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Should I go Vegan?

Being vegan is very fashionable at the moment. Many who follow vegan diets do so for health reasons, while many others do so for ethical reasons, both to animals and the planet. There are those however who feel veganism is just too limiting and believe that it is synonymous with bland food and nutrient deficiencies. This articles looks at what it means to be vegan and provides some useful resources for those who want to give it a try.

What is a vegan diet?

Veganism can be seen as the logical next step to vegetarianism. As well as abstaining from eating animals, vegans refrain from any food that comes from animal sources. This mostly means any dairy (milk, cheese, cream, yoghurt etc) or eggs. There are also some less well publicised foodstuffs that are off-limits for strict vegans, including honey, some wine, anything with gelatin, some additives (E120, E322, E422, E471, E542, E631, E901 and E904) many supplements, various beers and wines and fresh pasta (which is often made with egg).

Many people are surprised (and disappointed) to learn that wine is off the menu. While wine does not naturally contain any animal products, wine producers often add ‘fining agents’ to help remove tiny molecules that give it an undesirable cloudy appearance. These fining agents often include casein (dairy), albumin (eggs), gelatin (animal protein) or isinglass (fish bladder).

Vegan diets tend to be high-carbohydrate by definition. This is because the main protein sources for vegans are pulses and grains and it is necessary to eat a combination of the two in order to get all the necessary amino acids for a complete, nutritionally balanced protein intake.

What are the advantages of a vegan diet?

There are many advantages to a vegan diet, including:

  • Uses natural foods.

  • High in vitamin C and fibre.

  • Helps relieve symptoms of some chronic health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

  • Is kinder to animals

  • Is kinder to the planet as there is a reduced need for deforestation to provide grazing land and reduced methane emissions from livestock.

What are the disadvantages of a vegan diet?

There are also some implicit disadvantages in following a vegan diet.

These include:

  • Is not specifically a healthy eating diet

  • Unless proper care is taken, vegans can develop various nutrient deficiencies, including B12, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids from protein.

  • Vegan diets are usually high in carbohydrates (carbohydrates break down into sugar and high-carbohydrate diets have been associated with several health conditions).

  • Does not limit sugar intake

  • Not suitable for pregnant women

  • Not suitable for those with type-2 diabetes or carbohydrate intolerance

  • Can be difficult to sustain when travelling abroad

Is a vegan diet healthy?

There is often a perception that a vegan diet is inherently healthy. This is not necessarily the case. While it is perfectly possible to follow a healthy vegan diet, and several studies have suggested that veganism can be the healthiest lifestyle, many people find that the limitations mean they often consume too many unhealthy snacks, simply because they are hungry more of the time. The point is that a healthy vegan has to make two choices: first to be a vegan and second to follow a healthy diet. The two do not automatically happen together. With this said, the act of becoming vegan does make many people more conscious of what they are eating and the effect it has on their health.

The following four principles should be part of any healthy diet and are very well suited to vegans:

  1. Include an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables

  2. Minimise processed foods and try to cook meals from scratch

  3. Eat slowly, chewing each mouthful around thirty times before swallowing.

  4. Whenever possible, choose organic foods.

As discussed in various articles on this site, many chronic health conditions are now thought to be linked to inflammation. A diet rich in plants and antioxidants can go a long way to combating this inflammation. Additionally, most of us are fibre-deficient and a vegetable based diet is a great way of keeping fibre levels topped up.

What to be mindful of on a vegan diet

  • Vegan diets don’t provide fat soluble vitamins A and D. You can’t get vitamin A from carrots. What you actually get is beta carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A. A small amount of carotene may be converted to vitamin A but this is insignificant compared to your daily requirement and may not happen at all for those with thyroid disorders, poor digestions or a deficiency of healthy fats.

  • Vegan diets (unless you’re eating a lot of natto – a kind of fermented soy) don’t give you the vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is important for transporting calcium to the bones and for metabolising vitamin D3.

  • Many people try to replace meat and dairy with ‘fake’ meat and dairy. They replace milk, cheese and meat with foods manufactured to look and taste as though they are milk, cheese and meat, such as veggie sausages, chicken pieces or soy milk. In order to create these products, non-foodstuffs are used such as stabilisers, gums, thickeners and highly processed protein extracts. Moreover, you may be counting your vegan cheese as a source of protein, when many of them are actually made from carbs.

  • Vegan diets can be low in B12 and low in iron. The readily-absorbed forms of these nutrients are found in animal products. Several studies suggest that up to 68% of vegans were deficient in vitamin B12.

  • Several studies have shown that both vegetarians and vegans are prone to deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc and essential fats.

How to get started on a vegetarian diet

Some people like to make changes all in one go. If this is you, choosing a vegan recipe book from the resources could be a good way to begin...

Or you might try changing one meal at a time – possibly having a vegan breakfast during your first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on.

You might try changing one product at a time, for example, swapping traditional cow’s milk for almond milk, or butter for coconut oil. There’s a plant-based alternative for most things you can think of.

One thing that you can look forward to is some exciting new recipes. Bringing the principles of being vegan into your life, even if only a few days a week to start with (assuming we are talking veg-based meals rather than fake or junk foods) will deliver a whole new taste experience. There will be things that you love – and things the family rejects. It’s all part of the fun of discovering new things.


Recommended blogs

The Colourful Kitchen

Deliciously Ella

Minimalist Baker

Oh She Glows

The Vegan Woman

Recommended vegan cookbooks

Christine Bailey, Go Lean Vegan: The Revolutionary 30-day Diet Plan to Lose Weight and Feel Great

Hugh, Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Much More Veg: 175 easy and delicious vegan recipes for every meal

Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows

Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows Everyday

Ella Mills (Woodward), Deliciously Ella

Ella Mills (Woodward), Deliciously Ella The Plant-Based Cookbook: 100 simple vegan recipes to make every day delicious

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