Nutritional therapist Ian Marber explores how abstaining from eating animal products for a month could boost health
January used to be the month of repentance but, more recently, it’s become Veganuary, a month in which veganism is celebrated. With good reason too, as the benefits of a vegan diet extend far beyond what it does for us individually. Research conducted by the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford in 2016 suggested that a global switch to a plant-based diet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds by 2050, in addition to alleviating the suffering endured by the livestock that we currently eat. Eating the crops that are used to feed animals rather than the animals themselves seems so logical, although of course adopting a vegan diet is a choice and one that should be afforded the same respect as choosing not to.
The number of vegans has quadrupled since 2011 and the trend is likely to continue. One of the reasons that more people are turning to a vegan diet is how accessible both the food and information have become. In the past maintaining a vegan diet wasn’t that easy and required a lot of home preparation, but now one can find vegan-friendly ready meals, lunch pots and snacks on the high street. Dining out used to be limited to a tiny handful of dedicated restaurants, but now one can find several plant-based dishes in familiar chains as well as upmarket independents.
That’s not the only change I have noticed – there’s another in the questions clients ask about vegan diets. Nowadays, rather than ask if it really is healthy, the majority want to discuss what to eat and to get advice about dayto- day menus. I do what I can but perhaps the best resource is the new app from the Vegan Society, VeGuide, which offers menus, videos, recipes, health resources, and answers the most common questions you may have about a vegan diet.
But there are some lingering anxieties, and I do hear from many people that they would like to eat a plant-based diet but worry if they are getting everything they need. Calcium and omega 3 fats are often mentioned, which is understandable when you consider that the most familiar sources are dairy and fish. Yet calcium is found in kale, molasses, tempeh, most nuts, especially almonds, as well as soybeans, broccoli and fennel. In truth, the type of omega 3 found in fish has more benefit than vegan sources but DHA, a first cousin of the version of omega 3 in fish, still has value and can be found in olive and rapeseed oil, soy, walnuts, chia, flaxseeds, seaweed and even squash.
Vitamin D is found in some mushrooms and tofu, but a supplement is advised – look for D2 not D3, as the latter is derived from sheep’s wool. B12 should also be supplemented, either in capsule form or from fortified foods.
Ian is one of the UK’s top nutritional therapists (ianmarber.com).
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