Could you go vegan?29 October 2018
Being vegan is really fashionable right now. You get to save not only the lives of animals but the planet too! For most people, it is a bit of a stretch to go from where you are now to a 100% vegan diet and without careful consideration, you may well end up nutrient deficient. In this post, what I want to do is put it all out there for you: what it means to be vegan, what’s great about it, what’s not so good, where you might struggle – and I’ll also be giving you tips for getting started, whether your intention is to immerse yourself fully or if you just fancy dabbling (either is fine!).
What is a vegan diet?
Simply put, a vegan diet is a stricter version of a vegetarian diet. On top of not eating any meat, fish or seafood – a vegan diet also cuts out any food stuffs made from animal sources such as eggs, milk, butter, yoghurt, honey, gelatin and certain wines*.
There is no set macro or micro nutrient ratio for a vegan diet; just vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and any other foods made from plants. However, since the main vegan protein sources are pulses and grains, and only a combination of the two provides complete proteins (containing all the amino acids), this could be considered a high carbohydrate diet by definition.
* If you’re wondering ‘why is wine not vegan?’ Here’s the answer…
All young wines are a little bit cloudy thanks to tiny molecules like proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are completely harmless, but we wine-drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright. To make the wines clear, wine makers have traditionally used some added ingredients called ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. The include casein (milk protein) or albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) or isinglass (fish bladder protein). They act like a magnet, resulting in far fewer – but larger – particles that are more easily removed.
Advantages of going vegan
- Promotes natural foods
- Promotes plant based food which is full of nutrients and fibre
- Rich in vitamin C and fibre, plus other plant chemicals
- Helpful for some health conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, other auto-immune conditions).
Disadvantages of going vegan
- Natural food is not a requirement to comply with the diet
- Does not explicitly encourage healthy eating patterns
- May be nutrient deficient (B12, haem iron, omega-3 fats, complete protein)
- Often high in carbohydrates
- Can be too low in protein, especially if you’re stressed or recovering from adrenal fatigue
- Does not limit or exclude sugar
Is being vegan healthy?
Good question! A vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy diet.
There have been various well-publicised assertions over the years (most notably the book The China Study and, more recently, the film What The Health) that claimed eating a vegan diet was the healthiest thing you could do.
Although vegans commonly take an interest in how diet relates to health and tend to educate themselves about nutrition, the vegan diet does not explicitly prescribe healthy foods. There is a vegan alternative for every junk food out there. And you can live on white toast with margarine and jam (and see your blood sugar levels sky rocket) while still being vegan – and that is certainly not healthy.
One thing that everyone agrees on is that the following is healthy:
- Enjoy an abundance of freshly prepared vegetables
- Minimise processed foods and instead cook meals from scratch
- Eat mindfully and slowly
- Choose local, organic foods
Given the vast majority of health complaints are linked to chronic inflammation and a plant-heavy, antioxidant-rich vegan diet will go some way to mediating inflammation, it will certainly not hinder your attempts to be healthy. Given we don’t eat nearly as much fibre as we should for optimum health, committing to eating more veg is only going to be a good thing.
Things to be mindful of on a vegan diet
- Vegan diets don’t provide the fat soluble vitamins A and D. You can’t get vitamin A from carrots. What you get is beta carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A. You may have heard that carotene can be converted into vitamin A, but this conversion is usually insignificant. First, it takes a huge amount of carotene to convert to vitamin A. And, if you have low thyroid function, impaired digestion or a lack of healthy fats in the diet, this conversion won’t happen at all.
- Vegan diets (unless you’re eating a lot of natto – a kind of fermented soy) don’t give you the vitamin K2. This is needed for shuttling calcium into your bones.
- Many people try to be vegan by relying on fake food – they replace milk, cheese and meat with foods manufactured to look and taste as though they are milk, cheese and meat. Since food manufacturing is not like magic, what is used is non-foodstuffs, including stabilisers, gums, thickeners and highly processed protein extracts. Moreover, you may be counting your vegan cheese in as a source of protein, when many of them are actually made from carbs.
- Vegan diets are low on vitamin B12 and iron. The readily-absorbed forms of these nutrients are found in animal products. Several studies suggest that up to 68% of vegans were deficient in vitamin B12.
- Several studies have shown that both vegetarians and vegans are also prone to deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, and essential fats.
Whilst these are the common deficiencies seen in vegan diets, it is possible to get around these by eating a varied diet as possible and supplementing the missing nutrients – just make sure this is done with someone who is trained to advise to ensure you are getting the right nutrients in the right qualities and forms.
How to get started on a vegan diet
Some people like to make changes all in one go. If this is you, choosing a vegan recipe book from the resources I’ve listed below will be helpful.
Or you might try changing one meal at a time – possible having a vegan breakfast during your first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on.
You might try changing one product at a time, for example, swapping traditional cow’s milk for almond milk, or butter for coconut oil. There’s a plant-based alternative for most things you can think of.
One thing that you can look forward to is some exciting new recipes. Bring the principles of being vegan into your life even a few days a week (assuming we are talking veg-based meals rather than fake or junk foods) will deliver a whole new taste experience. There will be things that you love – and things the family rejects. It’s all part of the fun of discovering new things.
Resources - Best Vegan Blogs
The Colourful Kitchen www.thecolorfulkitchen.com
Deliciously Ella www.deliciouslyella.com
Minimalist Baker www.minimalistbaker.com
Oh She Glows www.ohsheglows.com
The Vegan Woman www.theveganwoman.com
Resources - Best Vegan Books
Christine Bailey, Go Lean Vegan: The Revolutionary 30-day Diet Plan to Lose Weight and Feel Great (https://amzn.to/2CRQkT8)
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Much More Veg: 175 easy and delicious vegan recipes for every meal (https://amzn.to/2Oex58o)
Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows (https://amzn.to/2Azo8Tu)
Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows Everyday (https://amzn.to/2CPZlfN)
Ella Mills (Woodward), Deliciously Ella (https://amzn.to/2RpWka3)
Ella Mills (Woodward), Deliciously Ella The Plant-Based Cookbook: 100 simple vegan recipes to make every day delicious (https://amzn.to/2RlG21A)
B12 and folate
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24871479 https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/633S/4690005