So how is Veganuary going? Another of those words that is catching on fast! Perhaps you are eagerly looking forward to that bacon sandwich on the 1st of February or perhaps you are thinking this might be something to continue with long term.
There are many reasons for becoming vegan. Whatever reason appeals to you, diet is one area that needs to be understood and taken seriously.
The body needs a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to be able to function and it is important to look at your diet carefully to ensure these are being eaten.
Changing from a meat or fish-based diet, indeed even a veggie diet, to a vegan diet is a big step in terms of vitamins and minerals and your body’s requirements.
It is important to think about your diet; protein, vitamins and minerals; iron, iodine, zinc, calcium, B12, vitamin D and Omega fats.
Let's talk you through them
Most non-veggie foods contain some B12, however, veggie foods do not, unless they are fortified, as some are, for instance, breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and some plant-based milks.
To be sure of getting enough it is recommended that vegans take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms.
Some of the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency are: tiredness, loss of energy, tingling or numbness and reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure
The best way to get this is from sunlight but this is difficult in the UK, especially in the winter months.
There are two different compounds of Vitamin D which are D3 and D2. Vitamin D3 is most readily absorbed. D2 is not absorbed as easily but is vegan-friendly. Mushrooms are a good source. Vitamin D3 in tablet form is mostly made from sheep's wool which is not vegan-friendly. Lichen is now being used to make some D3 which is vegan-friendly.
Vitamin D is really a hormone that plays many important roles in the body, so taking a supplement may be a compromise worth taking.
These are fats that have beneficial properties. The best way to get them is from fish. There are plant-based alternatives however it is harder for the body to absorb these.
Sources are; chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, linseeds, tofu and hemp seeds
Flaxseed oil and canola oil are good sources.
Iodine comes from fish, eggs, and dairy. Vegetables and grains may contain iodine but are very dependant on the iodine levels in the soil.
Iodised salt is available to buy, but make sure you watch your salt intake. The maximum recommended per person is 6g a day (about one teaspoon).
If you take a supplement be wary of seaweed or kelp as the levels of iodine vary and can be higher than needed. Try to have supplements with potassium iodide or potassium iodate - make sure you read the label.
Signs of deficiency are: an enlarged thyroid gland, tiredness, weight gain, depression, dry and cracked skin
Our main source of calcium is through milk and dairy products. There are other sources such as broccoli and okra, soya beans and calcium-set tofu, bread and fortified plant-based milks.
Zinc absorption can be low in vegans and signs of deficiency are wounds not healing, open sores, diarrhoea and more.
Phytates found in plant foods reduce zinc absorption.
Good sources are tofu, lentils, quinoa, nuts (walnuts and cashews) and seeds, such as hemp, sesame, chia and pumpkin.
The best form of iron is found in meat sources however it is possible to get iron from a plant-based diet.
The best plant-based iron sources are pulses; lentils, peas (chickpeas, garden peas, blackeyed peas), runner beans, broad beans and quinoa.
Vitamin C foods helps with iron absorption -
Avoid drinking tea and coffee while you are eating since this can reduce iron absorption.
Think about the protein you will be eating. There are many different sources so there shouldn’t be a problem getting plenty of protein in your vegan diet.
Tofu is a good all-rounder and can be used in all sorts of ways. Top tip: marinade it first so that it takes in plenty of flavours.
Quinoa is another good source. Coming in a variety of colours, it is a great source of protein and a source of plenty of other vitamins as described already
Other sources are pulses, lentils, peas and beans.
Plant based milks
There is now a huge variety of plant-based milks on the market. Be wary when you make your choice. Some have lots of added sugar and some are not fortified. Drinking fortified milk can be invaluable in topping up any issues with certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies mentioned earlier.
Be wary of what you eat! There is a growing industry creating meat alternatives. These are imitation foods products which are increasingly popular. They aim to give you the texture and flavour of your favourite non-vegan foods whilst still being vegan. Cheese, chicken nuggets, burgers, sausages and bacon alternatives are all available.
The question to ask is are they healthy? As with all highly processed foods, it is important to see what ingredients have been added to the food, not only to make them taste like meat but also to give them a long shelf life.
When choosing foods both in restaurants and in the supermarket have a think about what ingredients have been added. Read the food label. Ask the waiter.
Foods are made to taste and look appetising but this does not mean that they are necessarily healthy. Many meat alternatives have too much salt and sugar. Recommended daily amounts are 6g for salt and 30g or sugar.
Be wary of coconut oil. This is a plant-based saturated fat and because of this sets hard at room temperature. It has become popular ‘health food’, special care should be taken for vegans as it is often added to foods such as vegan cheese. Coconut oil might be better than butter or lard, however, caution is advisable about having too much of any saturated fat in the diet. Rapeseed and sunflower are great to cook with and olive oil is ideal for salads.
Remember just because a product is vegan-friendly does not mean it is healthy! If you are eating a vegan diet for its health benefits then this is something to think about.
Cooking from Scratch
If you cook from scratch you can use healthy, vegan ingredients to make all sorts of delicious meals without having to worry about meat-alternatives and endless label checking.
Making food from scratch can be a fun and enjoyable experience. It’s all a matter of confidence. Choose some good vegan cookbooks and be inspired!
Some tips that go for all home cooking: have a stock of staples, plan your week’s meals and use the freezer.
Learn how to adapt flavours, play around with different textures and food groups.
If you cook from scratch you will not have to worry about hidden ingredients and you can include things that ensure you get your vitamins and minerals..
Some Pitfalls for Ethical Vegans
There are many good reasons for going vegan. There is a healthy plant-based diet. There is the lower impact on the environment, including carbon footprint. Of course there is the original reason which is about ethics. If this is your motive then, depending on how strict you want to be, there are some pitfalls to be aware of.
Sometimes products, such as egg whites, are added to meat-alternatives making a product non-vegan. Not all meat-alternatives are aimed at vegans or claim to be vegan so check the label..
There are some products that common sense would suggest must be vegan but in fact are not. Products containing alcohol, for instance, some spirits like brandy are not always vegan friendly.
There are some ingredients that need some consideration
Red food colouring is made from beetles so check the label, (products such as sweets). There is a new sweet potato that has been created to provide red food colouring - the Hansen sweet potato, this might warrant some investigation?
Gelatine is made from bone marrow. Isinglass comes from the bladder of a fish. Both are added to processed foods, some that you might not expect.
Here are some more foods to check:
Sweets, including mints
Worcester sauce (made with anchovies)
Pesto (made with cheese)
There are often vegan varieties or alternatives, so make sure you check the food labels carefully and research the different brands..
By eating a wholesome and varied diet, full of lentils, quinoa, a variety of beans and tofu your nutritional needs will be met. Take a vitamin supplement for iodine, B12 and Vitamin D or drink fortified plant-based milk and your micro-nutrient needs will be met as well.
Enjoy your vegan journey.