See our nutrition-related FAQ section.
Transitioning to a vegan diet
I tried a vegan diet for four weeks. I was constantly hungry and felt the need to eat all the time. I also lost a lot of weight and had a lot of gas. Why did this happen?
Changing from a standard diet to a healthy vegan one, we are de-addicting the body and go through withdrawal symptoms as a result. A smoker starts to cough when he stops smoking because the body, realising that smoking has stopped, decides to cleanse. A radical change of diet requires a period of time to adjust and some patience. Weight loss can be due to cleansing. This is temporary, and after a period of a few months the body should go back to its optimum weight. Whether you are overweight or underweight to start with, a healthy diet and listening to your body should mould your body so that you look and feel your best.
Changing from a non-vegetarian diet to a vegan one can also be a challenge because a high-protein diet gives a feeling of fullness. Your stomach is full due to the protein, which takes so long to digest. This is not the case on a vegan diet. To overcome this feeling of emptiness, it is all right to eat more. After time, when you take your body adjusts, you will see that this need to eat more diminishes.
Many complain that a vegan diet causes gas. This is where food combining comes in. To make it simple, avoid mixing any kind of fruit, or dried fruit like raisins and apricots with your meals. Try having simpler meals, and fresh meals. With correct food combining, this gas should disappear.
Before making a drastic change, it’s better to read a lot and prepare yourself. Learn to make dishes you like, and take things slowly. The period of time needed to make a transition depends on each person. A minimum period of one month is needed to get over withdrawal symptoms. This is why people who have bad diets could start with a fast as a way of quick cleansing. Easing into a new diet may be more successful for some if done under medical supervision.
If you feel physically weak after becoming vegan, how can you tell if you are suffering from nutritional deficiency, or simply from withdrawal symptoms from being off of meat and animal products?
1. Cleansing. Generally, if you feel low energy in the first few days or weeks following a switch to a vegan diet, it may be because of a cleansing action of the body. Protein, like sugar or alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is addictive. When you stop it there are withdrawl symptoms followed by cleansing. This is akin to smokers who start coughing only when they stop smoking. This is because the body does not waste energy cleansing as long as it sees that the toxic substance is regularly consumed. Depending on how unhealthy the earlier diet was, the withdrawal period could be shorter or longer after which energy levels should rise and a sense of well being should ensue.
2. Vitamin B12 deficiency. If the weakness starts after several months or years of changing the diet, you may be suffering from a nutritional deficiency, most probably a B12 deficiency (it is difficult to suffer from a protein or iron deficiency if you are eating a variety of whole foods) A simple B12 supplement, in addition to adding a regular serving of dark green leafy vegetables or a fortified source of B12, like fortified soy milk, to your diet may relieve your symptoms. Some people are unable to absorb B12 in which case they may need injections of B12. Others have low levels due to alcohol, tea and coffee. It’s a good idea to have annual checkups for serum B12. Read more.
3. Too many medications. Many people don’t understand the power of a whole vegan diet. As we start getting better, even the medications which have been prescribed for life become superfluous. Too much medicine make us feel low, especially when they are not needed. For example if the blood sugar or blood pressure drops, the only answer is to reduce medications.
This is why we always advise tests before and 3 months after making dietary changes. This way one is sure that things are improving and get hints about cutting medications. Of course in the case of diabetes and hypertension one does not even have to wait this long. Its easy to check blood sugar at home with a glucometer and blood pressure is also easy to check. It does not matter if these methods are not 100% accurate. They are acurate enough to get a picture of what is happening to the body. Do not be too slow in cutting down medications.
4. Vitamin D deficiency. This can lead to depression, joint problems, diabetes, sleep disturbances. Important to check and if needed supplement. Read more.
How can I be vegan in a temperate climate like Ireland where local fruits and vegetables are limited or not always available in winter?
A good book to read is A Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing. This book is the autobiography of a couple who lived in upstate Vermont where the winter is six months long. Helen and Scott Nearing lived without money transactions. They lived on what ever they grew and stored. They describe how they grew their own food and exactly what they ate during each season. They also describe the many foods they saved for the winter months, like cabbage, carrots, turnips and potatoes. This book shows that it is possible to grow your own food and have enough to eat during the winter, and how exactly to do that. It’s even healthier to eat locally grown seasonal foods.
There is one more argument. Man originated in Africa. And though we have evolved, we have not evolved to the extent that the anatomy of a person that lives in the temperate zone is different from that of one who lives in the Arctic. Our digestive systems are just the same. Just as a polar bear in a zoo in Singapore will survive best on the same diet that it would have eaten in the Arctic, we survive best on a whole-food plant-based diet no matter where we live.
