If you haven’t seen the craze this month, it’s all about going vegan for January! It’s a great way of packing fruits and veggies into your diet and doing something good for the environment, but what actually is veganism?
Unlike vegetarians who simply avoid meat and fish (that involves the death of an animal), vegans omit ANY animal product from their diet, including eggs, dairy and even honey. Whilst some see the diet as extreme, the numbers of vegans in the UK and the world is booming. The Vegan Society said there were 540,000 vegans in the UK back in 2016, but it’s thought to have risen by nearly 600% to 3.5 million last year in 2018! Isn’t that crazy?!Whilst many go vegan for the ethics and animal welfare, there’s emerging new reasons to go vegan. Many people go vegan for health reasons. I think this is where we should clear things up. Whilst it can be argued vegan food is healthier due to a decrease in meat and dairy consumption, so a decrease in fat, and an increase in fruits, veggies and legumes, but what many people aren’t aware of is that a lot of vegan food isn’t actually much better for you than the meat equivalents. Vegans can still munch through their food share of fries, burgers, sweets and pastries, with them being high in sugar, fat and salt! Whilst you should take this information with a pinch of salt as it’s totally independent to the individuals diet, remember, vegan does not equal healthier!
However, another emerging reason for going vegan is to promote sustainability. The meat and dairy industry is well known for having a huge carbon footprint and with the threat of climate change starting to take its effect on the globe, people want to make a change. The BDA Blue Dot is the BDA’s project on an Environmentally Sustainable Diet in order to make its policy a reality. The guidelines show the reality of food waste and it’s impact on the UK, whilst also displaying which foods are better for the environment and which ones we should reduce our intake of if we’re trying to be more sustainable. The guideline was designed side by side with PHE’s Eatwell Guide.
May I add – please do not feel pressured to go vegan! I have felt this pressure on me so much. Cutting down your animal product consumption is SO important for creating a more sustainable planet BUT going completely vegan isn’t the answer. I personally have anaphylaxis to pulses, nuts and shelled veg (such as peas and sweet corn), which means a vegan diet is extremely detrimental to my health, as they are staples of a vegan diet. Even if you don’t have dietary allergies like myself, going vegan can be hard. It can be an emotional challenge for some, but for others, you’re completing omitting food groups you’ve eaten for years. Whilst there’s many alternatives out there, they aren’t suitable or preferable to all, so if going vegan is going to make you unhappy, don’t go completely vegan!! Vegan food still isn’t available all over and is mostly found at large supermarkets. This means it isn’t totally accessible for people who may not be able to access these stores. There is a push for more vegan options at smaller shops, but still they can be more expensive than the animal produce alternative.
But it’s definitely not all doom and gloom! Veganism was once thought to be nutritionally inadequate, but with the rise in vegans, it’s commenced a rise in vegan product and product design over the world. It’s not just the basic soya milk and lettuce now, there’s such an array on products available. What vegans have to be aware of however, THERE ARE SOME NUTRIENTS YOU CAN ONLY GET FROM ANIMAL DERIVATIVES (Or in large quantities). But with the beauty of product development and as long as you know how to get these from other sources, then you can live a happy, healthy life obtaining all your nutrients!
So, key nutrients vegans should be aware of?
This one is always a biggy in the vegan world. Surprisingly though, vegans CAN get enough protein into their diet if they eat the correct foods. Vegan foods high in protein include pulses, nuts, whole grains and soya products, which can help contribute to the magic skills protein has: building and maintaining tissue and muscle in the body and promoting tissue repair after injury. Many products are also fortified with protein, but not in huge quantities, so check the label and don’t be fooled by the protein branding.
With the removal of dairy from your diet (the main source of calcium), it can appear to be difficult to obtain calcium in your diet, but there are a lot of plant based sources out there, including pulses, tofu, seeds, green leafy veg (excluding spinach, surprisingly!), fortified cereals and fortified vegan milks, yogurts and cheeses! Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth, but for muscle contraction and to help our heart keep beating!
I also recommend to take a vitamin D supplement of 10ug (available in most supermarkets and pharmacies) during the winter months, as it not only benefits your vitamin D intake, but helps with calcium uptake too!
There’s two types of iron in the nutrition world, haem and non-haem. Basically, to put it simply, the non-haem iron which you can only get from plant based products is harder and much less likely to be used by your body, unlike haem iron. Only around 5% of the haem iron you eat actually gets used! Iron is what keeps our blood healthy, but also helps prevent fatigue and keep us fighting off infections. Plant sources include pulses, whole grains, green leafy veg and nuts, but also includes again, fortified cereals. I would NOT recommend taking iron supplements without the assistance of your doctor or blood tests to determine levels first, as iron cannot be stored and if there’s too much in the body, it can be toxic. Food first always!! Vitamin C helps absorb iron and make it more bio available, so trying eating or drinking vitamin C rich foods, such as tomatoes and oranges to help uptake.
Oh B12, we all know this is something vegans struggle to get, despite it being essential for the nervous system. Some foods such as milks and cereals are now supplemented with B12 or you could even get it from Marmite, yep Marmite. B12 should be supplemented, so make sure you speak to your doctor on the best way for you!
Other nutrients you should be aware of are zinc, selenium and iodine, which all have important functions in our body and can be difficult to obtain from a vegan diet. Nuts, green leafy veg, whole grains and again, fortified products are a good way to pack these in!
Below I’ve included a helpful, visual guide (taken from veganeasy.org) to help make nutrients easy when it comes to veganism.
Remember, every little helps! 🌎 Oh, and yeah. Don’t shop at Holland and Barrett, don’t support their nonsense, faddy BS sales xo
Emma is a Registered Dietitian and Registered Associate Nutritionist based in Cheshire, England. Emma works in community healthcare and writes freelance alongside her work: topics including Dietetic life, nutrition, mental health and lifestyle. Emma also writes and photographs recipes for the platform, as well as being the author of the ‘Mummy and Me’ series for SR Nutrition. Emma’s Food Stories is PR friendly brand.