Which bowl of fruit would a vegan eat?
Look at the picture above. Which bowl of fruit would a vegan eat? If you pointed to both, you are correct. Surprised? Just because you've given up animal products (meat, dairy, and eggs) doesn't mean your diet is automatically better than before. Sadly, it still takes some work and planning to ensure you are eating a healthy diet.
Deciding what to eat
If your intention in changing to a vegan diet is to improve your health and/or to make weight management easier, you may want to shape some new eating patterns along the way.
You see, our diets -- pre-vegan -- are filled with processed food products. Yes, you are vegan and have given up eating animal products; but if you continue eating processed foods or using high-fat cooking techniques, you may be no better off.
This post is not to tell you what to eat, but it is to caution you to take an intentional and discerning look at your new food regime before you establish some habits that will be hard to change later.
Here are a couple of examples that might help you:
When I became vegan, I missed salty, crunchy foods the most. The best vegan substitutes I could find were nuts. I reasoned that they are certainly vegan and are good for you. However, I did not pay attention to eating an appropriate quantity. Whereas, you may not be able to get fat eating large quantities of broccoli, nuts do pack on the pounds. In my reading, I learned that we should limit our eating to 1 tablespoon of seeds and 1 to 2 ounces of nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.) per day. What? Sad but true.
Cooking methods are important. Steaming, baking and frying using water instead of oil are all good methods. Frying in oil does not make a food non-vegan, but it does change the health advantages of your food. It's best to get your oil from avocados, nuts, and seeds; and to use only a minimal amount of oil.
Substitute baked/boiled potatoes for French fries and chips.
Substitute oatmeal for sugary cereals.
Substitute lentils, beans, peas, etc., for processed imitation meat.
Substitute water for soft drinks and diet soft drinks.
Substitute whole grain breads for white bread, bagels, and doughnuts.
Condiments are tricky too. Theoretically, as a vegan you might conclude that you just need to rid yourself of the condiments that contain animal products. It’s true, there are many vegan condiments to substitute for the ones you are giving up. Just be sure to read the labels and choose wisely.
When baking, chia seeds are often substituted for eggs and applesauce is substituted for oil. Look for recipes that do this to make healthier alternatives.
Basically, it is important to think this all through and determine your objectives in changing your diet. I found that making a list of eating parameters has helped me accomplish my objectives. For me, because I have GERD, my diet needed to be free of foods and combinations that would cause reflux too. Also, I'm always interested in weight management as well as ways to eat to get off and stay off medications. Listing out these things has helped me devise the plant-based diet I follow now. It's working and yours will too.