How can I handle any social challenges I may face?
You are bound to encounter social challenges when switching to a vegan diet. It’s important not to lose sight of why you have adopted a vegan diet and keep this in mind. Do not be afraid of what people may say about your dietary restrictions. Be true to yourself and explain why you are vegan. Be well-read so that you will be prepared to answer questions. Don’t preach, just explain patiently why eating a plant-based diet is important to you and you may find that people will be inspired to follow your example.
Will I still be able to eat at a restaurant or at a friend’s house?
There are many restaurants to choose from which offer vegan choices, especially those offering Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian or Burmese cuisines, which traditionally do not contain dairy products. So if you ask for a vegetarian dish, it will most likely be vegan also (check for eggs in the noodles though). When ordering in a continental restaurant, ask for dishes usually made with cheese/ butter/ cream to be adapted. For example, pizza is delicious even without the cheese, and you can also ask for pasta dishes to be served without cheese.
If you’re invited to a friend’s home for dinner, ask if you can bring a dish. This way your friends can also discover how delicious vegan meals can be. Invite your friends over for dinner and prepare a meal they won’t forget, which includes a vegan dessert! Once they see the possibilities and how you are benefiting from a vegan diet, they may be inspired to follow your example and also try vegan.
Is a vegan diet safe for children? How can I encourage them to adopt a vegan diet?
A carefully planned vegan diet which includes whole foods can meet all of your children’s nutritional requirements and is the healthiest diet you could give them. By setting an example yourself and teaching your children to make healthy food choices, you will also be giving them a lifetime of good eating habits and good health!
Patiently explain why a vegan diet is important, not only for good health but also for animal welfare and the protection of the environment. Take their favourite foods and recipes and veganize them by substituting the animal products for plant foods. Prepare tasteful meals and occasional vegan desserts. If they enjoy the food, then they will enjoy being vegan.
For more inspiration, read about some Indian vegan children.
Don’t children need milk?
Every mammal produces milk only for its young. The nutrients in the milk of every animal is suitable for the growth of its own species. Milks of animals that grow quickly have higher levels of protein. The human child grows to full size in 18 years, so the rate of growth of a human being is much slower than that of most other animals. This is why human milk contains less protein than cow’s milk. We don’t need the extra protein nor the extra growth hormones which come to us through cow’s milk even when where children. Vegan children are less likely to suffer from colds, coughs, or even frequent infections.
Diet and Disease
How does a vegan diet help patients with cancer?
Cancer cells don’t survive well in alkaline environments, but thrive in acidic environments. This is why alkaline yielding foods reduce our chances of getting cancer. All animal proteins, are acid yielding, and so are sugar, salt, vinegar, tea, coffee, alcohol, colas, and preserve foods. Of plant foods, fruits and vegetables are the most alkaline, grains and nuts less so.
Briefly, a whole food vegan diet without excess protein will help prevent cancer because:
- many antioxidants are found in fresh vegetables and fruits
- relatively low amounts of protein in one’s diet help fight cancer
- high fibre diets like the whole food vegan one help to prevent cancer
- the vegan diet generally contains fewer toxins/carcinogens
Raw foods are very effective in preventing and reversing cancer.
How does a vegan diet increase circulation?
First, always keep in mind that exercise helps with circulation. However, any diet which doesn’t result in thickening of the blood is helpful. So reducing fatty foods and animal products is essential to retain good circulation.
Why would a sick organism invite germs or insects to kill it?
Nature is a perfectionist and it doesn’t like to keep anything, which is not ‘whole’ alive. For example, miscarriages happen because there is a problem with the fetus. This is nature’s way of getting rid of imperfections. When we are unhealthy or ‘imperfect’, we invite disease in order to destroy us.
Pests only attack unhealthy plants. Germs attack unhealthy animals. When we don’t have all the nutrients we need, our immune system does not function at its best. Though antibiotics kill germs, they don’t raise our immune system. The end result is that we can succumb to the same infections again since we did not get any healthier.
Although acute diseases, which, were prevalent in the past like typhoid or cholera can be controlled today, by controlling these, we are pre-disposing ourselves to chronic diseases instead. For example, the chlorination of water has prevented cholera by killing germs but this can lead to cancer because chlorine is a carcinogen.
How can diet help hormonal problems (like hypothyroid, polycystic ovaries, diabetes)?
