Prior to what some omnivores may believe, not all vegans are pictures of perfect health. French fries and Oreos are vegan, and thanks to enterprising vegan cookbook authors, any cupcake, cookie, or pie can be made without dairy or eggs. While snack foods and desserts certainly have a place in our lives, they probably shouldn’t be a part of our daily diets. Whether you’re looking to give up bad eating habits for spring cleaning or you’re looking to revive your already-forgotten New Year’s goals, these seven steps can help you get on track to becoming a healthier vegan.
1. Eat out of your fridge.
Between work, kids, classes, and volunteering duties, it’s hard to find time to prepare home-cooked meals. But living out of boxes and bags means taking in lots of processed foods. The Full Helping blogger columnist Gena Hamshaw’s number-one piece of advice to vegans looking to adopt a healthier diet is to rely more on foods that can be stored in the refrigerator, such as fresh produce and tofu. “Stop pulling things out of boxes for dinner,” Hamshaw says. “I can’t tell you how many people I know who still eat cereal for dinner.” Instead, try preparing a few large meals over the weekend to dole out for lunches or re-heat for suppers throughout the week. That way, you can enjoy nutritious, home-cooked meals every night and still have time to walk the dogs at the local animal shelter.
2. Cut out the white stuff.
Simple carbs like white bread, white rice, and white pasta are high on the glycemic index, which affects your blood sugar and can make you feel hungry soon after eating your bowl of spaghetti. Swap white foods for complex, carb-rich whole grains, such as whole-wheat pastry flour, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice. Mix in some gluten-free versions for variety.
3. Limit sugar.
In the words of Skinny Bitch authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, “Sugar is the devil.” That may sound a little extreme, but sugar has no nutritional value and lots of calories. Switch to evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, or maple syrup-sweetened desserts, and try to only indulge in sugary desserts two to three days per week. If you must have a daily dose of dulce, alternate the naughty stuff with raw nut- or fruit-based desserts. A tip from Hamshaw: “Make desserts with whole grains and actively work to reduce the sugar content.”
4. Eat more greens.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends filling a little more than one quarter of your plate with vegetables, and it recommends adults eat between two to three cups of veggies per day depending on age and gender. In Vegan’s Daily Companion, cookbook author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says she has a personal goal of eating one pound of green leafy vegetables each day. That may sound like a lot, but greens pack a nutritional punch and many, such as collards and kale, are great sources of calcium. Steam or sauté greens for side dishes, or enjoy raw kale in salads or wraps. Pack more greens into your diet with homemade green juices or smoothies.
5. Go partially raw.
Eating 100-percent raw isn’t for everyone, but working in a daily dose of raw in the form of salads, nut-based energy bars, or flax crackers will provide a nutrient boost. Hamshaw says her energy and stamina increased dramatically after switching to a mostly raw diet. “Eating a diet high in raw foods and that incorporated juicing was really a game changer for me,” she says.
6. Move your butt.
The USDA recommends two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity for adults ages 18 to 64 each week. Mix it up with sporting activities, running, biking, hula hooping, or dancing (yes, your nightclub plans for Saturday can double as a workout). Besides improving cardio health and your waistline, Chef Alan Roettinger, author of Speed Vegan, says exercise can have side benefits: “I used to smoke, and then I started taking martial arts. I couldn’t do both, so I quit smoking. And then I started eating better and not staying up late. I got addicted to feeling good.”
An occasional week-long or month-long cleanse focusing on whole foods, raw foods, and juicing is a great way to get yourself back on track when you’ve fallen off the wagon. Roettinger recommends cleansing to break a nasty junk food addiction: “Take some distance from [junk food], even if its just a week or two weeks. Have green juice and fresh food. You will feel better and the junk will slowly start to lose its appeal.”
Ready to get started? Arm your new, healthier self with these tasty, great-for-you recipes!
Bianca Phillips blogs at Vegan Crunk and is the associate editor of the Memphis Flyer, an alt-weekly newspaper in Memphis, TN. She is also the author of Southern comfort-food cookbook, Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South.