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Welcome to Vegan Basics, a one-stop resource for those interested
in exploring alternatives to food and other products made from animals.
Because you are reading this guide, you may already be taking your
first steps toward choosing veganism; or maybe you’re just thinking
Either way, good for you! The public has the perception that eliminating
the consumption of all animal products can be unhealthy or at least
very difficult, but this is simply not true. As you’ll find
out with this guide, veganism is the healthy choice for you, the
planet, and animals. With so many animal-free options readily available,
going vegan is easier today than ever before!
good for you
Research on vegetarians (including vegans) shows them to have
lower rates of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, rheumatoid
arthritis, and possibly some cancers. It also reduces the chance
of food poisoning. And of course you avoid all the hormones and
antibiotics that are pumped through animals raised for food.
good for the animals
If you’re already a vegetarian you’ve undoubtedly
helped reduce animal suffering, but the dairy and egg industries
are no picnics for the animals involved.
Cows must be repeatedly impregnated for the production of milk,
and their offspring sent straight to the slaughterhouse or reared
for veal, milk, or sold for their flesh. Both male and female calves
are kept in confinement and are unable to walk. The male, if being
raised for veal, will be slaughtered after only 4 months, while
the female calves will be kept in a similar setting until they are
able to produce milk. Then they are turned into milking machines.
Cows’ udders are often infected and swollen from the abuse
of growth hormones and multiple milkings every day. Dairy cows are
killed at about five years of age and sold for ‘low grade’
products such as burgers, sausages and other processed foods. Their
natural life span would be at least twenty years.
And as for typical (battery cage) egg production, since only the
females lay eggs, 200 million day-old male chicks are killed every
year, many suffocated in garbage bags. The industry average is less
than one-half square foot of space per bird. They have the tips
of their beaks cut off to prevent feather pulling caused by the
intensive confinement. These poor animals live with barely enough
room to move for up to two years until their egg production goes
down. Then they are either killed or forced into molting. To induce
a molt, egg producers take away food and water from the birds, which
then forces them into another egg laying cycle.
Life for pigs on factory farms is dreadful too! Over 80% of pigs
who are raised for food (like sausages, hot dogs, bacon and ham)
live their lives in sheds thick with the overwhelming smell of urine
and feces. A mother pig (sow) is forced to give birth in a tiny
crate where she cannot walk or even turn around. This is also where
she will spend her pregnancy. She moves between these two small
crates for four to five years until she is killed. The piglets spend
their lives in squalid conditions until at six months they are shackled
by one leg and their throats slit.
Chickens and turkeys raised for meat are crammed by the thousands
in windowless sheds. Breeding has caused them to grow at an incredible
pace, one that their bodies have a hard time catching up to. Turkeys
have the tips of their beaks and some toes cut off. Chickens have
been known to be boiled alive during the slaughter process.
And the label ‘free range’ does not mean that they
are cruelty-free; in fact, free range hens live in very crowded
conditions, have the tips of their bills cut off, and are not slaughtered
in any ‘humane’ fashion.
Billions of sea animals are caught each year. Those fish who are
still alive by the time they make it to the decks of fishing boats
have one of two fates. Either they are allowed to suffocate to death
or they are disemboweled with a gutting knife. In addition to this,
countless other sea creatures who are not the targets are caught
in fishing nets.
good for the environment
Vast expanses of wilderness are converted to pastureland, resulting
in a loss of habitat for countless species.
Commercial fishing of the oceans has decimated the aquatic environment.
Shrimp nets, which are dragged through the water, catch everything
in their path – thousands of sea turtles are killed this way
every year. A branch of the USDA kills wildlife, such as coyotes
and bobcats, to protect farmers’ livestock.
The factory farming industry is creating environmental problems
of its own. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
dairy farms have created an environmental crisis in California,
the number one dairy producing state. In fact, California alone
produces an astounding 30 million tons of manure each year. EPA
states that a single cow produces approximately 120 pounds of wet
manure per day. Estimates equate the waste produced per day by one
dairy cow to that of 20-40 humans per day.
Manure lagoons designed to contain livestock waste can leak or
spill over into waterways, contaminating our drinking water. Pig
farms with 100,000 animals produce as much waste as a city of a
quarter-million people; but the pig farms have no wastewater treatment
system. Pig waste often spills into nearby rivers, sometimes killing
many thousands of fish.
good for the planet’s people
Every day, 840 million people around the world, including 200
million children, go hungry. But much of the world’s grain
harvest, 40%, is used to feed livestock, not people. U.S.
livestock alone consumes about one-third of the world’s
total grain harvest, as well as more than 70% of the grain grown
in the United States. In fact, the more a cow is milked, the more
grain concentrates she needs. High quality foods such as wheat and
soy, which could be fed to humans, are being fed to animals. On
average, you can get about five times as much biologically available
protein from eating plant foods directly as you can from using them
to produce meat.