Hormonal problems (like hypothyroid, polycystic ovaries, diabetes etc) are caused by toxins and hormone disrupters in our lives. Here are some basic guidelines to reduce your toxin exposure and balance your hormones:
- Eliminate processed and refined foods. If you do eat packaged foods, make sure to read the labels. Do not put chemicals into your body. You should be able to recognise every ingredient in the packaged item as a food. Also its best to make sure that there are no refined products in the food – white flour, sugar, oil, etc.
- Increase fiber. High fiber food includes whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps us bind up and eliminate any unwanted toxins, excess hormones as well as cholesterol.
- Avoid animal products. Meat, milk and poultry are full of hormones. Not just the hormones pumped into them but also the natural ones. Remember that animals produce hormones just as we do. Don’t be mislead by the word ‘organic’ in the case of animal products. Fish are full of plastic because of the pollution of the oceans and plastics are hormone disrupters. Also now many animals in our food chain are fed dried fish. Because of the accumulation, these become even bigger storehouses of hormone disruptors. Animal foods are dangerous to our health.
- Avoid plastic. Avoid consuming food/drinks in soft plastic containers. And never heat food in plastic. Plastic contains PVC’s that mimic estrogen in the body leading to increased symptoms of PMS, ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, increased breast growth and more.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol. Both of these hinder the ability of the liver to eliminate toxins and excess hormones from the body.
- Always choose organic. Choose organic to reduce exposure to toxic pesticides like DDT, PCB, PCP, chlordane that can mimic hormones in the body. This cannot be emphasised enough!
- Reduce toxic exposure in your home. Purchase non-toxic cleaning products, dish soap, laundry detergents, carpet cleaner, plant food, etc. Conventional cleaning supplies are incredibly toxic. Its best to avoid using chemicals around the house. Microfiber cloths are helpful in cleaning and reducing the use of soaps and chemicals.
- Use natural personal care products. Choose personal care products without a lot of preservatives/dyes/chemicals such as methyl paraben. Don’t put on your body what you would be afraid to put in your mouth. Toxins are absorbed through the skin as well.
- Watch your cooking utensils and appliances. Avoid using aluminium and aluminum foil, the microwave, or heating orfreezing in plastics.
How do we know what our bodies are telling us to eat?
In general, if we have been on a whole food, vegan diet for 6 months or more, our bodies will tell us which foods we need by giving us a craving for that food. Before that, food addictions can get in the way of healthy cravings.
Do we need the appendix to digest raw food?
The appendix is an organ that has lymph nodes, which protect you from infections. You don’t need it to digest food. You can have your appendix removed and not have any digestive problems.
If milk is not good, what about curds (yogurt)?
Although curds are more digestible than milk, they still have the same composition of high protein and fat and no fibre, they contain growth hormones, pus pesticides, antibiotics and they cause the same suffering to the cows to the same extent that milk does.
Is honey vegan?
Bees naturally produce honey for themselves and not for us; honey is therefore not meant for human consumption and is not considered to be a vegan food. Bees are unfortunately often killed in the production of honey. Also, honey does not contain fibre, which is what our bodies need.
If organic fruits and vegetables are not available, should we peel our produce?
When a coconut tree is sprayed with pesticides at the bottom of the tree pesticides are found in the water of the coconut above. This means if we are eating foods that have been sprayed with pesticides it’s not possible to remove the pesticides just by peeling because many of the pesticides penetrate the whole fruit. Besides this plants that need pesticides to survive will not be nutrient rich compared to organic plants so it is worth making the effort to find an organic source in your area. This may take some time, but ultimately once the demand is there to supply will follow.
Aren’t free-range eggs and organic meat more humane?
Although free-range conditions may be better than those in factory-farms, they are not more humane. Since only hens can lay eggs, male chicks are either killed or raised for food in inhumane conditions. The hens are then slaughtered when their production drops after only one or two years (though chickens can live up to 12 years). The term ‘free-range’ is ambiguous in many countries. Very often this may just mean they have access to the outdoors, but there are no criteria regarding the size of the outdoor area, the number of birds per square foot, etc. All too often free-range is more of a marketing gimmick than real freedom for the hens.
Organic meat comes from animals who are raised for human consumption and who have been slaughtered in the same way as factory animals. Just because meat is labelled organic does not make it more humane.
Are eggs from happy free-range organic chickens bad?
