Thinking about going vegan? You're not alone: individuals test the meat- and milk-free diet every month for ethical and environmental purposes and for their wellbeing. Whole food, plant-based diets have compelling benefits, which is why I prescribe this form of diet for many patients, "says Shilpa Ravella, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Medical Center of Columbia University." Among those health benefits: a reduced risk of chronic diseases and possible weight loss.
Is it worth it then? To answer that, you will need to know what it's like to go vegan, particularly during those first 30 transitional days that are potentially challenging. Let's find out what you might experience without meat or dairy for a month (or longer!).
Weight loss, or gain
Eating as a vegan is not always easy, and while that may be frustrating if you want to catch a bite on the go, it has the side effect of reducing mindless snacking. For example, Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, who has been a vegan for more than 25 years, points out that she does typically not take enticing, unhealthy samples when she goes to a grocery store, since they almost always include meat or milk.
When you go vegan, any weight effects you encounter will rely on how you eat. You might end up gaining weight if you opt for vegan fast food or overdo it completely on carbs instead of meat and dairy. Make balanced, healthier choices and, particularly if your pre-vegan diet was full of saturated fats and processed foods, you might see weight loss.
Evolved taste buds
Anecdotally, in their taste buds, vegans note a visible difference. "Alexandria Abramian, a California-based content director who converted to a vegan diet only a few weeks ago, says," My entire sense of taste is heightened and food gives me so much joy. And, my hard-to-tame sweet tooth has almost vanished.
Gas and bloating
Forward bends, turns, and several other positions allow the digestive tract to be stimulated and help to keep you normal.
Friends and family might join you
Ella Mills, creator of Deliciously Ella and author of Natural Feasts, realized that initially, her family and friends were not quite sure what to make of her fresh diet. "At first, everybody thought I was nuts! Plant-based food was a pretty niche in the UK six years ago and nobody could understand what I was going to eat. The expectation was that it would taste horrible," remembers Mills. With dinner, she won them over. "Whenever I could, I started cooking for my friends and family to get them around to the idea."
But is that due to a vegan diet? We don't have real science to prove that when they go vegan, people really have more resources. The increased energy (and lack of afternoon sleepies) could be the product of an overall healthier diet, particularly if going vegan means avoiding sugar treats and refined foods, as those place you on a road of spikes and crashes of blood sugar.
Dr. Eytan says that as good as a vegan diet can be for your health, there is a potential for vitamin deficiencies, especially in B12. "In a vegan diet, omega-3 fatty acids can also be deficient, while [they] may be contained in flax seeds and walnuts." Speak to your doctor or a nutritionist who can help decide whether you should start taking supplements, along with iron, zinc, and calcium, to replace these missing nutrients, she says.
A major effect on your wellbeing may be the bacteria inside your stomach. The production of certain disease-promoting bacteria is fostered by a typical American diet, Dr. Ravella notes, whereas a more fiber-rich diet contributes to a diverse microbiome full of pleasant bacteria. Switching to a vegan diet rich in fiber results in rapid improvements in your intestinal bacteria. "If you turn anyone from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet after just a couple of days, or vice versa, you get deep changes in the microbiome," she says.
In summary, as long as you ensure that you consume a balanced diet with ample essential nutrients, you will reap all the health benefits that come with veganism and will most likely experience a healthy life year after year.
It can be an overwhelming decision to go vegan and that is understandable. Knowing all the benefits not only to the environment, but also to your body will help urge you to take the first step on your path to health.