How Hard is it to be Vegan?

Angela Simmons: Eat From the Garden. Choose Vegetarian.

More and more we read about the health benefits of a plant based diet. You know, eat less meat, consume plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, get your protein from legumes and such.

About 7 million Americans are vegetarians – not eating any meat or fish.

Of those, approximately 1 million are Vegan – a “hardcore” version of vegetarianism where no animal derived food is consumed. This means no eggs and no dairy. Since egg and milk ingredients are omnipresent in multitudes of foods, going from vegetarian to vegan is quite the challenge. Additional restrictions include no honey (see Bee Movie…)

Despite the challenges, vegetarianism and veganism are becoming quite popular with celebrities and prominent public figures.

An interesting article in the NY Times, The Challenge of Going Vegan, peels away the glamor behind PETA’s sexy (and sexist?) Ad campaigns and describes how difficult the life of a plant eater can be.

“The dominant social-cultural norm in the West is meat consumption,” said Hanna Schösler, a researcher in the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije University in Amsterdam, who has studied consumer acceptance of meat substitutes. “The people who want to shift to a more vegetarian diet find they face physical constraints and mental constraints. It’s not very accepted in our society not to eat meat.” Read more… 

From a nutrition perspective, vegetarians and vegans need to be more thoughtful of their intake to make sure they get many of the nutrients humans have traditionally gotten from animal sources. More specifically, these are the B vitamins, especially vitamin B12. While supplements are one answer, many people to turn to a plant based diet to move away from fake foods and pills, creating an even bigger challenge. Although B12 can be attained from plant sources such as seaweed, fermented soy, and brewer’s yeast, studies on long term vegans show that a majority are deficient in vitamin B12.

As you can see, lack of social acceptance, a challenge with nutrition, and limited choices in the supermarket, make for a non trivial lifestyle choice for people contemplating a vegan diet. That’s not to say it’s undoable, but you really need to want to succeed. And that’s why many of us are still eating meat.

Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Planning to reduce your consumption of animal derived food?

What challenges are you facing?

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  • MadiK

    That article was ridiculous… Being vegan is hard because of social ridicule? Seriously? Should we all change anything about ourselves others don’t like??? And limited choices in the grocery store? I have a whole vegan section no matter where I go… It’s called the PRODUCE section? And I don’t know why everyone assumes nonvegans are nutritional geniuses… Eating steak and eggs doesn’t guarantee you’re getting all your nutrients… Milk actually leeches calcium from your body if you’re not careful. I’ve been vegan for 6 years and vegetarian for 4 years before that and I’ve never been deficient in anything, have always been able to find more than enough food to eat and have friends who accept me for who I am, vegan or not. “Many of you still eat meat” because you’re too lazy to learn about the food you put in your body and too concerned with what others think.

    • revolutionabigail

      The produce section isn’t always healthy though. Eating chemically altered plants is not good for you. I’m live in a small town that has only one grocery store. It’s impossible to be vegan here unless you want fake fruits and vegetables. Meat is not the enemy. These horrible, inhumane slaughterhouses that pump horrible chemicals and hormones into animals are the enemy. Being vegan doesn’t make you better than anyone nor does eating meat.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=675185043 Zia Bossenmeyer

      Wow pour on the hater-ade. I know that attacking people doesn’t win friends, and if you want your ideas to be heard, you might want to consider coming from a compassionate and loving place instead of calling people names and being so hateful. 

    • Dearsmileyjoe

      i totally agree with you, madik.  this article was ridiculous.

    • NO

      haa haha Yea.

  • Guest

     I wanted to be vegetarian when I was six, but my family wouldn’t have it – they let me stop eating red meat, but that was about it. At 16 I was finally allowed to become a full vegetarian (not at all a difficult transition – at least for me!) and a year or two later I was vegan. It was certainly a more challenging transition, but mainly in terms of the self-education regarding not-so-obvious animal products. Now I’ve been vegan for about seven years or so and have no desire to return to vegetarianism or anything else. Anyone considering veganism for weight loss should reconsider – I don’t think that motivation will work. Regarding health, the doctors I’ve seen have considered me to be in good physical shape with ‘perfect’ blood and other readings.

  • me

    I eat meat and I like meat! Don’t care if you like it or not!

    • KM

      The _only_ difficulty in being vegetarian is dealing with the odd bozo who thinks what you eat might pose some sort of threat to his meat.

