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Thinking about becoming a vegan or vegetarian?

In today’s world, various health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are on the rise, particularly for African Americans. As a consequence, millions are opting for plant-based diets choosing veganism or vegetarianism. Actually, there are over seven million vegetarians in the U.S. and about one million vegans. Well-known celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay Z, Vanessa Williams, and Chaka Khan are vegans, while Cicely Tyson and Angela Bassett are vegetarians.

Strictly speaking, vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat, poultry, or seafood. However, there are a variety of vegetarian dietary patterns that include the following:

Lacto-ovo vegetarians exclude meat, fish, and poultry from their diet, but not dairy products and eggs

Ovo vegetarians eliminate meat, poultry, fish, and milk but eggs are allowed

Lacto vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, but not dairy

Vegans do not eat meat, poultry, fish or any product derived from animals, including dairy, eggs, and gelatin

Partial vegetarians avoid meat but may eat fish (pesco-vegetarian, pescatarian) or poultry (pollo-vegetarian)

Reportedly, vegans are known to be against “all forms of cruelty and exploitations of animals whether for food consumption, clothing or any other purpose.” Some vegans also avoid other animal products such as beeswax, leather or silk clothing, and goose-fat shoe polish. They also promote the development and use of meat-free eating alternatives for the “benefit of humans, animals, and the environment.”

Veganism diets consist of plant-derived foods that include veggies, fruits, grains, beans, and nuts. Such a diet may be quite a challenge to those who are used to consuming animal and plant products, but the benefits of such a restrictive lifestyle change are well worth it. Research has proven that increasing the consumption of plant foods results in a lower risk for obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, allergies, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer. However, it is important to note that vegans and vegetarians must put into place a well-thought-out healthy food plan that incorporates key nutrients such as protein, magnesium, folic acid, fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamins A, B12, D, and E.

According to Ayo Hinds-Bankole, 57, a holistic health coach based in Passaic, New Jersey, people become vegetarians and vegans for various reasons. She altered her diet to incorporate vegetarianism some 30 years ago. Hinds-Bankole decided to change her way of eating when she first noticed there were certain health issues in her family that were being repeated. Believing she was on track to develop a few of the familial illnesses, she, along with her parents, realized that they needed to change their eating habits. “We began to eat less red meat, eliminated sodas and increased our water intake. Making these changes helped me to move towards becoming a vegetarian,” she explained. “I tell my clients if they’re not ready to jump right in to become vegetarian or vegan, then they should try to make one change at a time. There are different ways to ease into this eating lifestyle. They can cut back on meat and try eating it twice a week. Trim the heavy starches too. I always stress the importance of listening to your body and to paying attention to how you’re feeling.”

Hinds-Bankole recommends yet another way to move towards becoming a vegan or vegetarian that is a little more direct. “Try eliminating meat from your diet for an entire week, and see how this works for you.” She notes how the vegan/vegetarian diet change is great for the digestive system, “You’ll find that not only your digestion will improve but elimination as well. Your energy levels will also surge.” Hinds-Bankole also warns how eating dairy and meat can cause more mucus and inflammation in the body and getting rid of these food items from your diet can help to reduce this health issue.

The increased nutrients and vitamins in a vegan/vegetarian diet can also offer cosmetic benefits to boot such as providing the skin with a healthy glow and strengthening hair and nails.   The dietary changes will keep the body smelling fresh as well. A study published in the journal Chemical Senses found body odor when on a nonmeat diet was judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense than meat-eaters.

Regina Harmonie Jones, a Middlesex County, New Jersey-based certified Natural Health Professional and yoga instructor has been a vegetarian for over 30 years. “While in my 20’s, I became concerned about cruelty to animals, especially after watching documentaries that addressed the appalling conditions they encountered at slaughterhouses.” Jones made the decision to change her eating patterns after having dinner at the home of friends who were vegetarians. “I enjoyed eating the food they served and began to do more research on vegetarianism. I read countless health books that were popular back then like Back to Eden, and many others,” she enthused.

Jones, who is also trained in aromatherapy, Thai yoga massage and Reiki, is mindful to pack her daily meals with a range of nutrients. She starts the day with a nutritious protein smoothie, “It varies and can include almond milk, blueberries or other fruits in season, kale, and a special protein powder. I might have almond butter on non-gluten bread. Lunch and dinner can consist of tofu, a veggie burger, or a veggie taco. I also make a nice lentil soup with various vegetables, sautéed onions, and garlic. I like adding quinoa to meals as well.” Jones suggests mixing things up and experimenting with different foods in order to avoid boredom when it comes to meals. Since becoming a vegetarian, Jones admits there have been plenty of benefits like looking years younger than her age of 65. She is in great physical shape and in excellent health. “I rarely get sick. If I do get a little bug, I know how to take care of it right away,” she explains.

A vegan/vegetarian diet can be nutritionally superior to any other way of eating. Consuming a plant-powered diet can help to improve the quality of life for millions of folks because plant foods are loaded with the necessary nutrients to protect our health. In addition to improved health outcomes, these plant diets reduce your carbon footprint—leaving you with a clear conscience and renewable energy, for yourself and the planet.

The holistic approach to eating may not be the right choice for everyone, but it is certainly worth taking into consideration. If you’re thinking about altering your diet and want to learn more about the vegan/vegetarian way of eating, it would be a smart move to purchase several books on the subject or meet with a nutritionist to help you put a nutritious plan in place.

Some recommended books to put you on the path towards a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle:


Ayo Hinds-Bankole can be contacted at 

Regina Harmonie Jones can be contacted at

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