What do Russell Simmons, Lisa Bonet, Brandy, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Angela Bassett all have in common? They are all either vegan or vegetarian. There are many people changing their lifestyles for different reasons. Some are seeking better health choices while others do not like the way animals are treated so they change their lifestyle to reflect that. Back in the ’80s vegetarianism was the big eating trend. Around 2016, people started stating they were vegan. So what gives?
A 2008 study was published by Vegetarian Times that showed how 7.3 million people follow a vegetarian-based diet. Fast forward to 2017, according to Vegetarian Times, there’s been a 600 percent increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years. According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1 percent of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6 percent.
So, what exactly is a vegan and why is everyone seemingly scrambling to become one? A vegan is a person who does not eat or use animal products. The difference between being a vegan and a vegetarian is that some vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs and also use animal products such as leather and fur.
The term vegan was actually coined back in 1944 by a British woodworker named Donald Watson who felt that because vegetarians ate dairy and eggs, he was going to create a new term called “vegan” to describe people who did not. Veganism is a lifestyle because, in addition to eating a plant-based diet, those choosing this lifestyle also do not wear or utilize any animal products. There are some people who still consider themselves vegan because they do not eat anything with parents but still wear leather or fur items.
As you can imagine, changing your diet this drastically can be life altering. The great thing about veganism is it has amazing health benefits.
- Weight loss – Studies have found that people who follow a vegan diet lost more weight than those following a Western diet.
- Lower blood sugar – A study showed that 43 percent of vegan participants were able to reduce blood-sugar-lowering medication compared to only 26 percent who followed an American Diabetes Association diet.
- Cancer prevention– Colorectal and prostate cancer rates are higher in people who eat meat. It is also believed that animal fats cause some cancers.
- Lower risks of heart disease – People on a vegan diet tend to eat fewer calories, which results in lower BMI (Body Mass Index) and reduced risk of obesity, a leading cause for heart disease. According to Medical News Today, “Animal fats have been linked to a range of illnesses and conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, and various cancers. Animal sources are likely to account for 13 of the top 15 sources of cholesterol-raising fats in the U.S.”
More recently, people are using the term “plant-based diet.” People who eat a plant-based diet are only eating foods that come from plants, such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, but no animal products. This is synonymous with vegan except some people who eat a plant-based diet still wear fur coats or leather shoes and coats etc.
The Pros and Cons
As with anything there are always pros and cons. One of the major cons with veganism is that B-12 is a vitamin that is found in animals. Vitamin B-12 is used to protect red blood cells and nerve cells. Therefore, a B-12 deficiency can cause anemia and nervous system problems. There are some vegan foods that are fortified with B-12, which means the vitamin has been added to the food because it wasn’t originally there. Some of the B-12 fortified foods are soy, seaweed, cereals, nutritional yeast, and some plant milks to name a few.
Another con is that eating out as a vegan can be restrictive; although now there are plenty of restaurants that cater to vegans.
Some people who take the vegan leap also begin eating more carbohydrates than they normally did when they were eating meat. This of course can have a negative effect on their health. The drastic change in diet can also interfere with current medical conditions, so anyone thinking of going vegan should consult their physician before changing their diets.
Chicagoans Share Why Went Vegan
Ebony Lucas, 42, of North Kenwood: I have been vegan for one year. I started because I wanted to bring some discipline into my eating habits. I quickly learned that being vegan, like any other healthy eating routine, requires preparation. Vegan eating can be as unhealthy as any other diet. In the beginning, I was very deliberate about paying attention to the protein, B12, and D food sources. There are also a lot of processed fake meat and soy products out there. It is important to find satisfying meals and healthy natural snacks. I also found that restaurants and banquet halls are very accommodating and happy to make vegan meals, so my diet out does not have to consist of salads. I’m the only one in my family who is vegan. But quite often my husband and kids eat my food and skip the meat. I made vegan gumbo and they ate the whole pot!
