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Vegan Diet and Nutrition

Updated on July 13, 2017

In recent years more and more people are choosing to cut down on or even remove animal products from their diets. This decision may be based on a number of factors including health concerns, environmental issues or animal rights. Animals can be subjected to a great amount of cruelty and suffering in the hands of the meat, dairy and egg industries so it is understandable why people may chose that they no longer wish to have a part in causing that.

A vegan diet can be varied and full of flavour and nutrition.
A vegan diet can be varied and full of flavour and nutrition. | Source

When well-chosen a plant based diet can be very healthy and provide all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrition required by the body for optimal health.

As well as this following a plant based diet can reduce your risk of many health issues such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It can also be used to help maintain a healthy weight. This is due to the fact that following a vegan diet eliminates meat and many highly processed sugary or fatty foods. For people who are underweight a vegan diet can provide lots of healthy fats and nutrient dense foods such as nuts, seeds and avocados.

However, it is important to remember that following a vegan diet does not guarantee that it will be a healthy diet. There are many vegan friendly products that can be bought which are high in fats and sugar or that have been overly processed. These include foods such as chocolate, sweets, cheeses, burgers and sausages. These items can be very useful when used in moderation but if they the main foods eaten, this does not constitute a healthy diet despite them being vegan.

Vegan Food Pyramid

The pyramid used to show a healthy vegan diet varies from the regular one due to the different types of food that are suitable for consumption.
The pyramid used to show a healthy vegan diet varies from the regular one due to the different types of food that are suitable for consumption. | Source

A worry for many people when they are looking into adopting a vegan diet is that they will not be able to get enough vitamins and minerals once they cut out so many foods. Although it is true that many common and well known foods will now be off limits, there are many new foods to try to experiment with. Some foods can also be substituted with vegan alternatives such as soya mince or egg replacer powder. Many foods can be used in new ways. For example tofu can be used as a substitute for scrambled eggs. There is a large range of alternatives to animal milks such as those made using soya beans, nuts, oats, hemp and coconut.

For many people following a vegan diet can lead to a greater variety in the things that they eat. This can help to ensure that your body is provided with essential nutrients and goodness. Eating a diverse range of differently coloured fruits and vegetables helps to ensure a varied diet.

Delicious vegan cupcakes.
Delicious vegan cupcakes. | Source

Including Fats in Your Diet

Where possible any fats consumed should be monounsaturated and non-hydrogenated. Many people consider that cold pressed oils are the healthier choice over any that have been heat treated. When oils are heat treated it is believed that the resulting changes alter the chemical structure and nutritional value. Plant foods containing mainly monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, hazelnuts, almonds and rapeseed oil.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are two polyunsaturated fats that are essential for good health. They are thought to be especially important for brain development and as neither can be manufactured by the body, they must be obtained from the food. Good vegan sources of these important oils include seeds such as flax, pumpkin or sesame seeds and nuts. They can also be obtained by taking a vegan friendly supplement.

Calcium and Bone Health

A large worry for people adopting a dairy free diet can be how they will get enough calcium and maintain good bone health. The amount of calcium we absorb is affected by various factors as well as the calcium we eat. The presents of other nutrients can boost or reduce our ability to absorb calcium effectively, for example vitamin D boosts the amount of calcium that is actually absorbed and used by the body.

Good non-dairy sources of calcium include kale, broccoli and tofu. Tofu is a very versatile food that can be used in a huge range of recipes including cheesecake like desserts, burgers, stir fries, pizza and sausages.
Some non-dairy milk is fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A, D and B12 are important for good healthy bones. Vitamin A can be found in many plant sources such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, peppers and apricots. Vitamin D is produced by the body related to exposure to sunlight. This can mean that you need to keep a careful eye on your dietary intake, especially during the winter months when there is naturally less sun. Vitamin D is included in many fortified milks and dairy free spreads and also in some breakfast cereals. B12 is an important vitamin for maintaining a healthy nervous system. It is also added to many fortified foods and can also be found in yeast extracts and nutritional yeast flakes that are sometimes used to create a ‘cheese’ like taste in vegan recipes.

