Many choose to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle for health reasons, ethical convictions or both.
But the choice can come with a downside — changing a diet can cause some to struggle to maintain proper nutrition.
Volunteering at animal sanctuaries is what influenced Laura Warren, UTA’s Veggie Connections Club faculty sponsor, to live a vegan lifestyle.
A vegan is a person who does not consume or use animal products such as milk, eggs and meat.
Warren was raised to believe that people couldn’t be vegan and also be healthy, she said.
According to studies by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the American Heart Association, a plant-based diet was shown to reverse cardiovascular disease, diabetes in some individuals and lower obesity rates depending on what the person is eating on the diet.
“A plant-based diet overall is a healthy diet,” registered dietitian nutritionist Stacie Ellis said.
Those on plant-based diets benefit from additional vitamins and minerals in fruits, vegetables and leafy greens, such as spinach and cabbage, which aid the immune system, Ellis said. The vitamins potassium and magnesium lower sodium intake and help the body stay healthy.
However, the lifestyle lends itself to multiple health deficiencies as well. It is recommended that vegans keep a comprehensive nutrition tracker to watch what they eat, she said. It is up to vegans and vegetarians to keep track of the nutrients they lack such as vitamin B12, protein, iron, calcium and zinc.
Vegans may not get enough protein because of a lack of the vitamin B12, which is found in meat, Ellis said. Vitamin B12 is a chemical that keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. A vegan diet requires an alternative source of protein which can be found in nutritional yeasts and mushrooms.
Vitamin B12 is still available in the form of nutritional yeasts or mushrooms.
Other common protein substitutes for vegans include rice, tofu and soy products, Ellis said.
According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, soy products are beneficial in reducing the risk of certain cancers.
A stereotype about vegans is that they eat lettuce and like tasteless food, Warren said. It’s not just “pastas with lentils” that vegans can eat, Warren said.
“I’ll eat ice cream, you know, like a vegan kind of ice cream,” she said. “To me it tastes exactly the same.”
Depending on the person’s cravings, however, dieting restrictions can play a definitive role in making the switch to veganism, Warren said.
“I still miss my Little Caesars $5 pizza,” she said.
The vegan lifestyle is not for everyone, nursing freshman Anna Bower said. Being vegan can be inconvenient at times, because it’s hard finding food outside of one’s home that has diet-friendly selections.
But as more people change their eating habits, there are more options available, she said. In big cities, more and more fast food chains and restaurants have dishes that cater to vegans and vegetarians.
Whether someone chooses the lifestyle or not, Ellis said incorporating more fruits and vegetables into one’s diet benefits a person’s health.