Hello! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and wish you all the best for 2019!
January has arrived as have all the diet culture and detox plans that come with the post Christmas bloat. Veganism has dramatically increased in popularity be it for environmental, ethical or health reasons, 2019 has been described as ‘the year of the vegan’. Popularity of veganism is definitely a mixed boat however, if you are giving Veganuary a go, that’s brilliant! A well planned vegan diet is really good for you as well as the environment. From a nutritional standpoint, there are a number of important nutrients to take into consideration when planning a healthy, well balanced vegan diet.
Calcium: Removing dairy from the diet also removes a key source of calcium from the diet. Calcium is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscle contraction, calcium is essential in the prevention of osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) in later life. Some vegan sources of calcium include: sesame seeds/tahini, dried fruit (apricots/figs/prunes), fortified dairy alternatives (plant based milks and yogurts) and calcium set tofu.
Vitamin D: This one is particularly vital for those following a vegan diet. Vitamin D is needed for the regulation of calcium and phosphorus in the body which has an effect on bone and muscle health. It has also plays a role in hormonal actions, immunity and mental health. Recent research has also identified that vitamin D may play a role in the prevention of diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Some sources of vitamin D include oily fish and egg yolks in small amounts. It is therefore extremely difficult to meet vitamin D requirements through diet alone, therefore all adults, following a vegan diet or not should take a supplement of 10micrograms daily to meet the daily recommendation.
Iron: Needed for the production of red blood cells and transport of oxygen around the body. There are two types of iron, haem iron found in animal products and non-haem iron found in plant based foods. Plant sources or ‘non-haem’ iron are less well absorbed from the diet so it is important to consume a wide variety of sources to ensure your getting enough from the diet. Some vegan iron sources include: fortified breakfast cereals, dark leafy green veg (kale, broccoli, spinach) nuts, pulses (lentils, peas, beans) and dried fruit. Iron levels can be assessed by a simple blood test carried out by your GP, please consult your GP if you’re worried about your iron levels.
Protein: Vegan protein sources include: beans, soy products (tempeh, tofu, soy milk/yogurt/cheese) quinoa, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains. Many plant based protein sources aren’t ‘complete’ sources of protein which means they do not contain all the essential amino acids needed for growth and repair of cells. Combining foods however make up ‘complete’ sources of protein for a vegan diet. For example: beans and rice, hummus and pita bread and beans on toast. There are few ‘complete’ sources of vegan protein (some include soy and quinoa) therefore it is vital vegans consume a wide variety of foods in order to meet their protein requirements.
Vitamin B12: This one is particularly important for those following a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources therefore it s crucial that anyone following a vegetarian or vegan diet takes a daily B12 supplement to prevent deficiency. Vitamin B12 is needed for maintenance of a healthy nervous system as well as production of red blood cells. Our body stores enough to last 3-4 years and on a normal, meat eating diet deficiency is rare. Vitamin B12 stores can become depleted on a vegan diet without proper planning and deficiency can be quite serious leading to nerve damage in severe cases. Some dietary sources include fortified breakfast cereals, some plant milk alternatives, yeast extracts such as nutritional yeast and marmite. It is still strongly advised that a vitamin B12 supplement is taken daily.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) are the omega three fatty acids needed for normal brain function, decreased inflammation and maintenance of heart heath. DHA and EPA are found in oily fish only. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is however found in plant foods and can be converted into DHA and EPA in the body, although not at the same level as when DHA and EPA are eaten directly through the diet. Some vegan sources include rapeseed oil, soya based foods (tofu) and oil, flaxseed and walnuts. Another option is to take a DHA and EPA supplement made from algae which will ensure adequate intake.
Zinc: Zinc is a trace element, which means we only need small amounts in the body for healthy function. Our bodies use zinc for a number of functions such as immunity, growth and to speed of the breakdown of macronutrients. Some vegan sources of zinc include beans, lentils, chickpeas, wholemeal bread, walnuts and cashew nuts. Ensuring you get a wide variety of these foods into your diet should cover your daily Zinc needs.
Iodine: Another trace element, iodine is needed for the regulation of thyroid hormones which control the function and speed of every cell in the body. There is a fine balance between too little and too much iodine in the diet as too much iodine can also result in thyroid problems such as goitre, which is a swelling of the thyroid gland. The UK recommendation for iodine is 140micrograms daily. Seaweed is a good vegan source of iodine however, iodine levels vary between different types and servings of seaweed so daily consumption may result in too much iodine. A good supplement will help with iodine levels.
A vegan diet is quite restrictive and takes a lot of planning to meet adequate levels of micronutrients as well as energy and macronutrients. Once well planned for, it is very healthy and sustainable. To all of you taking part in Veganuary, best of luck! I personally will not be taking part as I love cheese and eggs too much but I will be experimenting with some new recipes over the coming weeks.
As always if you are finding the transition difficult or need some advice, please don’t hesitate to get in contact and we can work together to plan a sustainable vegan diet, be it for January or forever!
If you found this article in anyway helpful or interesting, please be sure to share with friends and family and follow me across social media for daily nutrition and health tips and advice!