How To Be A Healthy Vegan
With more and more people embracing an eco-friendly vegan lifestyle, many questions pop-up, particularly from sceptics who will ask where will you source your protein, B12, iron and calcium. They will be sceptical about how you will maintain fitness and muscle strength, saying you will be weak and unhealthy.
These negative statements might even make you question whether your health will suffer by changing to a vegan diet, whether it is just for ‘Veganuary’ or a longer-term lifestyle change.
Firstly, a bad diet is a bad diet whether you are vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian or a meat eater. Diets loaded with processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar will obviously not lead to good health outcomes, whatever you decide to omit.
No need to lack protein
As a vegan, there is no need to lack protein in your diet. Eating muscle doesn’t make muscle as your digestive system needs to break down the protein into amino acids in order to utilise it.
Plant-based protein is easily obtained by eating foods rich in amino acids (the building blocks of protein) such as tofu, pulses, seeds and nuts. Adding a few lentils to your rice provides a complete protein with all the essential amino acids.
Buckwheat, quinoa, soya, chia seeds and spirulina are all complete plant proteins. You can easily build muscle and maintain fitness on a vegan diet.
What about Iron?
Sometimes people who feel tired reach for iron supplementation. This is not always a good idea as the delicate balance of minerals can be affected. Food-based iron sources are best for you as is upping your vitamin C intake as it greatly increases iron absorption. Vegan diets are often rich in vitamin C as a variety of yellow, blue and red fruits and vegetables are more likely to be consumed daily.
Some good vegan sources of iron are dried apricots, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds, lentils, chick peas, chard, spinach, tomato paste, curry spices, ginger and dark chocolate. Note: tea and coffee inhibit iron absorption so it is best to avoid drinking these when taking iron rich foods.
What about B12?
Vitamin B12 is vital for health and energy. It is true that B12 is mainly found in animal foods. However, many vegan products, such as plant-based milks, yoghurts, cereals and spreads are fortified with B12.
It is also found in nutritional yeast, tempeh, mushrooms, seaweed and spirulina. Though the easiest way to ensure you’re are not deficient in this important vitamin is to supplement it unless you are consciously eating it with fortified foods. A supplement of 10mcg a day would supply your needs either as part of a multi-vitamin or B vitamin complex.
What about calcium?
Calcium is rarely deficient, more often it is magnesium that needs to be increased in our diets in order to support the proper absorption of calcium. The calcium balance is also improved with adequate levels of vitamin D and weight bearing-exercise. There are plenty of plant-based foods rich in calcium including pak choy, kale, broccoli, pulses, soya beans, almonds and sesame seeds. Many plant-based spreads and milks are also fortified with calcium.
Vegan food is good for the gut
Undoubtedly, some people will find a vegan diet easier and will notice positive changes more than others. One important factor is that gut flora is likely to improve with the increase in fibre a vegan diet offers. The powerful phytonutrients in plant-based foods are also very supportive to organ function and health. Statistically, vegans are less likely to suffer from diabetes, have less eye-related problems, such as macular degeneration, and have fewer digestive problems.
Miranda Jones is a BSc qualified nutritionist and a vegan