Nathan Deschamps, 23, has been a vegan for 9 years.
At 14-years-old, Deschamps decided he was done with eating meat. After watching a documentary which showed the poor conditions animals in factory farms were kept in influenced him to eat less meat.
“I always had an idea of what was going on but actually seeing it [for myself],” says Deschamps, “is what inspired me to go vegan.”
In recent years, nearly 33 per cent of Canadians have chosen veganism as a healthier alternative. And with today’s foods being loaded with preservatives, some of which found are in household products like sodium cyclamate and triacetin, although vegan dieting is gaining in popularity. This healthier way of eating can result in long-term benefits.
In the first few months of his switch to veganism, Deschamps says he found it difficult figuring out the boundaries of a vegan diet. But as time went on, he became more aware of what nutrients are required for a healthy diet.
Deschamps said he turned to online vegan communities to learn more about the best way to maintain a balanced diet.
“When I started nine years ago, veganism was a lot less popular than it is now. It was a lot more difficult to find people who were interested in the same ideas. So it was mostly online for me,” Deschamps says.
Nutritionist for the Durham College and UOIT Campus Health and Wellness Centre, Sylvia Emmorey, says to go from eating your typical diet to being vegan overnight is something she would never suggest. “That’s why I work with people one-on-one to help guide through that change slowly. That would be too dramatic of a change to vegan.”
Some of the harms which can come from making an abrupt change to veganism can be a disproportion of meals with fillers such as bread, rice and potatoes leading to craving, increased appetite, mood imbalances and headaches.
People get energy from carbohydrates. Sometimes when people choose to go vegan or even vegetarian, they’ll just cut out all proteins in their diet and increase the carbs. This major change can throw a person’s energy balance off. A although we gain a small amount of energy from proteins, their main purpose is to repair and rebuild the body.
“Some of the things you may see with a person that is deficient in protein can be fatigue, hair loss, and slow wound repair,” Emmorey says.
The main potential deficiencies that can happen over time are vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Supplements like B12 vitamins and iron pills are recommended to all those new to the vegan diet. “If you’re strictly vegan, you probably have to supplement unless you’re getting enough beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. It [can be a challenge] – to [maintain] properly,” she says.
According to Emmorey, we don’t need a ton of meat sources in our diets. In fact, we don’t actually require dairy in our diets. Inherited from generations before us is the idea we need milk and other dairy products as our leading source of calcium. “It’s been proven that we’re not actually utilizing the calcium properly from the forms of dairy that are available to us. We are one of the only countries that consumes milk [which can result in] such a high risk of osteoporosis,” says Emmorey.
Going vegan may resemble traits of a fad. “It is popular and it is a little bit trendy [today],” Emmorey says. “It is a legitimate diet. If done properly it can be really helpful.”
But becoming vegan isn’t just a matter of picking up a carton of soy milk and attending your local animal abuse rally.
Kimberly Dixon, 39, tried the vegan lifestyle out but eventually went back to eating red meat for a number of reasons. She found it tricky to maintain an iron-enriched diet. Also as a parent, Dixon couldn’t help but think about the added hormones in our meat products and the effect they could have on her children’s growing minds.
“Maybe [eating meat] explains why so many intolerances are relevant…” Dixon says. “Where did they all come from? It used to be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
“Truth be told, I never [reached the point of] a true vegan. I didn’t cut out dairy or eggs,” Dixon says. But she did feel like it was a cleaner way of eating.
In the long run, the vegan diet is more than a trendy lifestyle. There are a number of positive health benefits. Since becoming vegan at age 14, Deschamps has seen some benefits like experiencing more energy and maintaining a healthy body weight.
The only advice Deschamps has for people interested in the vegan lifestyle is to make sure they eat as much variety as possible.