Vegan Diet and Nutrition
For a variety of reasons more and more people are choosing to cut down on or even remove animal products from their diet and life. This decision may be based on health concerns or due to their views on environmental or animal rights issues. A varied plant based diet can be very healthy and contain all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrition the body needs. 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 choose to remove these items from their lives.
Following a plant based diet can reduce your risk of health issues such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression. It can also help you to maintain a healthy weight. Following a vegan diet eliminates meat products which can often be high in unhealthy saturated fats. The amounts of highly processed, sugary and fatty foods that can be eaten are also greatly reduced. This is because most bought cakes, pastries, doughnuts, chocolate, sweets and other similar items contain animal products such as eggs, milk, animal fats, honey and gelatine. Cutting these items out of your diet can lead to weight loss and a more nutritious and healthy diet overall. For people who are underweight because they are naturally small or for health reasons, a vegan diet can provide lots of healthy fats and nutrient dense foods such as nuts, seed and avocados.
Vegan Food Pyramid
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.
Including Fats in Your Diet
Where possible any fats consumed should be monounsaturated and non-hydrogenated. Many people consider that cold pressed oils are a healthier choice than oils that have been heat treated. This is due to the fact that they believe this heat treatment changes the nutritional value of the oil and can alter its chemical structure. 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. Neither substance can be manufactured by the body so they must be obtained from food. Good vegan sources of these important oils include seeds such as flax, pumpkin or sesame and nuts.
Calcium and Bone Health
People often worry greatly about how they will get enough calcium while eating a vegan diet. This can be mainly due to the fact that they will no longer be drinking milk or eating dairy products. The amount of calcium absorbed by the body is affected by other factors in our diet. 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 the body can absorb. Good non-dairy sources of calcium include kale, broccoli and tofu. Tofu is a very useful food due to its versatility. It can be used in a huge range of recipes including cheesecake like desserts, burgers, stir fries, pizza and sausages.
Some non-dairy milks such as soya milks are also fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A, D and B12 are also important for good healthy bones. Vitamin A can be found in many plant sources such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, peppers and apricots and vitamin D is produced by the body related to exposure to sunlight. This can mean that you need to keep an eye more on diet during the winter months when there is naturally less sun. Vitamin D is included in fortified milks and dairy free spreads and also in some breakfast cereals. B12 is also 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 which are sometimes used to create a ‘cheese’ like taste in vegan recipes.
A plant based diet can provide all that you need to remain healthy. Below is a list that gives an idea of how eating a varied 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.
Vegan Sausages - Ready to Cook
Hidden Ingredients to Avoid and Alternatives
As well as avoiding obvious animals products such as milk and eggs, vegans do not eat other animal products such as fats, honey or food colourings. These items also need to be looked for as ingredients in bought food items and are not always obvious. Some examples to look out for include:
Suet, dripping and lard – These are solid fat 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 made from cochineal.
Worcestershire sauce – Made using anchovies. Several vegetarian brands are available.
Quorn products – Quorn contains egg white and often milk. Vegan meat substitutes are available in some health shops.
Albumen/albumin – Egg white.
Lactose – Sugar taken from milk.
Whey and casein – Proteins found in milk.
E322 (lecithin) – A fatty substance found in nerve tissue, egg yolk and blood. Soya lecithin is a vegan alternative.
Alcohol – The majority of spirits are suitable for vegans but many beers and wines are made using animal products. Isinglass, from fish swim bladders, bone marrow, fish oil, gelatine and milk products are often used to create a clear wine free from any leftover solids.
Is Your Diet?
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