No meat, milk or even eggs? What do you eat then?” If you’re a vegan or have vegan friends, these shocking responses will be a common response for you. A lifestyle trend that has grown much in the last decade, skipping milk and animal products for a healthier lifestyle, has found its place among many Indians too.
In 2014, there were close to 1.50 lakh vegans across the globe, which rose to 6 lakh in 2019, according to the Global Vegan Society. The vegan revolution has made its impact on several industries, including the production of items like vegan leather and more.
While veganism and vegetarianism are often mixed up, they raise health concerns and interesting conversations among foodies and health experts.
Many reasons to ‘go vegan’
Christine PK, an IT professional, found veganism as the perfect solution to adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle and reduce weight. “I saw some videos online about how animals were treated to derive products we use in our daily lives and it was enough for me. I had gained a lot of weight because of my constant non-vegetarian food splurging outside earlier. Going vegan was the solution to both these concerns,” she says.
Soon enough, she quit and swapped to a plant-based diet and started losing weight. “The results were immediate. Doctors warned me about possible deficiencies, so I consume tofu to replenish my nutrients level now,” she says. Vegans could experience hair fall, mood disorders and are prone to depression, but such symptoms can be handled with care, she adds.
Susmitha, who is the co-founder of a vegan restaurant in Bengaluru, was a vegetarian and turned vegan in 2003. The change was far easier for her than she imagined it to be. “While I thought that the number of options would decrease immensely, I discovered more options and learnt how to prepare new things. The real challenge was to explain veganism to people rather than being one,” she says.
Her passion for the movement is strong as her restaurant hosts several workshops regularly to assist others in exploring veganism and create new vegan food items. “Creating alternative dishes/items only included understanding what ingredients can be avoided and what can be included. We use local ingredients and make all the milk (from nuts), sauces at our restaurant.”
The sustainability factor
How sustainable is a vegan diet? Pavithra N Raj, chief dietician-nutrition in a Bengaluru hospital, says, “Often vegans have two deficiencies — Vitamin B 12 and D. Many do not substitute for the nutrients available in food items, they avoid consuming milk products etc. Some even avoid wheat.”
Soon after, many complain of issues like loose stools, numbness, and inability to walk after getting up. “The only solution becomes Vitamin B12 injections. Calcium and Vitamin D go hand in hand and when calcium-rich food is avoided, then a Vitamin D deficiency is expected.”
“Along with food, supplements need to be taken to address the situation. Many supplements also have milk extracts thus one will have to opt for alternates with soya extracts,” she says.
Defined as a healthy route, a vegan diet should include ragi, green leafy vegetables for nutrients. “For proteins, one can opt for almond or soya milk, and include sprouts, nuts and dals in the diet.”
Keeping aside food habits and choices made because of religious and traditional inclinations, several vilify meat consumption and say it’s not a healthy lifestyle choice.
Overindulgence into anything is not good, points out Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief clinical dietician in a Bengaluru hospital. “If the production of the meat used antibiotics, it’s unhealthy to consume. If it is prepared with a lot of rich gravy and other accompaniments, then cardiovascular risks are high. When the meat is consumed the right way, it doesn’t create side-effects,” she says. The best way to eat meat would be to steam or grill it so that you don’t add a lot of fat, and then add gravy which is not too calorie-rich,” she believes.
Consuming too much meat can be bad for the body. “This could tax your kidneys. Meat should be consumed according to one’s bodyweight requirements: one gm per kg of body weight. Even if you’re an athlete, you don’t need to consume more,” says Dr Priyanka.
Of late, consumption of meat has been connected to many gastrointestinal cancers too, which could be another reason to avoid meat. Pork, beef, mutton are considered rich in fat content, thus increasing one’s risk of diabetes, strokes and heart diseases. But, not consuming animal products can lead to a deficiency of nutrients. Nutrition experts suggest that one could opt to be an ‘over vegan’, which means the individual takes a break from the vegan diet and consumes eggs in between.
Having been in the F&B industry for three decades, Chef Naren Thimmaiah says that it was important to look at all concerns holistically. He says, “Awareness is key. According to the food cycle, everything should be consumed in a certain way, even among animals. Eating seasonally matters and is a healthy practice that must be followed.”
Moderation is also key. “There’s a rage for millets now but consuming it more than required is not the way to go. Educating consumers about such trends is important.” He says while there were people who were practising restraint from animal products even before the vegan movement started, there are also others who have made the switch because of some allergic reactions etc.
Naren adds that menus at restaurants now have more options. “There are more quirky vegetable dishes and innovations happening on meats too,” he says.
Literature promotes veganism
Most movements go through direct and indirect discussions, and literature plays a role in making them more public. For A Moment of Taste, by Poorva Joshipura, looks closely at what happens to animals that are used for animal products, and how all of this is for just a fleeting moment of taste. The book looks at how today’s systems came to be and the state of these industries in India now. Poorva, who is a member of PETA, included her personal observations and tried to prod people to examine their eating habits.