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A vegan diet is clearly gaining in popularity these days, and for very good reasons! You have probably overheard a friend talking about going vegan. Or maybe you saw a story on the news about a celebrity or famous athlete giving up meat and dairy. Perhaps you’ve realized that your health isn’t what it used to be, or you’re having a hard time losing weight with the traditional diet you grew up with. Or else you’ve read that raising animals for human consump-tion is bad for the environment, and that the animals aren’t treated well.

Vegans go beyond what ordinary vegetarians eat and buy in their lifestyle. A vegan diet and lifestyle avoid all animal products — all of them. Vegans are sometimes called strict vegetarians. No, vegans won’t slap your hands with a ruler if you mispronounce seitan (for the record, it’s say-tan), although some hardcore vegans may want to throw a bucket of red paint on you if you’re wearing a fur coat. (Laugh - I nearly fell off my rocking horse.)

Vegans are stricter than vegetarians because vegans don’t eat any animal products. Vegans avoid eating, drinking, wearing, using, or consuming in any way anything that contains animal ingredients. Although many vegetarians can happily note that no animals are directly killed to provide them with food, a vegetarian diet still indirectly contributes to animal abuses, as well as health concerns and environmental degradation. Vegans even go as far as avoiding health and beauty aids that have been tested on animals. A vegan diet contains everything except eggs, milk, cheese, butter, all other dairy, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or honey. You can find different kinds of vegetarians, all of which still consume some type of animal foods.

Here are the main types:

  • Lacto: No meat, fish, poultry, or eggs, but does include dairy like milk, butter and cheese.
  • Ovo: No meat, fish, poultry, or dairy, but does include eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo: No meat, fish, or poultry, but does include dairy and eggs.

And then you find the kinds of vegetarians who still eat turkey on Thanksgiving, or fish when they want to. These folks sometimes call themselves flexitarians. There’s truly a rainbow of diversity in this alternative diet world!

Even among vegans, you can find different categories. The vegan lifestyle actually has three different subheadings, and some people are very solidly in one camp or another. Some people, like me, go back and forth among the three, integrating the best of the options available. The cool thing about these three styles of eating is that they all offer amazing ways to heal the body from disease and imbalance. Start reading up on all three, and you may find yourself attracted to one and decide to dive in! Here are the three and what they entail.

Macrobiotics

The macrobiotics dietary school is based on traditional Japanese foods. The term was created from the Greek words for “macro,” meaning large, and “bios,” meaning life. The diet is mainly composed of unprocessed vegan ingredients and integrates recommendations for eating slowly, chewing well, and using seasonal, local ingredients as a way to live a long and healthy life. This diet includes whole grains (especially brown rice), beans, sea veg- etables, veggies, fresh pickles, grain-based sweeteners, and small amounts of cooked fruit and has been used to cure many people of obesity, arthritis, skin disorders, and cancer.

Many macrobiotics include fish in their diets but no other animal products. But a good percentage of them avoid all animal foods and live a vegan life- style. As time goes on, some macrobiotic chefs and counselors have started to expand the foods they use and eat to include more seasonal and local ingredients, as well as fruit. Check out Macrobiotics For Dummies by Verne Varona (Wiley) if you want more in-depth information about this lifestyle.

Raw

Raw foodists choose to eat a plant-based diet that is prepared in certain ways to avoid heating it and damaging the nutrients and enzymes in the food. A raw diet sometimes includes raw fish, eggs, or meat, but as with macrobiot- ics (see the preceding section), a very large number of raw diets are vegan. A raw food vegan diet has been shown to reverse heart disease, cure cancer, and solve digestive problems and depression. This diet eats uncooked, naturally pickled, or slightly prepared fruit, vegeta- bles, sea veggies, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Raw practitioners typically soak and sprout grains and beans first to make them easier to digest and acti- vate their health-promoting enzymes. Raw foodists use special dehydrators to create flaxseed crackers, nut cheeses, kale chips, and fruit leather. They also use powerful blenders to create delicious desserts and smoothies.

Ayurveda

This traditional diet and school of medicine began in India more than 5,000 years ago. Based on traditional Indian herbs, spices, foods, and natural cleansing techniques, this diet has become more popular in the West due to the rise in fame of Dr. Deepak Chopra.

Ayurveda states that everyone has one of the following three body types:

  • Vatta: This person usually has a thin body type, and has a tendency to be more “airy” and creative in temperament. These people often develop nervous system and colon imbalances, and often feel cold in their extremities.
  • Pitta: These “hot” people are usually very athletic in build and fiery in temperament. Common disorders for pitta types are migraines, inflammation, and acid reflux.
  • Kapha: A combination of water and earth elements, these types are stable, strong, and relaxed when balanced with a supportive diet. When unbalanced, these people can become overweight, depressed, and develop high cholesterol.

No matter whether you’re vatta, pitta, or kapha, you can find foods to balance your energy and health. Although many recipes in ayurveda include milk, yogurt, and ghee, or clarified butter, many vegans adjust the food to be animal-free.y