Did you know that “vegetarian” was first coined in 1842 and has more to do with its Latin root, vegetus, which means “lively, fresh, and vigorous,” than with vegetables?
More and more people are wanting to lead “lively, fresh, and vigorous” lives as vegetarians or vegans out of compassion or for health reasons. Becoming Vegan, Express Edition: The Everyday Guide to Plant-based Nutrition by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD is a helpful resource to combat common nutritional misconceptions and to ensure proper nutrition. This book could be helpful resource for anyone, whether or not they consider themselves to be “becoming vegan” and no matter where they fall on the spectrum of plant-based eating,
As registered dieticians, Davis and Melina offer a wealth of knowledge on how to get enough protein, where to find key minerals like B12 and iron, and what good fats to include in your diet. Last year, I wasn’t able to be a blood donor because my iron level was on the low end of normal, and since then I’ve been looking for ways to get more iron into my diet. Becoming Vegan taught me that cutting back on caffeine and including vitamin C in my meals will increase my iron absorption. In other words, an iron-rich breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and nuts is even more iron-rich when I add a serving of citrus fruit or strawberries to it. Don’t worry if that meal idea doesn’t sound good to you; the book includes a chart of vegan foods and their general mineral content to help you plan nutritious meals to suit your tastes.
In addition, Becoming Vegan offers nutritional advice for those with special dietary needs, including pregnant women, children, and the elderly. I’ve often heard that folate is important for pregnant women. I was relieved to read that vegans and vegetarians who eat beans, greens, and oranges can easily meet their folate needs. Another helpful table lists foods that provide 15 grams of protein per serving and also have high levels of iron, zinc, and folate. You can use this table to help you to maximize the nutrition in your diet. The next time you’re sitting down to watch a movie, swap out the popcorn for a couple cups of fresh pea pods and get a major boost of protein, iron, and folate. These kinds of strategies and sample menus that you’ll find in the book will help you to feel confident that, no matter what your life stage, you’re getting the nutrition that you need to thrive.
Chapter Eight overviews the strengths and weaknesses of ten different vegan diets and in the process reveals the variety of food choices that vegans have. Davis and Melina include tips on how to make those diets work for your nutritional needs. Additional chapters focus on dietary modifications for those who are overweight, underweight, or athletes.
One of my favorite resources in Becoming Vegan is “The Vegan Plate,” a diagram accompanied by a table of suggested servings and tips. I recommend making a photocopy of this diagram and sticking it on your fridge as an easy reference guide. I also appreciate the recipe for “Liquid Gold Dressing,” a whole foods alternative to a vitamin supplement. Each serving contains your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids and half your daily B12 requirement.
I recommend Becoming Vegan, Express Edition to anyone looking for a comprehensive guide to plant-based diets or for those who want to be well-versed in addressing misconceptions about vegan nutrition and current dietary controversies, like whether or not soy is good for you. I learned a lot of valuable information about being healthy on a plant-based diet that will benefit me for years to come, allowing me to be the most “lively, fresh, and vigorous” vegetarian or vegan I can be.