your body should adjust.
Here are some things that you can do that will help make your transition easier.
- Chew your food more thoroughly. This allows the digestive enzymes in your mouth to take some of the burden off of the rest of your system.
- When cooking beans, always soak and rinse them thoroughly. This reduces their gas-causing oligosaccharides (sugars).
- Ginger and fennel are two great homeopathic ways to settle an unsettled gut. Try sipping ginger tea or chewing on fennel seeds.
- Two important factors in breaking down these foods are digestive enzymes and healthy gut bacteria. Enzyme supplements and probiotics are two great ways to help yourself out in this area.
- here can I find some vegan recipes to get me started? Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D. and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D. This book covers every aspect of vegan nutrition, from the history of veganism to how vegans can get the macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—they need.
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This book takes less of a scientific approach and more of a culinary one. It's like The Joy of Cooking for vegans.
Finally, chef and author Mark Bittman has long been an advocate of reducing animal products in the American diet while maintaining the yum factor. Start exploring his amazing veggie recipes at his Web site.
- On second thought, I'm not ready to go fully vegan. What other options do I have? Several. There's ovo-lacto vegetarianism, which means you include eggs and dairy in your diet. There's pescatarianism, which means you keep a mostly vegetarian diet but eat fish—that's how I eat. Tony Horton is a flexitarian, meaning he mostly eats vegan, but does occasionally eat meat. Tony is especially picky about what animal products he eats. His poultry is organic and field-raised, his seafood is wild-caught and sustainable, and his beef is organic and free-range.
But you don't have to follow any specific dogma. If you want to cut down on animal products, do it as you see fit. Perhaps you can take part in the "Meatless Monday" campaign launched by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health's Center for a Livable Future and not eat animal products on Mondays.
No matter what you do, cutting back on your meat intake is probably going to be good for you and for the planet. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, Americans are among the highest per capita meat gobblers on Earth—and we're no healthier.
If you have any additional questions for Denis or the rest of the Beachbody Advice Staff, you can reach them on the Team Beachbody Message Boards. They're always happy to help!
By Rebecca Swanner