Whether it is the United Nations urging for a global move away from the consumption of meat and dairy, Google Trends stating interest that the “vegan diet is higher than ever before,” or the new-found curiosity of celebrities trying out a plant-based diet, it is safe to say this lifestyle has hit the mainstream market.

But all this media hype misses something important. Eating vegan is not a direct route to health. Take it from me: I used to be unhealthy and vegan, living on white carbohydrates, deep-fried vegetables and frozen “meat” substitutes. Now, I’m a healthy vegan, living this lifestyle to the fullest with the freshest fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and other amazing whole foods that nature offers. There is a huge difference between those food choices when it comes to health, but both diets are still considered “vegan.” Here’s how to do it the healthy way and really live up to all the amazing health benefits the media promises.

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1. The Food You Consume: Think Plants, Not Packages

No, this isn’t a paragraph about supplementing your protein, iron or B-vitamin intakes just because you are vegan. Seriously, proper nutrition is not a vegan-exclusive issue; if you are nutrient-poor, it is not from adopting a vegan lifestyle alone. Veganism, when lived with health as the focus, is full of plant-based proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Making sure you eat these in the least-processed forms as possible aids in nutrient absorption. Thus, the best motto to go forth with for a healthy veganism is to think plants, not packages. Opt for fresh plants and their fruits in various colors, textures, and taste profiles. Eat these in abundance. Get out of the habit of viewing meals in distinct categories: protein, carbohydrate, vegetable, etc. Start thinking in colors instead: each color signifies a different area of nutrition. Check out this helpful list to learn more about nutrition color wheels. This way, you don’t need to consume an expensive, processed, packaged “protein substitute” because you know that protein is abundant in plant sources, especially in legumes. You know you can get all the nutrients you need from plants, not packages.

Please note that whole foods are very satiating, but most are low in caloric density. That, matched with drinking plenty of water, can lead to an insufficient amount of daily calories being eaten. This is counterproductive to health. Please make sure you are eating not just healthy foods, but adequate amounts, as well. For example, consider that you need to eat

2. Mindful Matters

Even with the media’s gaining coverage of the plant-based diet, eating vegan is still a countercultural act in North America. The “different-from-the-majority” feeling is something many vegans find motivation in, while others find it quite isolating. One of the easiest ways to walk down an unhealthy vegan path is by letting the latter feeling get to you. Keeping your mind healthy is just as important as keeping your body healthy. Find some local activists, or organize some, surf the internet for positive news and event/volunteer opportunities. There is a gaining community of people out there who can, relate in some way to your experience, no matter what their reasons are for going vegan. Finding these support networks is crucial in feeling connected to your community and to your cause. You can also find additional information and resources right here on One Green Planet.

3. Your Body is More Than a Calorie Warehouse

Health is about more than what you put into your body and what thoughts you have in your mind. Being a healthy vegan also means moving! Whether it is a walk around the corner, a hike up a mountain or some sedentary arm lifts, moving your body helps to keep your circulation going strong, deliver oxygen to cells and speed up your metabolism. Think of exercising as vacuuming — you may dislike the thought of actually doing it, but you know you need to clean up. Your body needs a regular clean up, too. Getting moving aids in this process. See these 25 Ways to Sneak in More Exercise Every Day.

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Let’s be clear: what I’m suggesting here really isn’t anything you haven’t heard before. Vegan or not, eating a lot of fresh, whole foods (and drinking plenty of water), keeping a sense of community, and exercising in any way possible are the basics of good health for a reason — they work. Keeping things as simple as possible ensures this healthy lifestyle is sustainable, too. Be basic: think plants, not packages; drink some water, stay connected, and get moving.

Image source: World’s First Vegan Supermarket Chain Plans to Take Over Europe! (VIDEO)

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