      Admittedly there are a few socially unpleasant vegetarians/vegans, usually new converts who stop going on about it eventually, but. I have been a vegetarian for my entire life, and, really, this is not some sort of challenge as the article suggests. One reads ingredient labels, one shops the perimeter of the supermarket.

    • CA

      I eat vegetables and I like vegetables! Don’t care if you like it or not!

  • Jess

    I have tried to transition into eating a vegan diet, but I find it difficult to get enough protein. For the average person, it seems to be no problem. For someone who exercises and weightlifts a lot like I do, it’s difficult without eating a ton of fake meat products (which are no better than many of the processed foods out there), tofu (which I can’t seem to like no matter how much I try it), and protein shakes (which, if I have two of these a day, it doesn’t leave enough room for other whole foods I want to eat, like fruits and vegetables). 

    I have tried to transition into a vegetarian diet, but I am mildly lactose intolerant so I don’t consume a lot of milk products. It’s mostly just cheese in small amounts that I can handle. 

    So I have decided to try to have 1-2 days in the week where I have a vegetarian or vegan day, and the other days I try to eat small amounts of meat from local, organic farms. Honestly though, it’s not just about health for me anymore. I am having a harder time consuming meat for ethical reasons as well. It would be nice to hear from other vegans/vegetarians who are weight lifters/athletes/just exercise a lot who are able to do this successfully on a more whole foods diet.

    • http://vegeneve.tumblr.com/ Veggeneve

      Hi Jess, 
      How many grams of protein you were trying to reach? 

      I recently started vegan after many years of veggie. I’ve been tracking my intake and found (to my surprise) that I’ve been easily getting 40-50 grams of protein a day– without processed food like tofu, or supplements — just on lots of whole veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. When I add some lentils (not even much, but about 60-90 grams when dry) it goes up even more.Regarding my exercise, I do about 1-2 hours of biking a day and some strength training twice a week.

      • Jesd

        I aim for at least 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass, which ends up being about 130g of protein. I sometimes don’t even get there with meat and a protein shake because I eat so many veggies. And that is with eating about 2000-2300 calories per day. I lift weights 3-4 times per week. Lentils are a great idea though. I think I need to put more effort into cooking new things.

        • Lauren Smith

          130g of protein is an insane amount. I’m not an expert, but I’ve heard an excess of protein can have negative effects..

          • Jess

            Except that it’s not an excessive amount for weight lifters. Any negative effects would only come at an amount 2-3 times what I’m already eating. Most Americans who eat meat consume much more than I do.

  • Darling Nikki40

    Well before I stopped eating meat, I was deficient in fiber, iron, and several key vitamins. I had high daily intake of sodium, cholesterol, and fats.

    But now that I finally give a damn about what I put into my body and carefully monitor my nutrition, I’m at risk for social ridicule?

    Look at all the f**ks I give.

    • alyssa

      yes! i used to not be able to donate blood because i was anemic- now my labs are rockin!

  • guest

    And posing a la Playboy style’s not?  Strange world.

  • Anonymous

    “Doing something that is worthwhile might be hard and against the grain of society… oh well, maybe next time.” – Martin Luther King

    (not a real quote obviously…but you see the absurdity of this mentality.)

  • http://twitter.com/Amy_Rey Amy Reynaldo

    I’m disappointed to see a PETA naked-woman-as-object poster used to illustrate a post about eating a vegetarian diet. It’s bad enough PETA systematically objectifies women in its publicity approach–does a nutrition blog really need to follow suit?

    • revolutionabigail

      It’s not objectifying women, it’s knowing that sex sells. Women are allowing pictures to be taken and I’m sure they don’t feel like less of a woman. Coming from a woman, you really shouldn’t shout about women being objectified every time there is a sexy picture. Appreciate the beauty of a woman for what it is. We are beautiful creatures. I don’t go around taking half naked pictures of myself, but I don’t become angry when I see them. Does it make you angry when old famous artists use naked women as there subject? It’s the same concept. Women are beautiful and our bodies are a work of art. Why not portray that?

  • Dixter

    Vegan – I don’t find taking one daily B12 supplement to be a big burden. I have never been so healthy and slender. It’s a great way to eat, and my skin now glows at age 50.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    The bigger issue is how dogmatic people are about the label instead of finding out what works from them. Whether it’s vegan, vegetarian, omnivore or whatever…the bickering between each other should stop and we should all unite against the larger issue of factory farming and processed foods. That’s something we can all agree on. Focusing on our smaller battles with each other  just causes distraction.

