Happy New Year! 2020 is fresh upon us and this year I am teaming up with Veganuary, the non-profit organisation that started in 2014, which encourages people to try vegan for January and beyond.
Whether motivated by health, ethical or environmental reasons, plant-based diets are more popular now than ever. Global consumption of meat has increased rapidly over the past 50 years. Food production is now one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions and the largest contributing factor in habitat loss and extinction, with millions of acres of forest felled each year to make way for livestock production and palm oil plantations.
There are many studies demonstrating that a vegan diet can be an excellent decision for health too, and may help to reduce chronic conditions, improve energy and aid weight loss, but there are certain nutritional considerations to take into account when food groups are removed from the diet.
So to kick start the year, I pledge to eat only plant-based foods during the month of January. I am also holding vegan cooking and nutrition workshops from my home in East Sussex and will share vegan recipes and nutrition tips, via Instagram and Facebook, providing you with fun, easy and delicious ways to enjoy plant-based foods every day. Give me a shout if you are taking the Veganuary pledge too. We can cheer each other on.
Here are my Six Simple Steps to Optimum Nutrition during Veganuary:
Tip 1: Eat Wholefoods
Make a conscious effort to base your meals around whole foods, fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and reduce the intake of processed foods wherever possible. This way you will reap all the benefits of a nutrient-rich well-balanced diet. It is all too easy to miss out on essential nutrients if relying on refined carbohydrates and heavily processed vegan products, many of which are made from processed soy. If you are concerned about the time it will take, then meal planning and batch cooking can help. Why not trial a recipe box, here are some great trial offers from Hello Fresh, Gousto, Others I've yet to try are Mindful Chef and Riverford. All these companies all have vegan options, which can help to kick start the healthy habit of cooking from scratch and expand your repertoire. Remember to include five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day and aim to eat the rainbow for the full range of nutrients.
Tip 2: Adequate Plant-based Protein
Protein forms the building blocks of the body, involved in growth, maintenance and repair of muscles and other body tissues. The recommended daily intake of protein is approx 1g per kg body weight. Vegans may be at higher risk of deficiency, so including a form of plant-based protein at every meal should provide you with adequate protein. You can also supplement your diet with high-quality protein powder, which you can add to your morning smoothie or porridge.
Excellent forms of vegan protein are pulses, whole grains, soy products, and nuts and seeds. Try to avoid highly processed plant-based protein/ meat substitutes, although these may help short term in the transition from a meat-based diet.
Tip 3: Essential Fats for Vegans
Fats and carbohydrates work together to provide energy in the body and help to maintain healthy cell membranes and cognitive function throughout life. Essential fats must be obtained from the diet as our bodies can't produce them. Gram for gram, dietary fats supply more energy than carbohydrates, so keep us fuller for longer.
A vegan diet is low in saturated animal fats, but the ratio of Polyunsaturated fats Omega 6 3 and 9 fats needs some consideration. EPA and DHA, the types of omega-3 fats that have been most heavily studied for their physiological and structural cell membrane benefits, are not present in any plant foods except algae oil, so It is worth considering supplementing here. Humans can produce EPA and DHA in small amounts from ALA, which is present in flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil, soybean oil.
Other fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil are all important components of a healthy vegan diet. Aim to include a source of essential fats at each meal.
The most stable fats to cook with are solid at room temperature. Opt for Coconut or olive oil, and avoid trans fats, which are found in processed foods and margarine, which are unstable and cause damage to the structure of fats in the body.
Tip 4: Supplementing B12
B12 is found primarily in animal foods, it is involved in the normal functioning of the nervous system and red blood cell maturation, it helps to metabolize fats and improves liver health. Vegans may get small amounts of B12 from bacteria on foods such as seaweed, nutritional yeast and fermented soy products such as tempeh and fortified foods. It is generally recommended to take a vitamin B12 supplement, to reduce the risk of deficiency, which may result in raised homocysteine levels, nerve damage or anemia. See below for my recommended supplements for vegans. (If you are on medication, it is important that you consult your doctor before taking supplements).
Tip 5: Calcium and Vitamin D for Vegans
Calcium is important for the health of bones and teeth is also involved in muscle contraction and hormone release. If there is insufficient calcium in the diet, the body takes calcium from the bones, which can weaken bones over time.
Dairy is often considered to be the most calcium-rich food, but there are many non-dairy sources too, such as sesame seeds, almonds, broccoli, leafy greens, beans, dried fruit and calcium set tofu. Many plant milk and yogurt-alternatives, as well as bread, are also fortified with calcium in the UK.
It's important to note that some foods interfere with calcium in the body. Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds in vegetables such as spinach, they can bind to calcium, limiting absorption. Therefore It is advisable to rotate your leafy greens, switching up spinach for kale, chard, bok choy, or cabbage. Caffeine and carbonated drinks also interfere with calcium absorption.
Vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin, which is our main source) helps to control levels of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. Many people in the northern hemisphere may be Vitamin D deficient in the winter months, and It is advisable to supplement during this time. Vitamin D2 is suitable for vegans, but some forms of vitamin D3 can be derived from an animal source (such as sheep’s wool)
Tip 6: Iron for Vegans
Iron is important for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Low iron may lead to low energy and anemia. Rich sources of plant-based Iron are found in lentils, beans, soy products, nuts and seeds, leafy greens. These and many other plant foods contain iron, but only animal foods provide the more bioavailable form of haem iron. Iron levels should be checked first before considering supplementation, as iron is stored in the body and high levels can lead to toxicity.
If you are not sure if a vegan diet is right for you, or if you would like guidance to make sure you are covering all your nutritional needs, you may consider working with a Nutritionist such as myself or my colleagues at ANP or BANT, can help to gain clarity around food choices, and design a diet that works for you. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach either, perhaps a flexitarian approach is right for you, starting with #meatfreemondays or becoming a more responsible omnivore, cutting back on processed meat and supporting your local farms.
Becoming more conscious about your food choices, eating more plants and reducing the quantity of meat and processed foods in your diet can all have significant health, ethical and environmental benefits.
My Go-To Supplements for supporting Optimum Vegan Nutrition:
Essential Vegan Multi is a balanced multivitamin designed especially for people following a full or part-time plant-based diet. Formulated with 27 essential vitamin and mineral nutrients, all from vegan sources and designed to help fill the nutritional gaps in vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian regimes. Includes high therapeutic levels of B12 and Iron to support normal energy levels and brain function, vegan-friendly vitamin K2 and D3 for bone strength, and choline for healthy liver function. It also contains Biotin which contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails. Essential Vegan Multi is formulated to provide optimum utilization by the body and developed in a pure wholefood base of spirulina, alfalfa, and bilberry.
Easy one-a-day complete multivitamin contained in a vegan capsule.Suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians100% active ingredients; no binders, fillers or additives. Gluten-free, never tested on animals, palm oil-free, GMO-free and approved by the Vegan Society.
Available in 7, 30 and 90 caps
DHA and EPA contribute to normal function of the heart with a daily intake of 250 milligrams DHA and EPA DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function and vision with a daily intake of 250 milligram DHASuitable for daily use and during pregnancy (no added vitamin A or D) Maternal intake of DHA contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus and breastfed infants and contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age Approved by the Vegetarian Society
Take the Veganuary Pledge Here
Find plant-based food whilst traveling: Happycow.com