Vegan (and 'Free From') sausages. The recipe for these can be found on another of my hubs - http://elderberryarts.hubpages.com/hub/Vegan-Free-From-Sausages-Grain-egg-milk-soya-nut-free
Vegan (and 'Free From') sausages. The recipe for these can be found on another of my hubs - http://elderberryarts.hubpages.com/hub/Vegan-Free-From-Sausages-Grain-egg-milk-soya-nut-free | Source

Vitamin B12

B12

B12 is an essential vitamin that is produced by micro-organisms. There is no plant source of this vitamin and so vegans need to be careful include sources in their diet. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause a range of symptoms including extreme tiredness, lack of energy, memory problems and confusion. If the deficiency continues over a longer time it can lead to serious complications such as visual problems, loss of coordination and damage to the central nervous system.

B12 is added to several different types of food that is suitable for a vegan diet. These include plant based milks, nutritional yeast flakes and many breakfast cereals.

A plant based diet can provide all the nutrients needed to remain healthy. The list below gives an idea of how eating a varied plant based diet can provide plenty of nutrition without the need for complicated recipes or hard to find ingredients.

Protein – Tofu, rice, beans, pulses, soya milk and oats.

B vitamins – Green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, avocados, wholemeal bread, nuts, dried fruits and sunflower seeds.

Vitamin C – Green leafy vegetables, parsley, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit and potatoes.

Vitamin E – Olive oil, tomatoes, tahini, hazelnuts, seeds and avocados.

Iodine – Seaweeds

Iron – Beans, lentils, tofu, pumpkin seeds, figs, dates and green leafy vegetables.

Magnesium – Broccoli, almonds, cashew nuts, yeast, soya beans, tofu and bananas.

Potassium – Potatoes, bananas, oranges, chickpeas, strawberries, brazil nuts and pumpkins.

Selenium – Porridge oats, rice, beans, pulses and nuts.

Zinc – Brown rice, baked beans, lentils, sesame seeds, nuts and tofu.

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Hidden Ingredients to Avoid and Their Alternatives

As well as avoiding obvious animals products such as meat, milk and eggs, vegans do not eat other animal derived products such as fats, honey or food colourings. These items are not always obvious and may also be known by various sets of numbers rather than their names.

Some examples to look out for include:

Suet, dripping and lard – These are solid fat taken from the kidneys of sheep or cows. Use vegetable suet as an alternative.

Rennet – Used in making some cheese and comes from the stomach of calves. There are many vegan cheeses available that are not only free from animal milks but also rennet as well.

Gelatine – Made by boiling animal bones, skin and ligaments. Agar agar, carrageenan and pectin can be used instead.

E120 (Cochineal) – A natural red food colouring made from the cochineal insect. The food colouring carmine is also made from cochineal.

Worcestershire sauce – This common sauce is made using anchovies.

Quorn products – Although Quorn do have some vegan products, many others contain egg white or milk. Brands such Taifun, Fry’s and Vbites make a selection of vegan meat substitutes that can be bought in health food shops or supermarkets.

Albumen/albumin – Egg white.

Lactose – Sugar taken from milk.

Whey and casein – These are proteins found in milk.

E322 (lecithin) – A fatty substance found in nerve tissue, egg yolk and blood. Soya lecithin is a vegan alternative.

Alcohol – Many beers and wines are made using animal products. Isinglass, from fish swim bladders, bone marrow, fish oil, gelatine and milk products can be used to create a clear wine free from any leftover solids.

Useful Links

www. http://vegan.org/ - Nonprofit organization working to reduce animal suffering, minimize environmental impact, and improve human health. Their website includes FAQ, shop, meal ideas, recipes and a product list of some vegan foods.

http://www.vegansociety.com/ - Website full of vegan recourses such as recipes, news and events, nutritional information and shop. The Vegan Society also has a quarterly magazine.

http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/ - Recipe site with a large number of easy to make recipes.

© 2013 Claire

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    • Elderberry Arts profile image
      Author

      Claire 4 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      Thank you. I am allergic to cows milk and eggs so an almost vegan myself. It is difficult at first especially with hidden ingredients but gets easier as you go along.

    • Monis Mas profile image

      Aga 4 years ago

      A lot of info, you've done some great research! I like the list of alternatives.