The vegan lifestyle - which entails eliminating all animal products and by-products from one's diet, including eggs, milk and other dairy products - is gaining traction nationwide. According to a recent study from Dalhousie University, approximately 850,000 people in Canada are vegan. When including vegetarians, approximately 3 million citizens primarily consume fruits, vegetables and certain types of grains. That's the equivalent of almost 10 per cent of Canada's overall population. Long-standing vegans swear by the eating plan, helping them stay trim and full of energy.

In an interview with CTV News, Dalhousie University professor of food distribution Sylvain Charlebois said the vegan lifestyle makes a lot of sense for many people.

"I can't remember the last time I read a study suggesting that we should eat more meat, Charlebois explained. "The scientific evidence seems to be pretty strong encouraging people to eat more vegetable proteins."

That being said, completely eliminating animal-based proteins from one's diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Lean meats, milk and eggs are chock full of key nutrients and minerals that the body relies on to stay strong, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids.

Mother and daughter cooking vegetables. Eating from a wide assortment of colorful foods is key to a vegan diet.

Here are a few smart ways to go meatless without losing out on the health benefits associated with animal proteins and products:

1. Eat a Wide Variety of Foods
Although veganism on the surface may seem restrictive, there are loads of foods you can still enjoy that are vegan-friendly. The key is to choose from as wide a variety as possible. For instance, lentils, molasses, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and Swiss chard serve as excellent sources of iron, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. Vitamin D is produced by the sun, so spending 10 to 15 minutes a day in the great outdoors can replace what you get from milk and other dairy products.

2. Be Mindful of Protein
Protein is critical to muscle building and cell repair. Fortunately, many foods are packed with protein that are vegan approved. Ideal alternatives include nuts like almonds and peanuts, legumes (beans), seeds and certain grains like quinoa. Despite being a grain, quinoa is a complete protein - containing all the essential amino acids.

3. Don't Forget Fat
Fat increases satiety and fuels the brain, among other key functions. Some sources are better than others, however. The unsaturated kind found in avocados, extra virgin olive oil and nut butters are some of the best food sources to obtain "good" fats. 

By going vegan and being more nutrition conscious, you can not only become healthier but mix up your food sources like never before.