Today I will be talking about nutrition for my fourth, and final post on why you should try vegan this January.
Getting the right nutrients, as a vegan, is extremely easy. You just need to know where to find them. Veganism has a whole bunch of health benefits, that I have talked about in my previous post: Why Vegan #2.
As a vegan myself (and I’m sure every other vegan can relate), I often hear very misguided statements and questions about veganism. Which I of course, do not mind answering, and will always do so to the best of my ability. However, media scaremongering and public misconception has caused people to worry about going vegan more than is ever necessary.
So I thought I would take this opportunity to address some of the common misconceptions and or myths, that surround being vegan, whilst telling you everything I know about nutrition.
But what do you eat? Vegan food is boring.
Exactly the same as you, just without the meat, dairy or eggs. I think almost every meal can be made vegan, with just a few changes. You can still enjoy the same meals, just with mock meats, vegetables, seitan, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils and so many more as substitutes.
Vegans only eat vegetables don’t they?
Nope. Not entirely. Our food may be plant based, but that doesn’t mean that vegetables are the only things we eat! Lots of vegan foods are very healthy, but there are also great vegan pies, pastries, sweets and cakes, so you can eat as much junk food as you wish. See my old post, here, regarding snacks.
We need meat to be healthy.
Science and research has actually confirmed quite the opposite, that we don’t need meat to be healthy at all. Statistics show that vegans and vegetarians typically have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, lower body mass indexes, a lower risk of death from heart disease, and lower overall cancer rates, than those who eat meat, dairy and eggs.
Don’t vegans need to take several supplements to stay healthy?
No. The only supplement that vegans, and many non-vegans, are recommended to always take is Vitamin B12, and that is only really necessary if they do not regularly eat B12 fortified foods such as tofu, breakfast cereals and plant based milks.
We need to drink milk for strong bones though, don’t we?
Well actually, no. We don’t. Some people are lactose intolerant (me included) or suffer from milk allergies, so drinking milk is not an option for them either. But yet those people all probably have strong bones. Just like vegans. This is because it is perfectly possible to obtain your recommended daily allowance of 700mg (for adults) of calcium while being vegan. The following foods are good, easily accessible sources of calcium; kale, plant based milks, tofu, tempeh and broccoli.
But you can’t get Omega-3 anywhere other than fish, can you?
You can actually find Omega-3 in a number of food sources. In fact, many of the best sources for Omega 3 to Omega 6 are found in vegan foods. These foods include; flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, seaweed, beans, winter squash, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, berries, wild rice, mangoes, and honeydew melon.
But where do you get your protein?
Okay, there may be a lot of protein in meat, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist anywhere else though. In fact, vegans simply do what cows, pigs and chickens do; we go straight to the source. Why limit yourself to one source of protein, though, when you can have; green vegetables (kale, broccoli, seaweed, peas and spinach), beans and pulses (lentils, lima, edamame, pinto, black), grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa, bulgar) and nuts (brazils, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and walnuts). All of these are all excellent sources of protein.
What about athletes? Don’t they need to eat meat to build muscle for when they exercise?
Nope. It is perfectly possible to obtain adequate protein as a vegan. The vegan athletic, sports and bodybuilding movement is growing, for both men and women. Did you know that David Carter, Venus and Serena Williams, Scott Jurek, Tia Blanco and David Haye along with a whole bunch more, are all vegan?
They don’t look like they have any issues with building muscle do they?
I know of a person who went vegan and got ill. Doesn’t this prove vegan food isn’t nutritious?
No it doesn’t. It is important to make sure you get all your nutrients when thinking of what to eat on a day to day basis, and if you don’t then deficiencies can occur – this, however, applies to everyone, not just vegans. For example, if someone ate meals every day without any substantial source of nutrients (whether they are animal derived or not), they will most likely become ill, feel lethargic or develop a deficiency.
Now, what have I missed?
- Our bodies needs iron in order to be healthy and strong. Some iron-rich foods are; dark green leafy veg, dark chocolate, sweet potatoes, peas, tofu, dried fruit – raisins, dates, figs, prunes and apricots, molasses, beans, artichokes, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. The recommended daily allowance of iron varies depending on your age and sex: male 19-50 years: 8.7 mg, females 19-50: 14.8 mg, females 50 years and over: 8.7 mg.
- Iodine helps to make the thyroid hormones, which keeps cells and the metabolic rate healthy. The recommended daily intake of iodine is 150 mcg, which is actually handy for sushi lovers, because there is 150 mcg in about two sheets of nori, the seaweed that’s used to make sushi.
- Vitamin A is essential to human health, as it is great for our eyesight, our immune system and bone growth. It can be found in vegetables high in beta-carotene such as; carrot juice, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, cantaloupe, and kale.
- Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. 15-30 minutes each day of midday sun on the forearms and face without sunblock should produce sufficient vitamin D.
- Zinc helps our body grow new cells and promotes healing. There are many good sources of zinc, including; legumes, nuts, seeds and oats, leafy green vegetables, and sprouted seeds and beans.
It is worth noting that many animal products are actually 50% fat. Removing these from your diet can drastically reduce your fat intake (especially saturated fat), which can be hugely beneficial. Make sure, however, that you are getting adequate plant fats in your diet such as; nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and vegetable oils. These are the good fats and essential for health.
I’m not a nutritionist, and by no means know everything there is to know about nutrition. However, there is an abundance of information regarding a good, nutritionally balanced diet available to you with just a quick Google search. I would recommend for you to do that, if you wish to learn more.
I hope this post has helped open your eyes to how healthy, rewarding and diverse a vegan diet can be. And has encouraged you to try veganism, even if just for a month.
You can sign up to take part in Veganuary here, for free.
Peace & Love, Sian