New year, new you, right? Weâve all heard itâ¦ after all, what better time to get healthy than the start of a new year?! Les Cler, MD, wanted to get a jump on it, and opted to go vegan back in the fall. We caught up with the chief medical officer and hospitalist at Methodist Dallas Medical Center about the transition and how itâs going a few months in.
âBefore I started this journey in October, I was a pretty big meat eaterâ steak, burgers, BBQâ so this was a big change for me,â Dr. Cler says. âI would be lying if I didnât say I was a little anxious about removing foods from my diet that gave me such pleasure in life or that I felt were my comfort foods after a long day.â
So why make such a big lifestyle change?
âSomeone close to me suffered a very serious stroke and I was faced with some tough questions,â Dr. Cler says. âThankfully they made a full recovery, but I was left wondering if my current diet would give me the best long-term outcome.â
Now that heâs made the shift to a vegan diet, Dr. Cler loves to share his experience and medical insights about the diet. But heâs the first to say itâs not always easy or perfect and that keeping your sense of humor can help you navigate the vegan path.
Knowledge is key
The single biggest piece of advice from Dr. Cler and veteran vegans alike? Do your homework before you begin. When you remove animal products from your diet, finding new sources for certain vitamins and nutrients is a must. Supplements will also likely play a role in keeping your body healthy, so youâll need to do your research there as well.
Making good vegan food choices is also importantâ meaning, donât over rely on soy-based products as they are often high in sodium and preservatives and avoid replacing animal products with less nutritionally strong foods such as breads, pastas and packaged foods.
Learn how to read food labels to verify foods are in fact vegan-friendly. Oftentimes ingredients donât appear to be derived from animals, but in fact are. For example, gelatin is made from animal collagen.
Nutrition Quick Tips
- Vitamin B12 : Only occurs naturally in animal foods, so loading up on different B-12 fortified foods (such as breakfast cereal) as well as a B12 supplement will keep your bodyâs nerve and blood cells healthy.
- Protein : Protein is considered one of the key building blocks of life. Your body uses it to make enzymes and hormones, and itâs a critical component of healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Once you eliminate animal proteins (think eggs and chicken), youâll need to find new sources such as lentils, beans, soy and quinoa.
- Iron : The iron found in animal products is easily absorbed by our bodies, but iron derived from a plant-based diet is less readily absorbed. Loading up on good iron sources such as dried raisins, dark, leafy greens, sunflower seeds and legumes can help you keep your iron levels stable.
Like many wanting to make the move to a more plant-based diet Dr. Cler first started going vegan one meal at a time, starting with breakfast is a common approach. Dr. Clerâ a self-professed cereal lover, started by swapping out cowâs milk for unsweetened almond milk.
Taking the next step might be going meatless one or a few days a week. Another approach to consider is slowing removing one animal product from your diet at a time. Remember, there is no âaverageâ time it takes to become a vegan, some do it overnight, others transition over months.
Talk to the pros
As with any major lifestyle change, keeping your doctor in the loop is key. While it may seem unnecessary to mention your new diet if youâre feeling great, your doctor can get a fuller picture of your health by doing a simple blood draw to check your nutrient levels.
Figuring out all the different sources of vitamins and minerals youâll need can be daunting, consider enlisting the help of a nutritionist to help you sort through the options.
âLife has become more interesting and intentional since I embraced the vegan diet,â Dr. Cler says. âIâve be freed from habits I didnât realize were there, gotten to try tons of new foods, talk to new people about this journey, and feel healthier overall because of it.â