Christopher Scott, 35, South Side of Chicago: I recently converted to the Vegan lifestyle on January 1st of this year. For a while now I have been struggling with eating right and working out to get in better shape. Even after months and months in the gym and dieting, I would see very little results. Being a 6’5, 290-pound overweight, slightly-obese man wasn’t working for me and it seemed that I would fluctuate between 275 to 290 pounds, despite trying to eat healthy and work out. For a few years, I had been contemplating dropping meat out of my diet due to the way America allowed the meat industry to handle the animals before they are slaughtered. It was very inhumane with all the research I had done and not to mention the quality of life that these animals had was insanely depressing. I felt that if the animal this meat came from lived a sad life of torture and stress, by my consumption of their meat, I am no better than the companies that host them. So, it became more and more mental for me when I would cook for my family to the point where we stopped eating beef, pork, processed meats and most of all fishes. We only consumed turkey and chicken, which aren’t treated any better but I felt they were the lesser of the evils in meat products. Eventually, I decided that I would do without meat and all meat products. Anything that came from an animal I would no longer consume. Milk is allowed to have puss and blood in it. Why in the hell would the FDA approve such a thing? Dairy products cause inflammation in the system. Why would I want inflammation in my system? So, with those understandings, I went on a vegan/plant-based diet. Cold turkey, so to speak. Our society and government are only concerned with MONEY and how to influence the American people to spend their money. They don’t care for us from a health perspective unless we are on lifelong prescriptions with high medical bills. I say this because I was pre-diabetic/pre-hypertension a few years ago. My dietician recommended a diet for me that I felt wouldn’t improve my conditions because it meant I took meds every day for the rest of my life. She recommended a range of diet products to drink and meals with no nutritional value besides low calories. In my eyes a lot of people are scared to go vegan or can’t fathom being vegan because their main question is, ‘What will I eat and how will I get my protein. Where do I begin etc.?’ Well going vegan is easier than you think. All you have to do is put your mind to it! Once you have esta blished mentally that this is the lifestyle you wish to follow, the mind will accept it. Not only that, but you will think and look for creative ways to challenge yourself with meals tasting better than before without meat! Well, maybe for those of us who cook!
Briana McCarthy, 38 , South Side of Chicago: I’ve been living this lifestyle for nearly two years now. After much prayer and feeling a nudge from God, I began my plant-based journey in July 2016. I gave up meat and dairy because I wanted to take my health and caring for my temple seriously. I was already lactose-intolerant and I didn’t digest pork or beef well and I lost my desire for fish and chicken. So, after a few days of research, I took the plunge and I haven’t looked back. One thing I feel everyone should know about living a plant-based lifestyle is that it is not as difficult as they think. There are plenty of delicious and healthy options out there that they won’t even miss meat or cheese. I was a MAJOR cheese fanatic. If I can give up cheese, anyone can.
Dr. Natalie P. Santiago, 49, of Roseland: I’ve been vegan six years and a vegetarian for 30 years. I was against animals being used in experiment, and against animal cruelty. One day (April 5, 1988) God asked me if I was against animal cruelty and experimentation on animals, why did I eat them? So, I never did again. I knew dairy cows are horribly abused, but giving up dairy was hard because I love cheese. I read an article in April 2012 and it didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but somehow that was the trigger for me to give up dairy. One thing everyone should know is eating a vegan diet can be very healthy and very inexpensive if you stick with whole foods and limit/cut out processed foods. Bonus: Plants have plenty of protein.
We should all focus on our health because if you do not have health, you have nothing else. Veganism may not be for you but there are definite benefits to eating more plant- based foods and less processed foods. Remember, if you decide to adopt the vegan lifestyle, talk to your doctor to make certain your physician thinks it is a good idea with your current health condition. Also, you will want that person to monitor you so that you do not become deficient in some of the vitamins that animal products do provide.
Chicago Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants
B’gabs Goodies – 1450 E 57th St, Chicago, IL 60637 https://www.bgabsgoodies.com Hyde Park
Majani Restaurant – 7167 S Exchange Ave, Chicago, IL 60649 https://www.majani.biz South Shore
Soul Vegetarian – 203 E 75th St, Chicago, IL 60619 https://www.originalsoulvegetarian.com Chatham
Dr. Renee, as she is often referred, is a Chicago-based professional health educator.
For more information about Dr. Renee Matthews, visit AskDrRenee.info