Slaughterhouses may be the worst workplace in the U.S. The workers
are poor, often illiterate, and often unable to speak English. They
are treated almost as callously as the animals dying by the billions
in those same facilities.. The pay is low, turnover is high, and
injuries and illnesses are frequent and often severe. Turnover rate
at all processing plants runs close to 100% per year.
What is a vegan anyway?
So, now that you’re convinced that veganism is a beneficial
lifestyle, you’ll want to know what it involves, won’t
you? One thing it doesn’t involve is deprivation and martyrdom
— there really is no need to sit around munching your way
through a head of lettuce and feeling sorry for yourself (unless,
of course, you REALLY like lettuce). Ask any vegan what they eat
and they will look at you in astonishment.
The foods available are so varied, so tasty and so easy to prepare,
it’s a miracle that we do anything other than eat! (Truth
be told, some of us don’t!) Now we aren’t saying you
won’t miss a few things at first - cheese and milk chocolate
are always the hardest to kiss goodbye, but there are vegan alternatives
available, so don’t despair.
What’s the difference between
a vegetarian and a vegan?
Well, a vegetarian simply does not eat any dead animals, or parts
of them. So this means no meat, poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks,
etc.), fish or other watery creatures (like shrimp and crabs), or
any by-products of these animals, like gelatin or animal fats. This
also means eating only ‘vegetarian’ cheese, as some
cheeses are made using rennet (taken from the stomachs of calves
A vegan will not eat any of these either but will also strive
to avoid all animal products to avoid partaking in the exploitation,
abuse, and slaughter of animals. This includes eggs, milk, cream,
yogurt, cheese and anything that contains these products or derivatives
Vegans also avoid honey, because bees are frequently killed during
its production, and finally, a vegan will not wear wool, leather
or silk, or use personal care and household products that contain
animal substances or are tested on animals. In fact, a vegan won’t
eat, wear or use anything that comes from any animal, dead or alive.
Cane sugar is sometimes processed through bone char so some vegans
avoid eating it. If you’re interested in finding out which
products definitely do not have bone char, please see http://www.VeganProducts.org/sugar.html
Sounds like a lot to remember, huh? To begin with you’ll be
reading every label in the cupboard, looking up things like ‘lanolin’
in your dictionary and trying to remember why you decided to go
vegan in the first place! But it does get easier and no one will
blame you if you make a mistake. We all do. Just take things at
your own pace and remember why you’re doing this, for yourself,
the planet, and animals.
A balanced vegan diet can be extremely healthy. Some people still
have a few concerns about whether they will receive all the nutrients
that they require. Read this guide and check out our sources to
put your mind at ease.
Protein is essential for growth, repairing tissues and protecting
against infections. The American Dietetic Association states that
the vegan diet provides enough protein.
Protein is most concentrated in legumes (peas, beans, lentils,
peanuts, soy products), but can also be found in nuts (brazils,
hazels and almonds etc.) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame),
grains (rice, wheat, oats, barley, millet, buckwheat, pasta, bread),
and vegetables. Tofu and other soy products are high in protein.
Vitamin B12 prevents permanent nerve damage (e.g., blindness,
deafness, and dementia); keeps the digestive system healthy; and
reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering homocysteine levels.
Early deficiency symptoms sometimes include fatigue and tingling
in the hands or feet.
No unfortified plant foods (including seaweeds and tempeh) are
reliable sources of B12. Vegans who get a regular source of vitamin
B12 through fortified foods or supplements can have even better
B12 status than many non-vegans who do not supplement. B12 intake
is especially critical during pregnancy, lactation, childhood, and
Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified foods such as soy milk and
One of the following daily recommendations should maximize B12
- fortified foods (in at least 2 servings, spaced 6 hours apart):
- 1 supplement: 10-100 µg
- 2 supplements spaced at least 6 hours apart: 5 µg
Regulates calcium absorption and excretion, especially when calcium
intake is low. Vitamin D can be made by the action of sunlight (UV
rays) on skin. Light-skinned, non-elderly adults exposing their
hands and face to sunlight for 10-15 minutes, 2-3 times/week can
get enough vitamin D. Above the 42nd Latitude (which runs through
Denver, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia), vitamin D is not synthesized
during the winter. Vegans who do not get much sunlight exposure
should supplement with vitamin D, especially during the winter or
cloudy months. Elderly people may need up to 4 times the amount
of sunlight exposure listed above, and dark-skinned people may need
up to 6 times this amount in order to meet vitamin D needs through
sunshine alone. The Daily Value for vitamin D is 10 mcg (400 IU).
