We’re seeing an upswing in veganism, not only in celebrities such as Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, and Bill Clinton. But what exactly does it mean to follow a plant-based diet, how…
We’re seeing an upswing in veganism, not only in celebrities such as Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, and Bill Clinton. But what exactly does it mean to follow a plant-based diet, how can you optimise your diet, and what is it about plant-based foods that help people to achieve optimum health?
Well, there’s no doubt, if you’re looking to switch from eating meat to veganism, you’ll need to regrind the lens through which you view food and probably even life.
The specific meaning of ‘vegan’ often varies according to the individual. For some it may be for health reasons, others it may be motivated by animal rights or welfare, the environment or for spiritual growth. In actual terms though, a vegan, according to the Vegan Society, is someone who ‘lives free from any animal products for the benefit of people, animals and the environment’. Whatever the motivation, being vegan is a lifestyle choice.
Optimise your veggie diet
“To be considered healthy, the vegan diet should include daily consumption of a variety of foods from all plant groups, such as grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, plant oils, herbs and spices,” says Anne-France Rix, nutritional therapist at The Food Doctor (thefooddoctor.com). “To maximise nutritional value, vegans should choose whole, organic and minimally-processed foods to help meet, or even exceed nutritional requirements”. It is possible to be an unhealthy vegan though, “if you rely heavily on things like pasta, chips, bread and sweets”, she warns.
Your nutritional checklist…
If you’re following a vegan diet you won’t go far wrong with these simple guidelines:
Don’t worry too much about a lack of iron but do avoid drinking tea with any iron-rich foods you eat. Although vegan diets do tend to be lower in iron than meat-based diets, the iron found in vegetables and unrefined grains is often accompanied, in the food or in the meal, by large amounts of vitamin C, which actually increases the absorption of the mineral. Vegans therefore commonly do not have a higher rate of iron deficiency anaemia than those that eat meat.
VITAMIN D AND CALCIUM
Since fortified milk is the primary food source of Vitamin D for many, all vegans should incorporate plant foods (dark green leafy vegetables and organic tofu) that contain calcium. Interestingly, because vegan diets tend to be lower in protein, vegans may retain more calcium than meat-eaters, thus promoting bone health.
Animal foods are the primary food sources of dietary B12 therefore there is a real risk of deficiency for vegans. Although animals can’t make Vitamin B12, they’re able to store it in their liver and muscles. Vitamin B12 can only be made by micro organisms, like bacteria. When plant foods are fermented with the use of B12-producing bacteria, they end up containing B12. Sea plants are an exception to the fermented plant rule since they can contain small amounts of B12 from contact with micro organisms in the ocean.
OMEGA FATTY ACIDS
There are two main fatty acids ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and LA (linoleic acid) – that are vital for health. ALA and LA cannot be made by the body however and must be obtained from plant foods.
Vegan sources of omega fatty acids are limited and include only seeds, nuts, pulses including soya and miso, green and brassica veg, cloves, oregano, berries and algae. Also, the body’s conversion of Omega 3 fatty acids from plant-based foods into EPA/DHA, known as ‘omega 3 pathway fats’, is incredibly low. Supplements are therefore advisable.
Ensure intake of foods containing all essential amino acids at some point during each day. For example, you don’t have to mix beans with rice at one meal because the amino acids in the protein foods join the ‘protein pool’ in the blood, and get used that day. Regulate your blood sugar level though, so balancing carbohydrates with protein at every meal or snack is advisable.
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