    • Brian

      I agree! Many of the doctors who promote plant-based approaches make meat out to be the absolute evil in diets. But they sort of gloss over all the real evils of processed food, processed oils, sugars, and bad food quality. If we all unified behind that motto, we’d make a huge impact in the health of America.

      • Rita Reynolds10

        My husband & I became “nutritarians” 2 yrs ago, removing all animal products, processed sugars, oils, lower sodium & including the most nutrient dense “whole, unprocessed foods” as possible. We did it for health reasons; to lose wt, reverse my husband’s type 2 diabetes & high blood pressure & just improve our health as much as possible. We follow Dr. Joel Fuhrmans Eat for Health & love it. Also watch Forks Over Knives…it will change your life!

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Thanks Mike, all -vores should shoot for a less processed diet.

    • alyssa

      you’re so right! if everyone would come together instead of paleo vs. vegan vs. weston a price vs. raw we would have a hell of an argument. 

      i am vegan, but i love the idea of just everything in moderation for most people (not gonna try to convert ya!) just a healthy, whole foods diet- mostly plants.

      • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

        True dat.

    • http://www.meyouhealth.com/ Alicia B.

      Could not agree more, Mike! I recently tried paleo and found out that after six days, I need legumes in my diet. Badly. To some, my “giving up” is seen as a failure. But you have to listen to your own body — that’s the most important thing you can do. 

      • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

        Absolutely.

  • Brian

    I’ve always been an omnivore, and will likely always be one, but I’ve never questioned one’s decision to be vegan/vegetarian, and have often supported people when considering that an animal had to die in order to eat your meal. But, I find it interesting that everyone thinks a vegetarian/vegan diets are the absolute most healthy diet, when they have to supplement for a few things (ie: b12 or omega 3′s) that are hard to get unless you eat animal products.  

    • http://twitter.com/Shaunagator Shauna

      The only reason animal proteins have B12 is because the animals are eating their food on/from the ground; there’s a bacteria found in soils that synthesizes B12. Animals ingest this bacteria it and people don’t, because the vast majority of plants humans eat are thoroughly washed first. Omega 3′s are plentiful in plant based foods like walnuts and flaxseeds.

      I’ve been eating a primarily vegan/nutritarian diet for over a year, and taking a daily B12 supplement. I buy pre-washed salad mixes by the pound for my daily lunches, cans of low-sodium beans are widely available and affordable to top salads or make into soups and entrees, and plant-based milks (almond/soy/coconut) with frozen fruits are great in morning smoothies, healthy oatmeal breakfasts, and homemade desserts (frozen leafy greens are great in smoothies too!).

      The hardest part of this lifestyle is more dishes to wash, since I’m cooking more rather than eating pre-made processed stuff, and I don’t have a dishwasher. It’s been completely worth it, though–a boost to my health, fitness, and self esteem (not to mention more environmentally friendly)–I’ll never go back.

      Eating out can be tricky, too; some restaurants even have meat and cheese on all of their salads! BUT, if you ask nicely, most will swap out the meat for grilled veggies or extras of the other plant-based toppings, and omit the cheese (and serve the dressing on the side).

      • Brian

        Well, shouldn’t you eat the leafy greens before washing them to get your B12 then? Joking… and a bad one at that. Sorry.

        The Omega 3s in flax are not well absorbed, and the amount of Omega 6s in both those foods are so high, they offset any good your are doing to try and get omega 3′s. It’s advised to have the ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6 in the 1:2 ratio if possible to keep systemic inflammation at bay.

        I adhere to a mostly paleo diet which means eating out is tricky as well. Gluten is in nearly everything, and most restaurants only use vegetable oil to cook (omega 6′s and transfats.). (No coconut oil, ghee, lard, etc.) That and nearly everything is CAFO raised and nothing is organic. This also means I do a lot of dishes. Something I’m ok with.

        Also, just a word about environmentally friendliness… any grain produced food is not really environmentally friendly. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this subject, and CAFO raised animals are for sure the worst of the worst, but when you look at what the production of corn, wheat and soybeans is doing to our environment, it’s not a pretty picture. If you’re interested, read the Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. She goes into all the details.

  • Tom Arr

    I did it for four and half years, using complimentary protein models to be assured of getting the necessary energy consumption, and nearly ended up in the hospital as my uncle did back in the seventies living the same life. Our big brains didn’t come about by eating beans and grains, it came about by eating meat, and we cannot devolve to match the lowered intake of nutrition that comes from eating less complete sources of protein.

