If you are among the 43 percent of Americans interested in finding healthy options when shopping, then whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies may be high on your list. And statistics show that African Americans are among the fastest-growing group who have adopted a plant-based or meat-free diet.
"As more and more Black Americans are beginning to seek a healthier lifestyle, they are choosing a vegan diet because of its health benefits,' says Cedrina Calder, MD, aka the "FitDoc," a board-certified, preventive medicine physician. "Furthermore, adopting a vegan diet today is a lot easier than it would have been 10 years ago because of the increase in the availability of food products that are dairy and meat alternatives."
However, Calder cautions that although a plant based diet is a great option, it doesn't mean it is a better option. Plus, not everyone can maintain this lifestyle. "Just because you're following a vegan diet doesn't mean you're eating healthy," she says. A vegan diet that focuses on processed, plant-based products, sugary foods or doesn't include a variety of fruits and vegetables is not healthy."
Calder cautions when following a vegan diet, you have to be intentional about getting the required nutrients. "Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, and lentils in your diet and consider supplementing your diet with a plant-based protein powder," she said. "Protein, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B-12 can be deficient in a person who has adopted a vegan diet." It’s best to check in with your doctor to see if you need to supplement your diet in other ways to ensure that you get every nutrient you need.
BET.com spoke with five Black influencers who explain the challenges they’ve faced in switching to a plant-based diet and why for them it was completely worth it.
Name: Desirée Daniels
Vegan Food Blogger
“As a North Carolina native, I grew up eating everything under the sun, including meats and cheeses. I became a vegan in 2017 after watching a documentary on Netflix called Food Choices. It's everything you want to know (but don't want to know) about what we eat. Still, the social aspect of being a vegan can be challenging.
Though a lot of restaurants are now offering vegan-friendly options such as Impossible and Beyond Burgers, there are still a good number of restaurants that don't. It's not uncommon for me to have to piece together a meal with selections from the side dishes on the menu, which can sometimes feel a little awkward. Though vegan meat substitutes are amazing and helped in my transition, I'd pick a vegetable plate over a vegan burger any day, and potatoes in any form are a must!”
Name: Natasha Dominique Handy
Digital Content Creator
“I started out as a vegetarian in 2009, and my diet consisted of cheese galore; pizza and pasta were my go-to's. But before becoming a vegetarian, I always begged my mom if we could stop for takeout. I probably ate a serving of vegetables maybe once every other day.
Then, I began my vegan journey in Oct. 2017. It started as Hey, let's try this for 30 days and see how it goes. It was hard getting started, but I have learned how to season my greens so they complement each meal and provide that crunch, flavor, and sweetness we all crave. Four and a half years later, I will never stray away from the plant-based lifestyle. I absolutely love being a part of the Black vegan community.”
Name: Jason Mackson
Founder of The Electric Tribe
“I became vegan more than five years ago and did so for physical and spiritual reasons. It started after I removed dairy and meat from my diet to see whether it would impact my physical appearance, and I started noticing positive changes. I began feeling lighter and faster, which is important for me as an athlete. So I decided to switch to a vegan diet entirely.
About two years ago, I transitioned to a more restrictive alkaline, plant-based diet. It consists of natural, native, non-hybridized (seeds that come from plants that are naturally pollinated), and organically grown foods, such as seeded fruits, vegetables, nuts, ancient grains, legumes, and herbs. For me, the alkaline diet is not just about food. It’s also about healing and nurturing my mind, body, and soul. Still, the biggest challenge for me is not being able to eat out 95% of the time. There are only a handful of restaurants that cater to my dietary requirements in my area. So I have to cook for myself all the time.
I love to start my day with one of my recipes, porridge made from green bananas, sea moss, ground cloves, ceylon cinnamon and dates. My favorite dinner is a chickpea and butternut squash coconut curry served with spelt and avocado roti.”
RDN Registered Dietitian
“Six years ago, after watching Cowspiracy (an environmental documentary), I wanted to make a positive change and became a vegan. Although initially, I did it for environmental reasons, I now resonate with what it means to be vegan. My health has greatly improved, and I couldn't imagine ever eating animal products again. The biggest challenge is when other vegans make you feel like you’re not vegan enough. I always live by the philosophy that many people trying their best is better than a handful of people going all out. Any step towards veganism is positive, and everyone should be encouraged and shown compassion regardless of where they are on the journey.
Before going vegan, I ate a typical standard American diet, but now I love a good veggie burger and homemade french fries! Since I was younger, a veggie burger has been one of my favorite foods, and I also love chocolate chip cookies!”
Co-host of Black Girl Brunch Podcast
“I've been a vegan for four years, and before that, I was a vegetarian for eight years. After witnessing so many of my family members suffer from diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, I thought a plant-based diet was the best thing to do for my health. I was determined to do my best to prevent the same outcomes. As I got more into veganism, I started to learn how the meat industry impacts the environment and how poorly animals are treated to get meat, milk, etc. I realized being vegan helped me minimize a lot of harm while also prioritizing my health.
The biggest challenges are having limited food options at social events and explaining my diet. I am from a traditional Black family, and they love soul food. Although my family tries to be inclusive of my diet, it can feel isolating to be at a fish fry without eating fish.
There are also misconceptions from some non-vegans who ask me how I get my nutrients. Some assume I should be thinner because I'm vegan, and others try to challenge my choices. I'm all for a conversation about veganism, but I don't think it's fair to have to defend my diet so regularly.”