-Rishikesh Kumar, Founder and CEO, Xtraliving Pvt Ltd.
Veganism is a dietary lifestyle based on the sole consumption of plant-based products. Vegans do not consume animal products in any direct or indirect form. Those following this diet have multiple objectives, some of which go beyond just personal goals. Eliminating animal fat in the diet to chase fitness targets, moving to cleaner and richer diet forms, along with ending exploitation of animals and contributing to a greener planet are some of the main reasons this diet is gaining momentum in India. In fact, a recent report by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that switching to a plant-based diet and curtailing meat consumption can control climate change.
While a vegetarian diet might involve consumption of dairy products like milk and cheese, a vegan diet keeps any animal-based product off-limits, compensating their nutrients like calcium and protein from plants.
My experiment with Veganism
I met some vegans during my nutrition consultations with clients and was interested in the unique path they chose to meet their health and fitness goals. Till then, I had never been on a plant-based diet and was quite skeptical of their journey, especially how they compensated protein deficiency that is a general problem for plant-dominant diets. I wouldn’t be mistaken to quote certain fitness professionals advocating animal sources or supplements to meet protein requirements of the body. But they fail to understand the rationale behind going vegan.
This persisting confusion led me to experience it firsthand. I adopted the vegan diet for three months, a period that opposes the common myth that habits are formed in 21 days. For a diet though, the human body has to become habitual to an activity and I had to solidly gauge the merits of the diet. At first impression, the diet opened my eyes to alternate sources of nutrition, made me aware of precise food choices that can have a lasting impact, and forced me to be intentional about healthy living resulting in boosted productivity and overall wellness.
CAUTION: Taking The Vegan Path Takes Determination (Reading this article already qualifies you)
Going vegan gave me a different perspective on nutrition and health, but the path to full adoption of the diet had key obstacles along the way. Let me explain:
- Managing diet is an uphill task: Having to cook and monitor your meal items to ensure no animal products are included in processed foods, purchasing uncommon items and having them cooked separately are tasks that could disinterest someone. Determination and focus on your goals are critical.
- A solo journey: Taking the vegan path is for someone who can do it in isolation, with the goals always in mind. Apart from not getting support from family and friends, you could find the going tough at work scenarios or other social circles or conversations.
- Prone to temptation: Suddenly moving away from meat or milk-based products could be quite depressing, along with all the marketing and influence from friends to take a break from the diet.
- Deviating off course: Given the effort, it adds to your already busy daily routine and could throw you off your dietary course, if you don’t plan your day well.
- Finding enough proteins and micronutrients: Given plant products are naturally lower in these nutrient vs meat products, creating goals, finding optimum sources for these alternatives from supermarkets or Amazon and creating a calendar of purchasing are things you must be intentional about.
Learnings from my journey in and out of a vegan diet
Giving up dairy was the most difficult part of the diet. As Indians, we are accustomed to milk products being critical to our daily diet. However, once my body started to notice the dietary change, it habituated itself and I started noticing certain changes in key bodily functions over time. You can either go full in or make gradual changes to adopt the diet given the choice of food is determined by your goals and convictions. Here are key takeaways from my stint with the vegan diet:
- The diet has everything needed for a healthy diet: While a vegan diet can be difficult to start with, your body will eventually get accustomed and react positively. The healthy intake of rich nutrients is bound to increase your overall health, including immunity, stamina, and other healthy outcomes.
- Managing your protein intake: While critics might use this as a tool to discourage followers or interested people of vegan, my experience shows why protein intake can be easily managed by plant-based food sources.
- Various plant-based food options to replaced staple items: Milk, eggs and meat have dominated food supply chains for centuries. However, there are adequate food options for vegans. Sprouts, nuts, tofu, and cereals along with fruits and vegetables open a lot of gastro-opportunities, based on my networking and managing my nutrient intake. Cooking enthusiasts can experiment with different recipes such as Cauliflower Pizza, Quinoa Cakes and Tofu Wraps.
- Overdependence on milk products is unhealthy: Milk products might be a great source of protein and calcium, but overconsumption of this saturated fatty product can accelerate the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Nutritionists also claim that a balanced diet consisting of green vegetables and nuts is a better alternative for calcium and protein.
- My strength levels dropped due to calorie deficit: The general notion that a vegan diet will reduce your stamina and strength as it does not include meat and dairy products is a myth. I’ve noticed general weakness over certain periods during the 3 months and inferred that it was due to calorie deficit. Therefore, it is important to add nutrient-dense food or increase their quantities especially during the initial adoption stages to ensure carbohydrates keep the energy supply going.
- Staying on course while travelling could be challenging: Those weekend getaways could mean added planning time as vegan food options are not easily available to purchase. Despite the rise in vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants, always confirm if the places are open, include items needed in your diet and pack optimum levels as a safe measure.
- The protein vs micronutrient perception: What I also realized during conversations with vegan-mindful people is the debate around achieving goals that encompass a protein-heavy diet without much focus on micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For instance, the consumption of leafy vegetables and nuts which are rich in micronutrients is quite essential.
- Managing macronutrients can be daunting: Having a customized plan to chase your vegan diet goals is great. But close attention must be paid to manage the level of macronutrient intake, given this might not look as simple as what web tutorials or healthy living experts advise. Evaluate the measure of proteins and carbohydrates needed to avoid any scenarios where you are left energy sapped during a marathon or late-night presentation period.
- Energy levels will soar, and you will feel sharp and active: A balanced vegan diet can reduce lethargy by supplying nutrients needed for holistic bodily functions. I found the task to get the right balance quite tedious in the beginning, given my prior history as a fitness practitioner and coach, but I eventually found the sweet spot that matched my bodies’ metabolism, allergies and other such factors that play a key role.
- Vegetarianism is not the same as Veganism: Most restaurants will offer you cottage cheese when you ask for vegan food options. Get ready to educate a lot of people on the concept of veganism, since vegetarianism allows the intake of dairy products like milk or tofu!
- A vegan diet will be considered an eccentric choice: After you become know as a vegan, people will look at you with apprehension or critique but give them time to adjust with your new food habits. Most of your friends who would have favorite restaurants might notice your disinterest or you need to fall out of certain social circles, but fret not. The road to the top is narrow and is meant for solo travelers. In such a case, your food items will be labelled eccentric. But don’t worry. they will eventually turn around and accept your lifestyle.
- You will end up reducing carbon footprint and support animal rights: The essence of a vegan diet lies in reducing levels of animal cruelty and exploitation. Along with this, a vegan diet will lower your carbon footprint thereby bringing rapid in broader greenery and reduced animal processing the environment.