  • Sdstables

    Everyone is different. I know several people who have tried to be vegetarian & have become very sick over time as a result. My sister in law is a strict vegan, has no difficulty with it & is extremely healthy! I myself have been vegetarian for several years and have never felt better! There is no one perfect diet for everyone. We are all different with different bodies & different dietary needs.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Agreed

  • Amy

    Brewer’s yeast for B12?? Are you sure you don’t mean nutritional yeast, a completely different thing? I also wasn’t aware vitamins fell under “fake foods and pills.”

    Regardless, I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life and haven’t had any health problems or “challenges.” I was vegan for a brief period as well (went back because I love eggs!) and it’s possible to do, a little inconvenient but definitely possible.

  • Amy

    Brewer’s yeast for B12?? Are you sure you don’t mean nutritional yeast, a completely different thing? I also wasn’t aware vitamins fell under “fake foods and pills.”

    Regardless, I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life and haven’t had any health problems or “challenges.” I was vegan for a brief period as well (went back because I love eggs!) and it’s possible to do, a little inconvenient but definitely possible.

  • Nicole

    I’ve been vegetarian for almost 18 years.   My husband has for 17 years.  Our kids have been vegetarian their whole lives, 12 and 9 years respectively.  So far, so good.

    Technically, B12 is produced by bacteria.  Because the bacteria are either consumed by animals or the bacteria live in their gut b12 gets into their tissues.  So I guess we could all have the same level of hygiene as farm animals and no one would have to worry about b12. :)   We could all give up sunblock and our indoor jobs and not have to worry about vitamin D either.

  • Nicole

    I’ve been vegetarian for almost 18 years.   My husband has for 17 years.  Our kids have been vegetarian their whole lives, 12 and 9 years respectively.  So far, so good.

    Technically, B12 is produced by bacteria.  Because the bacteria are either consumed by animals or the bacteria live in their gut b12 gets into their tissues.  So I guess we could all have the same level of hygiene as farm animals and no one would have to worry about b12. :)   We could all give up sunblock and our indoor jobs and not have to worry about vitamin D either.

  • Faye x

    It was harder for me to adapt to a gluten-free, dairy-free diet years ago, when I discovered my allergies.

    When I decided to adopt a whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle it was far easier. I didn’t spend countless hours reading food labels, figuring out if factories were cautious about cross-contamination and quizzing food prep personnel. I just bought whole foods and made my own meals. Granted, that takes time, but life was simpler in so many respects.

  • alyssa

    I’m vegan! Once you figure out the swaps & new way of  cooking its really not too hard. 

    Honestly, a lot of times it keeps me away from eating processed food because sometimes I totally would have eaten something, but since I’m vegan I can’t!

    I feel so much better eating fresh, yummy veggies and I think more places are becoming accepting of it. Its getting more and more easy. Especially to be vegetarian.

    Also, I’d rather take a B12 supplement than other supplements while eating a meat-based diet. I think a lot of people don’t ever compare planning a healthy vegan diet to how much planning it also takes to have a healthy meat-based diet. Either way, it is easy to eat like crap if you’re not picking the right foods!

  • Jill, The Veggie Queen

    When you first start out as a vegetarian or vegan, eaing this way might feel very foreign (as in from another country or planet).

    I have been teaching people how to follow a vegetarian diet for more than 25 years, over which time it has actually gotten easier to follow either of these diets due to all the processed products which I consider transition foods. I prefer that people eat a whole foods plant-based diet.

    Anybody who eats ought to include whole plant foods into their eating plan. That’s not hard, unless you are like many people and rely on processed and prepared foods for most of your meals.

    Eating this way takes time but yields something that money cannot buy: great health if done right.

    It’s kind and compassionate to encourage everyone to learn how to eat vegetarian.

  • Jenny

    Why do we have to be labeled? So we can be considered a statistic? Well anyway, I have adopted a plant-based diet in January after watching Forks Over Knives (and having a malignant tumor removed). Animal proteins “turn on” cancer cells and frankly, I refuse to be plagued by this AGAIN! I work out minimum 3 times a week doing bootcamp and also do strength training and lots of cardio. I feel lighter, cleaner, more energy and sleep better. I don’t eat any meat substitutes and eat tofu very sparingly.