We can think about the subject of eating free-range chicken the following way. First, if you are on a vegan diet for ethical reasons, you must be aware that male chicks are crushed and killed (because they are not egg-layers), on both factory-farms and free-range farms. So consuming free-range chicken is not ethical. If you are on a vegan diet for health reasons, remember that free-range chicken and eggs contain relatively high amounts of fat and cholesterol, so even if you avoid a few toxins by eating free-range chicken, you are still hurting your health by eating it. And lastly, when we think of free range organic chickens, we think of happy birds. But this can be any misleading, because there is no real definition of the words “free range”, except that the animals are not in cages. They still may be very closely packed and in very dirty conditions. And they are still forced to produce extremely large numbers of eggs a year, and when they are spent, they go to slaughter just like any other egg laying hen.
Is ‘Pure Milk’ good for you? Please tell me whether PURE MILK is vegetarian, assuming that it was milked from cow without depriving the calves and also without inflicting any pain to cow and in a place of maximum hygiene?
What is PURE MILK and how many people are able to obtain it, if it exists? Even those who do have their own cows and are not exploiting them, drink milk and consume milk products whose origin is unknown when they eat or drink products that are purchased.
Like any mammal the cow or buffalo produces milk only for its young. Today cows and buffaloes are artificially inseminated at the earliest, and then again within 2 months of delivery. Thus they are milked while they are pregnant and by the time the flow lessens the next calf is born. The technique of artificial insemination can be compared with rape. A cow that is made repeatedly pregnant is productive for about 4 to 5 pregnancies – up to 6 to 7 years of her life. After this she is often disposed of by slaughter (age 7). An unexploited cow can live to 27 years.
In most cases the calf is deprived of the first milk (the colostrum), which is sold as a delicacy. Female calves get the first and last sips of their mother’s milk only. Male calves are often left to die of starvation. (In the West they are sold for veal often on the very day they are born).
When a cow’s udder is manipulated by humans or machines the cow undergoes injuries, which lead to inflammation and sepsis. This is why commercial cow feed contains antibiotics. On the average a glass of milk contains 7 drops of pus. In India milk is transported in non-refrigerated trucks through long distances. Earthworms or urea is added to the milk to prevent spoilage. Do you still believe in pure milk that is suitable for human consumption?
Plants are also living beings so why kill them and not animals?
Some animals are herbivores and some animals are carnivores and yet others are omnivores. Because of our anatomy and the structure of our digestive system we are not omnivores as is commonly believed, but herbivores. To explain it simply, unlike an omnivore, we’re unable to kill, tear apart, and devour the animals that we eat, with our own anatomy. Nor do we eat the whole animal, as do carnivores or omnivores. We take off the skin, then, we take out the bones and then hack it, cook it and eat it. An omnivore does not need to do this, and will eat its prey from head to tail, hair and all. Nature is not usually wasteful.
Nature does not prefer any one species over another. When a lion attacks a zebra he manages to get the weakest of the herd. This helps the survival of the species by strengthening the gene pool. When we raise animals food we actually weaken them before eat them. We are not strengthening any species. However the plants need us and other herbivores to eat them in order to propagate their seeds, and even to prune them. In nature all life is interconnected and every species has its own niche.
In 1997 the FAO, and WHO, released a document called Livestock’s long shadow, which explains how the livestock we raise for food produce more greenhouse gases than all the vehicles on the planet It. We are destroying ourselves through global warming and we are destroying our health by eating animals that are not meant for our anatomies.
What can be used to substitute eggs in baking?
Just because you’re trying a vegan diet doesn’t mean you can’t eat baked food. Baking without eggs is easier than you think! Eggs added to recipes act as binders, holding the ingredients together, or as leavening agents, adding lift and texture. Depending on the flavours and textures needed in the recipe, ingredients such as banana, apple sauce, fruit juice, soya milk, tofu, soya or bean flour, cornstarch or ground flaxseeds to name a few, can be used as substitutes. Sometimes the egg can even be omitted from the recipe altogether without affecting the results.
We have more detailed information on baking without egg, in our recipes for egg replacers.
What do you think of the macrobiotic way of eating?
There are many good healthy ways of eating. There is macrobiotic cooking. There is ayurvedic cooking. All of these are definitely healthy ways of cooking. If you prefer one over the other, the choice is yours. It is best to learn to use our own body as our best doctor. We can learn different types of cooking, and see which one suits our own body the best.
Video: Answers to some common questions
This video is from Dr. Nandita Shah’s visit to google as a part of an animal welfare program. Doctor talks about the benefits of a vegan diet while answering several questions asked by Googlers