The vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, however cutting out major food groups like meat and dairy can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Before starting on the vegan lifestyle, it is important to inform yourself of the nutrients you are at risk of missing out on, so you can plan how you will get these nutrients in your new diet.
People often claim that it is impossible to get enough protein eating a vegan diet. While this is untrue, it is true to say that vegans must focus on having quality plant-based sources of protein daily to meet their body’s needs.
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some amino acids, called essential amino acids (EEAs), cannot be made by the body and must be sourced from food. While animal-based protein sources contain all essential amino acids, plant-based foods such as legumes and beans fall short. To ensure that you receive all EEAs, it is important to eat a variety of protein sources in your diet. Suitable foods include soy products (edamame beans, tofu and tempeh) beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains (quinoa, oats, brown rice).
The iron in plant foods is in a form which is harder for the body to absorb, therefore vegans must eat more iron-rich foods to meet their requirements. Dried beans and peas, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit are all good iron sources. Cooking with a cast-iron skillet will also help. Eating these foods with foods high in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli) will help you to absorb the iron you take in.
B12 deficiency is one of the biggest concerns of the vegan diet, as the main sources of B12 in the diet are meat and dairy. The main vegan sources of B12 are yeasts, fortified foods (for example fortified soy products and breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. B12 is best absorbed in small amounts, so if you do not consume fortified products regularly it is worth considering a B12 supplement.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for healthy eye and brain function. Vegan sources of omega 3 fats include canola oil, walnuts, flax-seeds and soy beans. There are also several vegan supplements available which should be considered.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium from plant sources is easily absorbed by the body, but is present in much lower amounts than in dairy foods. Plant-based sources of calcium include almonds, tahini, dark green vegetables, and fortified juices. It is difficult to achieve adequate vitamin D on a vegan diet. Vegans should eat fortified foods such as plant milks, orange juice and breakfast cereals. It may be worth speaking to your doctor about checking blood levels and taking a supplement if you are not consuming many dietary sources.
Final tips for going vegan
With proper planning, a vegan diet can be a delicious, healthy way of living. We have many recipes suitable for vegans which are well balanced in terms of nutrition. From tempting tofu and pulse mains, to delectable desserts, these recipes will be enjoyed by vegans and non-vegans alike, making plant-based eating easier than ever.
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