Healthspan July 04, 2018

Plant based diets have become a popular trend over recent years with more and more people joining the ranks of veganism; but just how easy is it?

What is veganism?

The popularity of veganism has soared in the last 5 years; even January is now Veganuary for those curious to try out a new diet. Veganism is a type of diet that excludes all animal products from their food; however, many vegans don’t cut out those foods to lose weight, but rather for ethical reasons.

How to go vegan

Pace

As with any new experience, you must go at your own pace. Some people find it easy to go ‘cold turkey’ and give up everything at once, for others it may be a case of cutting things out of their diet slowly until they’ve given up animal products altogether. You may find it easier to add different foods into your diet before subtracting anything, this way you can get used to cooking with ingredients that you may not be used to.

Plan ahead

Meal prepping can be a normal part of life if you’re active, ensuring that you reach all your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of nutrients as well as anything that may help your reach the version of yourself that you want to become. Veganism can be similar, in the sense that you may need to plan your meals ahead of time to ensure that you’re getting everything you need in a healthy, balanced vegan diet. If you don’t plan properly, there’s always the possibility that you miss out on essential nutrients; such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12 (NHS, 2015).

What to eat to get everything you need?

There’s a misconception that vegans lack basic nutrients in their diet because they’ve cut out animal products that are well known to be rich in calcium, protein and iron; especially as these are seen to be the most effective way to intake these compounds. Although, animal products are high in these nutrients, they aren’t the only way to meet the RDA of each.

Meat is shown as one of the few ‘complete proteins’. Complete proteins are proteins that include the 8 amino acids that the human body can’t produce on its own, these are: leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, lysine (British Nutrition Foundation, No Date); however, buckwheat, soy, hemp, beans and rice, chia seeds, quinoa and spirulina are all complete proteins.

Protein RDA: 50g per day (NHS, 2017)

  • 1 cup Tempeh – 41g o 100g Spirulina – 57g
  • 100g Chia Seeds – 17g
  • Calcium RDA: 700mg per day (NHS, 2017)
  • 100g Raw Collard Greens – 232mg
  • 100g Tofu – 350mg 
  • 1 cup Bok Choy (steamed or boiled) – 150mg

There are many factors that could affect the amount of iron being absorbed through your diet, however vitamin C helps with absorption.

  • Iron RDA age 18+: 8.7mg for men; 14.8mg for women (NHS, 2017)
  • 1 cup Soybean – 8.8mg
  • 1 cup Spinach (cooked) – 6mg
  • 100g Hummus (with lemon juice for VitC) – 2.4mg

Finding plant based sources of nutrients doesn’t have to be difficult; but if you can’t always include the compound you need into your meal, you can always supplement.

Explore new foods

Don’t get stuck in a rut eating the same few meals that you’re comfortable with because you’ll get bored quickly. Veganism is a great time to experiment with different fruits, vegetables, pulses, beans, seeds, and everything else! Why not try our vegan recipes; from smoothies, to warming Thai green curry or pumpkin soup, or something lighter; like an edamame bean and seed salad?

Eating out

You don’t have to be limited in what you can eat when you’re out for dinner! Many UK chain restaurants now offer vegan options, a number even stocking vegan ‘cheese’ and vegan ‘meats’. Zizzi was the first to offer vegan ‘cheese’, their vegan menu includes a huge range of pizza, pasta, starters, desserts and clearly labelled vegan wine! Other restaurants include Whetherspoons, Yo! Sushi, Wagamama, and even Nanado’s.

Label reading

Vegetarian friendly food is much more clearly labelled; although this is still not always the case for vegan friendly foods. The quick cheat is to look for vegetarian labelled foods, then quickly scan the ingredients for things like milk and eggs, these will be in bold as they are allergens – but don’t forget to check for honey as this isn’t vegan, nor is it an allergen so won’t be in bold! Some non-vegan ingredients can be hidden as E-numbers and this is when the internet is your friend.

Ask questions

Veganism is one big society, not an exclusive club. You’ll find hordes of Facebook groups that you can be a part of. Making friends with other vegans is great, it’s also a handy way to share information and advice! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially when you’re new.

Remember why

Reminding yourself why you’ve chosen this lifestyle will help you keep on track; whether it’s the health benefits, helping the planet or just because you love animals - it’s okay to stumble, as long as you pick yourself back up!


References
British Nutrition Foundation (No date). Protein
Google Trends (2018). Google Trends: Vegan, Past 5 years, UK search of the word ‘Vegan
NHS (2015). Eat Well: The Vegan Diet
NHS (2017). Vitamins and minerals: Iron
NHS (2017). Vitamins and minerals: Calcium
NHS (2017). Reference intakes explained

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