The Vegan Society defines a vegan diet as one that excludes animal-based products like meat, eggs, and dairy. On the other hand, a plant-based diet mainly consists of foods derived from plants such as vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits, with few or no animal products.
The popularity of veganism is on the rise. In the UK alone, 600,000 people followed a vegan diet in 2018, according to the Vegan Society’s latest research. This is due to the many health benefits associated with a plant-based diet. Once you learn to follow the guidelines of this diet, it is easy to maintain.
However, when following a plant-based diet, it is important to pay extra attention to certain nutrients. Though a vegan diet has many benefits, it is necessary to eat healthily, read labels, and plan meals carefully to avoid missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. Supplementation may sometimes be necessary. Eating unhealthy, processed foods as part of a vegan diet can lead to future health concerns.
General recommendations for those following a vegan (plant-based) diet include eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, including beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains, while avoiding or limiting added fats, oils, refined, and processed carbohydrates.
There are many reasons for choosing a vegan diet, including its benefits for those with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, or cardiovascular disease. A plant-based diet can also help with weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, and improve kidney function. Additionally, veganism has environmental and ethical benefits.
As every person is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all diet. However, due to the benefits of a vegan diet, many people choose to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet, even if they are not vegans.
Planning meals carefully and reading labels are important to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs. Supplementation may also be necessary. It is easy to fall into the trap of eating unhealthy, processed foods as part of a vegan diet, but this can lead to future health concerns.
Key Nutrients to Monitor in a Vegan Diet
To ensure a healthy plant-based diet, it’s essential to monitor key nutrients, including essential vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin B12 is vital for cell growth and a healthy nervous system. Deficiency can lead to various health problems. B12 is found in fortified cereals and yeast extracts, but it’s difficult for the body to absorb. To ensure adequate intake, include B12-fortified foods in your diet or take a supplement. Chewable or dissolvable B12 supplements may be better absorbed.
Protein is essential for various bodily functions, including muscle growth, healthy skin and hair, energy production, and hormone and enzyme production. Vegans need to pay attention to their protein intake since animal proteins have a higher Biological Value than vegetable protein. Plant-based foods are great sources of protein, but they often lack one or more essential amino acids. To ensure adequate protein intake, vegans can consume different types of food combinations, such as pulses with whole grains, hummus with whole grain pita bread, or stir-fried vegetables with tofu over rice. Including a wide range of plants rich in protein is important to ensure all essential amino acids are consumed. The recommended daily protein intake for adults is 0.8 g/kg.
Iron plays a crucial role in blood production by aiding the creation of healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. When iron levels are insufficient, it can lead to anaemia, which can cause a range of symptoms.
For vegans, it’s important to keep an eye on their iron intake as there are variations between iron from animal and plant sources. Heme iron, which is found in animal sources such as meat, seafood, and poultry, is the most easily absorbed form of iron. On the other hand, non-heme iron, which comes from plants and fortified foods, is less bioavailable. Therefore, it is recommended that vegans consume iron-rich foods along with vitamin C-rich foods to enhance absorption. Luckily, there are plenty of plant-based sources of iron, including legumes, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. For instance, 100 grams of dried chickpeas contain 6.2 mg of iron, while 100 grams of dried lentils contain 7.5 mg of iron.
Essential Fatty acids
Omega-3 fats are essential for maintaining good brain health, a healthy nervous system, skin health, and heart health. Unfortunately, vegan diets may lack these crucial fatty acids, which are found predominantly in oily fish.
Signs of omega-3 deficiency include dry skin, depression, hormone imbalances, high blood pressure, and poor memory. Therefore, it’s crucial for vegans to ensure they consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Luckily, there are several vegan sources of omega-3, including flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, and algae oils (DHA). By incorporating these foods into their diet, vegans can ensure they get the necessary omega-3s to keep their bodies healthy and functioning optimally.
Iodine is an essential nutrient that the body needs for maintaining the health of the thyroid gland and regulating metabolism. When the thyroid gland is underactive, it can lead to a range of symptoms, including low energy, dry skin, constipation, depression, weight gain, forgetfulness, and PMS.
Vegans must ensure they get enough iodine in their diet to avoid thyroid problems. Seaweeds such as kelp (Kombu) and iodized salt are excellent vegan sources of iodine. Incorporating these foods into their diet can help vegans maintain healthy thyroid function and prevent the associated symptoms.
To sum up, these guidelines are designed to ensure you get all the essential nutrients needed for a healthy diet. As a Naturopath, I often see clients struggling with low energy due to an unhealthy diet. A varied and balanced diet is one of the best solutions. If you want a personalized nutrition plan, don’t hesitate to contact me at Paz By Nature clinic. I’m here to support you throughout the healing process with a personal Naturopathic treatment plan tailored to your needs.
Pazit Azoulay, ND Naturopath MNNA