Can you ditch the animal products and still get all the nutrients you need?
Veganism has enjoyed an explosion in popularity over the last few years. There were an estimated 540,000 vegans in the UK in 2016, compared to just 160,000 in 2006. Today, some estimates put that number as high as 3.5 million – a whopping 5% of the population. It’s also an increasingly visible lifestyle, from ‘Veganuary’ to the infamous Vegan ‘Sausage’ Roll from high-street chain Greggs. This shift in popularity means that there is more interest in veganism than ever before. But can it offer the varied and balanced diet that your body needs?
The first thing to note is that, like any diet, veganism can be as healthy or as unhealthy as you choose to make it. You could eat crisps all day and still technically be following a vegan diet, but it wouldn’t be very healthy. It also takes a little more effort to keep the balance in a vegan diet, as it can be easy to miss out on essential vitamins found in animal products and meat. So, it can take more planning.
Honestly, there is no reason a Vegan diet can’t be healthy, varied, and absolutely nutritious. I have brought together some of my top tips on creating a balanced vegan diet, below.
Benefits of a Vegan Diet
Research has shown that vegan diets tend to be higher in vitamin C, lower in saturated fat, and higher in fibre than diets containing meat and animal products. Vegans are also less likely to be overweight and often have healthier BMIs than vegetarians and meat eaters. But not all vegan food is a healthy choice. Vegan options can still be high in fat and sugar, and this is especially true for processed vegan convenience foods. Take care to check food labels even if something is marketed as vegan.
The Vegan Plate
The Vegan Society offers many useful resources in creating a healthy vegan diet. One of the most important is The Vegan Plate created by dieticians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. It shows how fruits, grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and calcium-rich foods can be combined to create a varied and balanced diet. If you are considering a vegan diet, it’s a good place to start.
What Does a Healthy Vegan Diet Look Like?
A healthy vegan diet looks similar to any healthy diet, but with many of the protein and calcium sources replaced. So, you should be trying to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources like nuts, legumes, and pulses. Avoid heavily processed foods wherever possible, including foods that are high in vegan-friendly sugars.
A vegan diet is at risk of being short on essential nutrient sources, these include calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acid. It’s important that you either seek these out in specific food sources – such as calcium-fortified soya milk – or that you choose relevant supplements to top these up in your diet. It’s vitally important that you don’t overlook these nutrients which are essential for the healthy functioning of your body.
Diet is a very personal choice and veganism won’t be the right choice for everyone. But if you have chosen to embrace a vegan lifestyle it is possible to get the nutrition you need. It takes a little more planning – and you may have to embrace some supplements – but it is possible. What’s more, there are some yummy vegan recipes out there to choose from. I’ll be exploring some of these in next week’s post. Until then, keep moving, keep eating well, and keep being amazing.