Why skipping the butcher may be the best thing you can do for your health

By Jené Luciani
May 31, 2012

While you may have heard about those non-meat eaters known as vegetarians, there is an extreme sect of them called vegans, or those who not only skip the meat, but also avoid dairy, eggs, and anything that's derived from-or even processed using-animals or animal products.

With celebrities like Ellen DeGeneris, Portia De Rossi, Carrie Underwood, Lea Michele, and Jenna Dewan Tatum all purporting the health benefits of going vegan, the practice has become more popular than ever. Alanis Morisette credits the diet with helping her shed 20 pounds, and actresses Olivia Wilde and Alicia Silverstone both dedicate their blogs to the practice. Silverstone even penned a book about it, once saying "[it's] the single best thing I've done in my life. I'm so much happier and more confident."

Interested in trying it? We went to an expert nutritionist to find out five ways to ease into veganism-and determine whether this lifestyle choice is really for you.

Make a List (and Check It Twice)


If "Because Ellen DeGeneris is doing it" is the only reason you can think of for going Vegan, you might want to think again.

"Go through and make a list of all the reasons you want to adopt this type of diet," says Elizabeth DeRobertis, Director of The Nutrition Center at Scarsdale Medical Group in Scarsdale, New York, and founder of weight management product HungerShield. "This will help you to determine if it is something you are committed to doing, because it will take some effort to do this," she says. "It will also help you to be able to respond to those who question your food choice, so you will feel well versed with your response."

Do Your Research


Be prepared to put in some time, as there is a learning curve.

"It takes a lot of time and effort to check every label and find out those food products that might not comply with your new diet," DeRobertis says. "You'll need to get used to reading the labels on everything and learn how to navigate ingredient statements, so you can identify which ingredients are vegan and which may have hidden animal products."

Also, you may want to check with your doctor first. "It's also important to take a look at your medical history and family medical history, as vegan diets are often rich in soy. If you have had a personal history of breast cancer or atypical cells, too much soy may be detrimental as it acts as an estrogen replacement," she says.

Learn Your Way Around the Vegan Kitchen


"Find a bunch of great vegan recipes," advises DeRobertis. "Eating in a vegan style will take some planning and some prep work so identify some websites and cookbooks with recipes that look appealing to you, so you have some of your meals planned out in advance."

Once you identify a few recipes you like and can make regularly, it'll be easier to grocery shop too.

Get Rid of Temptation


Create a vegan food environment. "It's important to not only toss your non-vegan food choices so they aren't in your house at all, but equally important to stock your fridge and cupboards with plenty of healthy vegan choices," DeRobertis says. Also, when eating out, get used to telling waiters and waitresses that you are vegan so that they can suggest dishes tailored to you.

Get Some Help


It's important to make sure your vegan diet is well-balanced. "This means getting enough protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals," DeRobertis says. "Sitting with a registered dietitian to review your diet periodically is a good idea." You can find one in your area by visiting Eatright.org.


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