Ms Betterhome

Why am I transitioning to a vegan diet?
June 3, 2010, 12:06 am
Filed under: food, politics, vegan eating | Tags: , ,

I just read this article in the Guardian, which reports the UN’s recommendations for a vegan diet as a response to climate change. It triggered a bit of a reflection on my own (slow) path to vegan eating. Edited to add: Sharon Astyk offers a completely different (but characteristically engaging) reflection on the UN recommendation article here.

I transitioned to being vegetarian over a number of years. My sister had Hodgkins disease when we were teenagers (early 1980s), and a naturopath recommended a vegetarian diet to complement her chemo treatment. To support her, my mother & myself followed her diet when we ate with her. At some stages in chemo, she had a drug that could not be eaten with cheese, so we learned a lot about alternative ingredients.

When I moved out of home in 1984, I was vegetarian largely for financial reasons. After a while, I realised I was only eating salami & bacon, which are probably the crappiest meats in the world in terms of nutrition. At that point I decided to become veg by design, rather than by default 🙂 I started reading cookbooks like Laurel’s Kitchen and Recipes for a Small Planet, that talked about vegetarian nutrition as well as offering recipes. Although I called myself a vegetarian, I still ate fish until the late ’90s, and I ate a lot of eggs & dairy.

By 2001, I was getting really fed up with my pre menstrual symptoms (breast swelling, crankiness, bloating), and after a bit of reading, I decided to experiment with cutting out dairy (it helped A LOT). While researching vegan cookbooks & websites for dairy-free recipes, I came across a lot of information on factory farming of eggs & dairy… and began to be very concerned by the ethics of food.

I read  Becoming Vegan, by two North American nutrionists, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, which has lots of evidence-based information on vegan eating. (The China Study by T. Colin Campbell was also an interesting read, if you’re interested in health & nutrition info based on contemporary nutrional research). I also appreciated Annemarie Colbin’s books … she doesn’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all way of eating, but encourages you to maximise nutrition for your personal circumstances.

The point of all this is: my dietary changes have been slow, and have been a reaction to different things happening in my life, but have also been backed up by a lot of research. I’ve known vegetarians who live on bread, cheese, chips & soft drink – and are very unhealthy. I’ve known meat-eaters with B12 deficiency and anemia. Some people are lactose intolerant, and dairy would never be ‘healthy’ for them, just as grain with gluten might be healthy for me, but ‘unhealthy’ for a person with coeliac! I think it’s important to do lots of reading, and be aware of how your health & emotions are reacting to dietary changes. If you asked 20 different people about the ‘right’ way to eat, you would get 20 different answers, so you need to listen to your body.

I find it quite easy to shop for vegan food now I understand what to look for on labels: eggs, whey, casein, ‘milk solids’ usually cover it. Some foods warn they may contain ‘traces’ of milk & egg. I don’t fret over those, as I don’t have any allergies to worry about. It’s an inexpensive way to eat, as I very rarely eat processed fake meat or cheese products. I drink soy, rice or almond milk; and eat tofu, tempeh, beans & lentils, pasta, rice, millet, quinoa, bread, nuts, and lots of fruit & veg. I use Lotus savoury yeast flakes & flaxseed oil as a garnish on salads and stews to top up my B12 and omega 3 levels.

I take a multivitamin/mineral daily, & get a test for thyroid function, iron levels and B12 every year. My ferritin stores were a little low last time, and my GP recommended Floradix, which is a herbal iron supplement that is easier on the digestion than some tablets. Other than that, I’ve never had an issue.

I should add that while I don’t wear any leather, and I eat vegan MOST of the time, I still eat foods containing eggs or dairy once every couple of months (generally in restaurants), so I still would say I’m vegetarian, rather than vegan.


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