Chiles, tomatillos and potatoes at Smart & Final / el Don / Sabrina Zamora
Santa Ana College librarian Stacey Russo begins her day with a large fruit smoothie. She makes her lunch for the day, usually a large dish with lots of vegetables, beans, pasta, grains or tofu. If she’s doing to an event or meeting where they offer food, she needs to plan ahead and bring her own snacks from home.
“You need to move away from convenience and plan better for the week and not get stuck in a situation where there’s only fast-food,” Russo, who has been vegan for about a decade, said.
Being vegan is about much more than just eating “rabbit food.” Health experts agree that eliminating meat and animal products from your diet can reduce the risk of many diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes.
While it’s a common misconception that vegans lack the proper nutrients and proteins to stay healthy, that doesn’t have to be true. Going vegan takes commitment and dedication, not to mention a lot of planning to make sure your diet remains balanced so you don’t end up malnourished.
“The big health concern for vegans is Vitamin B12, which is usually found in meat,” said Raul Medina, who runs the all-vegan Taqueria La Venganza, which pops up at Mission Bar in downtown Santa Ana on Tuesday nights. “Animals get their B12 from eating dirt.”
The National Institute of Health reported that Vitamin B12 deficiency is characterized by anemia, fatigue and weakness. Luckily for vegans, dirt and meat aren’t the only places to acquire B12.
“For vegans, [vitamin B12] can be found in almond or soy milks, flax seeds and oils, legumes, and hemp products,” Chapman University Sous Chef Steven Anderson said.
Another concern when switching to a vegan diet is a shortage of protein. Protein deficiency can lead to high cholesterol, insomnia and fatigue. Many animal-free foods contain sufficient amounts of protein, such as beans, broccoli, nuts and seeds.
“Spinach and kale have almost twice as much protein as the traditional chicken and steak and provide multiple other nutrients that are missing from the standard [American] diet,” Anderson said. “Four ounces of beans is equal to four ounces of ground beef and half the calories.”
When foods aren’t enough, there are always vitamins and supplements such as protein powders and tablets to regain whatever is missing.
“As a vegan you eat more diverse foods than you did before.” Russo said. “Find a community or some friends that want to do it and do it together. That way it’s not as difficult and it could be a fun experience.”
Additional reporting and writing by Jason Solares.