The vegan diet is a great way to eat if you want to lower your cholesterol and lose weight. When followed correctly, vegans can be very healthy and have a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
People are increasingly moving toward vegan diets. A 2018 Gallup poll reports that about 3% of people in the United States are fully vegan, and sales of plant-based foods are rising.
WHAT IS A VEGAN DIET?
Vegan food is based on the consumption of plant-based foods only. Vegans avoid all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. Some people also avoid honey. For some, being vegan is a dietary choice, while for others, it is a lifestyle choice.
Vegans avoid products that use or contain parts of animals so they avoid wearing, using, or consuming them. This includes foods made with animal products, such as eggs and honey, as well as ethical clothing options that have been produced without using animal-derived materials.
Vegan diets tend to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. Eating a variety of these foods will provide a wide range of important vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein.
However, people following this diet should take care to get key nutrients that people usually consume in animal products. These nutrients include iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
TIPS FOR A HEALTHY VEGAN DIET:
- Eat enough potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, or other starchy carbohydrates (choose wholegrain where possible)
- Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- Have some fortified dairy alternatives, such as soya and tiger nut drinks (choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options)
- Eat some beans, pulses, and other proteins
- Eat nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts) every day
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts
- Have fortified foods or supplements containing nutrients that are more difficult to get through a vegan diet, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, calcium, and iron
- Drink plenty of fluids (6 to 8 cups or glasses a day (1.2 litres))
- If you choose to include foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt, or sugar, have them less often and in small amounts.
VEGAN SOURCES OF IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS AND MINERALS
1. For Calcium and Vitamins
Calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones and teeth, so non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese, and yoghurts), but vegans can get it from other plant-base foods.
Exposure to sunlight, particularly from late March/early April to the end of September can also be a great source of vitamin D, remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn.
Another way to get vitamin D is to consume enough breakfast cereal, and unsweetened soya drinks (which have been fortified with Vitamin D).
2. For Iron
Iron is essential to produce red blood cells. A vegan diet can be high in iron, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less efficiently than iron from meat. Natural sources of iron for vegans are seeds, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, dried legumes and beans, wholegrain bread and cereals.
The body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system and many people get vitamin B12 from animal sources, such as meat, fish, and dairy products. Sources for vegans are limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.
Since vegans cannot consume animal-based food, it is necessary to consume breakfast cereals and other meals rich in nutrients, i.e. unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12, yeast extract, such as Marmite, and nutritional yeast flakes which are fortified with vitamin B12.
3. For Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily those found in oily fish, can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet.
Evidence suggests that plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits in reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish. But you can help to ensure a balanced diet by eating rich plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegans include ground linseed (flaxseed) oil, vegetable (rapeseed) oil, chia seeds, shelled hemp seeds and walnuts.
4. For Protein (essential amino acid)
Plant-based food products can be an excellent source of protein and other nutrients. Some plant-based food such as soybean and quinoa are complete protein which means they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need. Others may also be a good source of protein but might be missing some essential amino acids. It is therefore important to eat varied diets.
Here are some healthy, plant-based foods with high protein content: tofu, tempeh, edamame, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, almonds, spirulina, mycoprotein and chia seeds.