  • Christopher

    Vegetarian for 30 years, mostly vegan for the last 2, nutrition scientist for 20 years. The “the B-vitamins” really aren’t a concern. Just B12. And even that one doesn’t have to be a big deal. The recommended daily allowance for B12 is the lowest of any vitamin or mineral – 2-3 micrograms/day. Not grams, not milligrams, micrograms (yep, one millionth of gram). And all the RDA’s have a safety buffer built in so that the RDA amount (a population recommendation) meets or EXCEEDS the individual requirement by a fair amount (in general, by 2 standard deviations over the Estimated Average Requirement – EAR).

    Challenges? None dietarily.  Just getting past the misperceptions and misconceptions many people have of how hard it is, and trying to convince those who’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid all their lives that most people don’t need all the protein the meat, dairy and egg industry have been brainwashing us about. 

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  • Svetlanasky

    it is an irony that today to find quality foods is a challenge in general. I think that the focus should be on the High quality foods available and knowledge how to  create a well balanced diet to prevent disease. In my opinion the most challenging part of becoming a vegan or even a vegetarian for those who ready is a lack of quality organic produce and its variety. Also the lack of knowledge in preparation of vegetarian meals.

  • http://www.meyouhealth.com/ Alicia B.

    To me, being vegan (or pescavegan, which I am, as I do eat fish) is only hard when you have to eat out. And that happens when you travel or when you want to socialize with friends. Sure, you may be the odd one out asking the server a hundred questions, but it’s your right to know what’s in the food. I’ve discovered it’s 1000% easier to order food when you say you have a diary allergy than if you’r e vegan. The latter just gets blank stares; the former, a red carpet of catering. 

    Being gluten free and soy-free as well as vegan, I’ve encountered just about every situation in which you need to either stick to your beliefs or bend a little to not go hungry — especially on the road. I don’t like bending, so I pack plenty of snacks and do my homework ahead of time (thanks, Yelp!) to locate vegan-friendly places to eat. 

    I don’t choose to be mostly vegan because I am religiously invested. Granted, learning anything about factory farming is likely to turn even the most avid meat eater into a sniveling meatless vegetarian, I choose to be vegan because of how I feel when I don’t weigh down my body with heavy, hard-to-digest foods. 

    - Alicia
    @leximaven 

    • Megan

      Alicia, I am a pescavegan as well, but hadn’t thought of a name for it. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=675185043 Zia Bossenmeyer

    I’ve been a vegetarian twice for a period of 5 years. I tried to go vegan and then immediately fell completely off the wagon and have been eating meat again. Sparingly but eating it.

    One challenge. My boyfriend is one of those “I’ve got to eat meat or I’m not a real man.”

    One challenge is, for recipes I’ve found, they require a ton of ingredients and  it really is more expensive to eat healthy. I run out of my food budget in the first week, I don’t make it through the month.

    One challenge is, I can’t cook very well. So I try things, and a lot of the meals or vegan options don’t taste very good. Even when i eat out and order “healthy items” they don’t taste very good.

    So after trying vegan I started to feel it really wasn’t that practical. Too difficult without someone else doing it with me, (having to make a meat meal and a veggie meal sucks) and trying to make food taste good when i’m not that skilled a cook. 

    • Rita

      Check out the “health starts here” recipes on the Whole Foods Market website. There’s over 200 recipes , easy & tasty.

  • Mark

    I want to become a vegetarian but dnt know where to start??? Help please!!

    • Rita

      Read dr. Fuhrmans Eat to Live & Eat for Health. Also, watch Forks over Knives. That’s a really good start!

    • Megan

      Try veganoutreach.com. They’re much more people-friendly than PETA. Good luck! It’s really not as difficult as this article makes it seem.

  • Cartoonguy_99

    Anyone that cites PETA automatically nulls and voids his argument.

  • Cartoonguy_99

    Anyone that cites PETA automatically nulls and voids his argument.

  • Cartoonguy_99

    Anyone that cites PETA automatically nulls and voids his argument.

  • Bobbykhawk

    One if the apple and the serpent (snake) are supposed to convince Christians not to eat certain meets then they need to obtain a new marketing tool. For one eve never ate an apple and the serpant was not a snake. Eve was seduced by Satan, hat sex with him and that is how Cain was born.

    Concerning meet, it is written by the designer of our bodies in Leviticus 11 what meets are healthy for flesh bodies to consume. Mos issues associated with human diets today is the consume foods not intended for human consumption. Follow the strict guidelines provided by the creator and be healthy. Or wait around for men to finally figure it out, the choice is yours.