November 1 was World Vegan Day, which is celebrated every year to encourage people to follow the vegan lifestyle and spread awareness on veganism. As per the Vegan Society, the lifestyle not only benefits health but also protects the well-being of animals, helps reduce emissions, and protects the environment. Seven years ago, Ms. Lily Scott, a Kigali resident, decided to become a vegetarian not only for her well-being but also, after learning about the animal rights movement and the cruelty involved in the meat industry. She then became a vegan after discovering that the dairy industry was equally as cruel and environmentally damaging. “I have always loved animals but had been ignoring the ways in which I was harming them through my consumption of animal products,” she says. She affirms that in addition to that, eating a plant-based diet is one part of being a vegan and this can have great benefits for your health, especially if you are prone to high blood pressure or heart disease, but also, your diet is just one element of being vegan. In Kigali, some places with vegan options are Afia Organics, Indabo Cafe, Sizzling Plates, and Asian Kitchen, according to Scott. Understanding vegan diet When we talk of vegan diets, nutritionists say it excludes all foods produced by or derived from animals; meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, and honey, in other words, this is a diet based entirely on plants. Although going vegan is a great opportunity to learn more about nutrition and improving your diet, Joseph Uwiragiye, Head of the Nutrition Department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) says it is ideal to understand what you are getting into before deciding on no animal products. He says that this isn’t an overnight decision as it takes time, and most importantly, getting to understand why it’s important to make such a decision is crucial. He says one can start by making gradual changes and assessing how you feel along the way. However, he notes that it’s ideal for those who wish or would want to go completely vegan due to different reasons to understand what they need to do. Uwiragiye notes that when you have completely switched to vegan, you will need supplements, especially vitamin B12. He explains that this vitamin is only in animal foods, which means that when you become a vegan, you won’t be able to get such vitamins. “The deficiency of B12 can lead to health complications or rather issues ranging from constipation, loss of appetite, and weakness to nerve problems. Supplementing with B12 vitamins will help keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy,” he says. He also advises that consulting a health expert on how much you need the supplement is essential. Alex Mucumbitsi, the Head of the Nutrition and Hygiene Department in the National Early Childhood Care and Development Program, says when you go vegan, you will definitely need iron supplements. He says iron makes up about 40 per cent of the iron in animal foods, and is easily absorbed by the body, while a vegan diet contains iron which is less readily absorbed. This means that one would have to focus more on plants or vegetables that have more concentration of iron like legumes, dark and leafy greens as well as red peppers and broccoli. Mucumbitsi says going for new protein sources is also crucial, and ensuring that each meal is important as proteins are known as building blocks of the body. “They break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair, therefore, ensuring you are getting a diet rich in it can help improve your well-being in general,” he says. Locally, he says, the best sources of vegan protein can be found in beans, soy, lentils, and quinoa. Private Kamanzi, a dietician and nutritionist with a wellness centre focusing on healthy nutritious products in Remera, says it helps especially for those who want to lose or maintain a healthy weight. He says that vegans are on average up to 20 pounds lighter and at the same time, veganism helps keep excess fat off for good and have plenty of energy at the same time. Kamanzi cites that going vegan also guarantees good health as it has been established that vegans are less likely to develop health complications such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, among others. “Vegans get all the nutrients that they need to be healthy including plant protein, fibre, and minerals meaning they are keeping off from cholesterol and saturated animal fat, which is dangerous to one’s overall health,” he says. According to Kamanzi, he says people should understand that one can still get delicious meals even after going vegan, and most importantly remain healthy. For instance, he says, there are more delicious meat and dairy-free options that taste great and are at the same time much healthier than those from animal sources. He adds that nutrients from plant foods allow more room in your diet for health-promoting options like whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, which are all good for your health.