If a food label says 25% of the Daily Value, it has 2.5 mcg (100
IU) per serving. Typical fortified soy, almond, or rice milk has
2-3 mcg (80-120 IU) per cup.
Finally, calcium. There are many sources of calcium available
to vegans – broccoli, collard greens, kale, legumes, nuts,
seeds, fortified soy milk, hummus, and figs.
As a child, you were probably told to drink cow’s milk for
good strong bones, but studies of bone fractures have failed to
show that milk protects bones and in some cases is actually associated
with increased fractures.
Factors that can prevent osteoporosis (a disease that makes bones
- Weight-bearing exercise throughout one’s lifetime is
one of the most important.
- Adequate calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, protein, potassium,
and magnesium intakes.
- Adequate estrogen levels (for women)
Factors that can contribute to osteoporosis:
- High sodium and caffeine intake
- Too much, or too little, protein The calcium in kale, broccoli,
collard greens, and soy milk are all absorbed about the same as
cows’ milk. The calcium in spinach, swiss chard, and beet
greens is not well absorbed due to their high content of oxalates
which bind calcium.
Many non-dairy milks are now fortified with calcium, vitamin D,
and/or vitamin B-12. Many orange juices are fortified with calcium.
The Daily Value for calcium on food labels is 1,000 mg for adults.
If a food label says 25% of the daily value, it has 250 mg of calcium
per serving. Vegans should ensure a good source of calcium on a
daily basis. A cup or two of fortified soy milk is an excellent
Higher fat foods like nuts and seeds (and their butters), avocados,
and small amounts of vegetable oils (especially canola and olive)
should be part of a healthy diet. These foods are particularly important
for meeting children’s caloric needs.
A large body of scientific evidence shows that omega-3 fatty acids
have anti-blood-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering
properties. Vegans can most easily obtain omega-3 fats by eating
1–2 tsp of flaxseed oil per day. The oil may be added to warm
food, but cooking will damage it. Flaxseed oil, sold in many natural
food and grocery stores, should be kept refrigerated.
Needed for healthy thyroid function, which regulates metabolism.Does
not appear to be as much of a problem for U.S. vegans as it is for
European vegans, whose food supply contains less iodine. North American
vegans should take a modest iodine supplement on a regular basis
to ensure they are meeting requirements because it’s very
hard to predict how much is in any given person’s food supply.
75-100 mcg every few days should be ample. Do not take more than
Iron-deficient anemia is probably one of the most inaccurately
self-diagnosed illnesses. It is a serious disease, and those who
think they may be suffering from it should see a doctor. Iron deficiency
symptoms include pale skin, brittle fingernails, fatigue, weakness,
difficulty breathing upon exertion, inadequate temperature regulation,
loss of appetite, and apathy.
Iron in vegetarian diets is a somewhat controversial topic because:
- Vegetarians’ ferritin (the storage form of iron) levels
are normally lower than non-vegetarians, even though vegetarians
are no more likely to have iron deficiency anemia.
- Low iron stores are associated with higher glucose tolerance
and therefore could prevent diabetes.
- High iron stores are associated with cancer, and to a lesser
extent, heart disease.
Vegans tend to have iron intakes at least as high as nonvegetarians.
However, plant iron is generally not absorbed as well as iron
from meat. Vitamin C significantly aids in plant iron absorption
(they must be eaten at the same meal).
You do not need to worry about iron if you are otherwise healthy
and eat a varied vegan diet. If you suspect an irondeficiency, see
a doctor. If your doctor thinks your iron stores are too low, he/she
may suggest you start eating meat (which is unnecessary) or that
you take an iron supplement.
Eating 100 mg of vitamin C with 2 meals a day should help cure
Consider a multivitamin
Many well-respected health professionals suggest that everyone
(including meat-eaters) take a modest (25-100% of the RDA) multivitamin
supplement for insurance purposes. A typical multivitamin and mineral
supplement will ensure an adequate source of vitamin B12, vitamin
D, and iodine. The only other nutrients you would need to concern
yourself with are omega-3 fatty acids and calcium.
There is little chance of a deficiency of calcium, or any other
food group, vitamin or mineral, as long as you eat a balanced diet
and follow the recommendations above.
If you want to know more about nutrition, read Viva!’s Guide
Nutrition in a Nutshell.
Nutritional information reviewed & edited courtesy of Jack
Norris, RD (www.jacknorrisrd.com).