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Expert Talk: Nutritionist Minal Shah Shares Wisdom On Transitioning From A Vegetarian Diet To Vegan Diet

More and more people are switching to a plant-based diet thanks to its proven health and environmental benefits. With celebrities switching to veganism and increased availability of vegan products in the market, several people are adopting this lifestyle. Social media campaigns like Meatless Mondays, mock meat brands like Veggie Champ, Good Dot and more along with an increased awareness of the cons of eating meat has led to more and more people switching to veganism. But how do you know what’s best for you and what’s the easiest way to transition?

TC46 connected with Minal Shah, Senior Nutrition Therapist at Fortis Hospital in Mulund. She shares the dos and don’ts of veganism, busts some common myths about this diet and shares an effective guide to help you transition with ease.

 1. What is veganism? How is it different from being vegetarian?

Veganism is a lifestyle that is free of all animal products be it food, clothing or any other products. A vegetarian abstains from consuming meat, seafood and poultry, they may exclude by-products of animal slaughter but do include milk and milk products.

2. What are the foods vegans cannot eat?

A vegan diet excludes any animal products like:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Honey 
  • Dairy

Nowadays, being a vegan extends to non-food products like clothing, cosmetics and medicine that do involve cruelty or exploitations of animals. 

A vegan diet includes all kinds of plant-based products that can be prepared in any variation and combination desired, like: 

  • Grains
  • Pulses
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

3. What are some common myths about veganism? How are they false?

  1. Boring, Unhealthy & Makes You Weak: The most common myths about veganism is that it is very difficult, unhealthy, boring and makes you weak. If well planned, a vegan diet is very easy to follow, with a wide range of variation possible, and has multiple health benefits as its rich in macro and micronutrients,  and antioxidants.
  2. Lack Of Protein: People often wonder if vegans get enough of proteins? It is possible to get adequate protein in a vegan from plant-based sources like pulses, dals, Soya and nuts to an extent. And in terms of quality of protein, Soya has a PDCAAS index of 1 which indicates that it is a good quality protein. Cereals and pulses are incomplete proteins but when combined they become complete protein as good as dairy.
  3. No Real Dining Options: Another myth is eating out. These days vegan food is easily available at a wide range of gourmet restaurants, to fast food outlets, and even in packaged food
  4. Nutrition Deficient: Are vegans Vitamin B12 deficient? Vitamin B12 is vital for nervous system health. It is primarily present in animal sources, but its deficiency takes years to develop as it is stored in the Liver. Vitamin B12 can be supplemented by including B12 fortified foods, or a sublingual tablet that dissolves in the mouth as absorption is better from the mouth than the stomach. Also, if the absorption is compromised, one can consider taking an intravenous correction after a proper blood test to check the levels is done.

4. What are the advantages of going vegan?

A vegan diet is very healthy as it includes a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are good sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants that are associated with improved cholesterol levels, reduced risk of type2 Diabetes, anti-carcinogenic properties and for weight management. 

5. Could you share a step-by-step guide with tips for transitioning from vegetarian to vegan?

If you are determined, you can switch to a vegan immediately. If it seems like a difficult task, you can switch to being a vegan in a stepwise manner.

  • The trick is to include more vegan products and flush out the animal-based products
  • Find the suitable replacements like non-dairy milk for cow’s milk, tofu for cottage cheese/cheese, beans and lentils for meat
  • Try new foods and flavours. There are numerous recipes available on the internet and in cookbooks for vegan cooking
  • Keep a track of what you are eating. Just because its vegan does not mean it cannot be unhealthy. There is a huge potential for a vegan diet to be unhealthy and full of empty calories
  • If in doubt, ask for help. Talk to another vegan through internet/ website, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter to make the transition easier
  • Remember the reason why you opted for a vegan lifestyle in the first place, to keep your he motivation high and don’t give up

6. What are some crucial tips for turning vegan for vegetarians?

  • Prepare yourself for the transition
  • Read about being a vegan and understand the exclusions
  • Find the replacements to the exclusions to ensure meeting the nutritional requirements
  • Load on healthy vegan snacks with variations to keep the cravings down
  • Keep the food simple but diverse, you do not need time-consuming and complicated recipes just because you started being vegan
  • Start reading the labels. Some products are titled as suitable for vegans, others may not have it. You may be surprised as to how many hidden animal sources may be present in food products as simple as chips, chocolates and even juices
  • Stay patient and compassionate with yourself too. You will make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up with guilt. Learn from them and move on
  • Join a group or society, or download an app that helps you with the transition
  • Remember, anything new needs a bit of effort, embracing the change is the only way to head and do it when you are certain about it, believe in it and not because it’s a trend 

7. Could you share 5 sources of vital nutrients for a vegan diet?

One food group can be a source of multiple nutrients. Listing a few:

  1. Carbohydrates: grains, cereals, fruits, roots, pulses
  2. Protein: dal, beans, lentils, Soya, nuts
  3. Fats: nuts, oilseeds, vegetable oils, Avocado or Olive oil
  4. Vitamins & Minerals: fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, oilseeds

8. Is going vegan pocket-friendly in India? What are some easily-available products for vegans?

A vegan diet can be as pocket-friendly or expensive, just like a non-vegetarian or vegetarian diet is, depending on the item bought. But a vegan diet can be pocket friendly. In India, we have a wide range of locally available vegan food items. If it is a food item prepared our traditional way, like rice and dal, Rajma-Chawal, Khaman Dhokla, Bhajiya, Puranpoli and more, are vegan. Since milk and milk products are a major part of Indian cuisine, finding a suitable replacement could be a challenge. Ideally, talk to a nutritionist or dietitian to find a suitable replacement and to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Apart from food, there’s vegan leather, clothing, footwear, cosmetics to choose from.

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