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This week's blog post is written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Samantha Concha!

You may be aware of the current vegan craze that has been circulating around social media and probably some of your favorite weekly magazines and newspapers. But are you still a little confused of what defines someone as a "vegan?" In short, veganism can be defined as a diet excluding all forms of animals and animal by-products. Sound a little familiar? If you are contemplating whether this is vegetarianism in itself, then you are correct. If it makes it easier to mentally digest, veganism can be seen as an extreme form of vegetarianism where both dairy products and eggs are excluded from the diet.

You might also be wondering why a growing number of the population is beginning to take part in veganism. Sustainability is often a topic of discussion. Reduction of the carbon footprint, eradicating exploitation of animals and reducing land degradation are all motivations for why one may choose the path of veganism. And although far more research is needed, recent studies have examined the potential health benefits of following a vegan diet. For example, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowering serum cholesterol. It is important to note that although many of these aspects are beneficial, veganism is not for everyone. But, if you are interested in a vegan side dish, I present to you the recipe below:

Loaded Vegan Sweet Potato Fries

1 (15 oz.) bag of frozen sweet potato fries or 2 sweet potatoes, cut into match sticks

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

½ (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

½ (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup frozen corn

2 avocados, sliced

2 Tablespoons chopped green onion

2 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped

½ cup shredded vegan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly lay out frozen/fresh sweet potato fries. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over fries and combine well. Bake for 15 minutes. The fries should be sizzling, but not caramelizing quite yet. Top fries with rinsed beans and sweet corn.

Reduce heat to 250°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Finish by topping fries with diced tomatoes, chopped green onion, pieces of avocado and favorite vegan cheese.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 280 calories, 18 grams fat, 540 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber, 7 grams protein