Veganism 101: An Interview With Dr. Janet Brill

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One of our editors, Dan Kamys, will be embarking on a switch to veganism in the New Year. In preparation for the transition, he has sought out the help of Dr. Janet Brill, a nutritionist and award-winning author. Here, she answers some of the most common questions and concerns that meat-lovers might have before making the change.

Dr. Janet Brill is a nationally recognized diet, nutrition and fitness expert. She is a registered dietician, certified personal trainer, health consultant, and wellness coach. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Cholesterol DOWN: 10 simple steps to lower your cholesterol in 4 weeks—without prescription drugs. She has graciously agreed to help Dan make the transition. Here she addresses some common questions that people might have about going vegan. 

Dan: I know we hear a lot about it in the news, but a lot of people might not know what it actually is. So what is a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: A vegan is a total vegetarian meaning the diet excludes all animal “flesh” foods (including eggs and dairy) and animal products.

Dan: Since so many things are cut out of a traditional diet, can it be healthy?

Dr. Janet: It can be if planned well. In fact, vegetarian diets are associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease—our nation’s leading cause of death in men and women.

Dan: What’s the most important thing that people should know before switching to a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: It takes planning and nutrition education to ensure that you will be getting in all of the nutrients your body requires for good health.

Dan: It sounds like I'm going to have to be finding a lot of substitutes for things already in my diet. Is being vegan more expensive than a traditional diet?

Dr. Janet: Actually a vegan diet will better for your health and your wallet than a Standard American Diet (SAD).

Dan: I want to be completely prepared physically for this transition. Should I do a cleanse before starting a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: Absolutely not. Mother Nature has created the perfect cleanse that will not harm the fragile intestinal cells—it’s called fiber. No need to do anything other than fill your pantry with healthy foods!

Dan: Sounds like this diet can be pretty healthy. So what shouldn’t I eat on a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: The same things you shouldn’t eat on a standard diet: foods high in sodium, bad fats (trans fat, saturated fat) and added sugars.

Dan: What should someone do to make sure that they’re staying nutritionally balanced while on a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: Protein needs can be met if a variety of plant foods are eaten over the course of the day. Just be sure to choose plant foods high in protein several times a day such as soy and quinoa.

Marine omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are necessary for good health. You may consider taking an algae DHA supplement. Be sure to consume lots of plant ALA omega-3 fat found in flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.

The iron in plant foods is not as well absorbed as the iron from meat. Consume plant foods high in iron daily (with a source of vitamin C to help absorption). Beans and other legumes, raisins and spinach contain a nice amount of iron.

Zinc intake may be low in vegans so be sure to eat soy, legumes, grains and nuts.

Iodine: intake may be low as well so again, eat soy, cruciferous veggies (such as broccoli and kale); and sweet potatoes.

Be sure to consume calcium and D-fortified foods such as soy milk.

Vitamin B-12 intake among vegans is lacking as the diet does not provide enough B-12 in vegetarian foods. A supplement should be taken.

Dan: On that subject, what vitamins and supplements should I take on a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: Yes, it is wise to take several supplements: B-12, calcium, D and DHA.

Dan: Without meat and dairy products, will I be getting enough protein?

Dr. Janet: Yes, you can easily get enough protein as long as you plan wisely.

Dan: Just because something is vegan, does that mean it’s healthy?

Dr. Janet: Absolutely not. The food could be labeled vegan and still be highly processed with unhealthy additives: excess sodium and saturated fat for example.

Dan: Should I count calories on a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: Yes, if weight control is your goal. Many vegans have a tough time eating enough calories hence tend to be leaner than the average American.

Dan: Should I exercise on a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: All Americans, regardless of what diet they are eating, should get in daily exercise!

Dan: Can I eat dessert on a vegan diet?

Dr. Janet: Dark chocolate and red wine are plant foods! Indulge if you like!

Well, it seems like Dr. Janet has answered many of the more stand-out questions regarding the shift. Stay tuned for the start of Dan's journey in the New Year!


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