During August we’ve been exploring the world of veganism, what it is and why more people are venturing into this lifestyle. Two very closely related topics are veganism and nutrition.
I’m pleased to introduce Emma Jebbink, a nutritionist who looks at veganism from a nutritional standpoint. Emma has her own nutritionist business and is also a director of Foodvine – a meal comparison service for ready-made and convenience meals that helps you compare their nutritional values. You can even search for vegan ready-made meals!
If you have hesitations about veganism because of diet, this article from Emma may help. As always this is not medical advice to any major changes to your diet should be discussed with your health professional before adopting them.
A nutritionist’s take on the vegan diet
Why people go vegan
More and more people are choosing a vegan diet. The main motivation is to avoid the use of animals and insects in any way, as part their diet and lifestyle. It can be a very morally rewarding pursuit and a satisfying way to eat that has environmental and social benefits.
The vegan diet is typically based only on plant based foods. Vegan diets include:
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Breads, grains and cereals
- Beans and legumes
- Soy based foods like tofu
- Nuts and seeds
Vegan diets typically do not include:
- Meat, poultry, fish or seafood
- All dairy products
- Honey and insect protein
- Often other animal derived products such as leather
Veganism from a nutrition point of view
From a moral perspective, the vegan diet is the ultimate way to eat. From a nutrition perspective, a purely plant based diet does not meet our nutrition needs. There are some nutrients that are only found in animal and insect products and in general animal products are more nutrient dense than plant foods. As an example, an egg is a complete food source because it has all the required macronutrients, vitamins and minerals required to complete its function as a starter for life. Dairy products are also packed full of nutrition because they function in the same way and are designed to support and nurture life. Even honey is very high energy and nutrient dense, which is why humans have mastered harvesting these types of food as they have supported our survival as a species, especially in times of low food security.
Humans have long used insect and animal origin foods for survival and a well-rounded diet still requires a recommended amount of animal proteins and products to meet our nutrition needs. We have evolved to be omnivores, to eat a wide variety of foods and now rely on some non-plant vitamins to be completely nourished. We have also learnt to cook certain foods to extract the most nutrients, for example the body will absorb significantly more beta-carotene from cooked carrots than from raw carrots.
In a modern society with food security and a high-level understanding of nutrition, we can cut animal and insect products from the diet and still obtain all the nutrients we need. To do this, individuals following vegan diets need to be aware of the following essential nutrients: Haem iron, Calcium, Omega 3 and Vitamin B12. Our bodies cannot produce these nutrients, so they will need to be carefully supplemented to achieve adequate nutrition from a vegan diet.
Haem Iron from meat sources is more readily absorbed by the body than non-haem iron found in plants. To boost the absorption of iron found in plants, you will need to include high Vitamin C foods with the non-haem iron foods like legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, dark leafy greens, and wholegrains. High vitamin C foods include citrus and kiwi fruits, berries, brassicas, and tomatoes. You will also need to avoid any types of tea with meals, as tannins in tea can affect iron absorption. You can also try iron supplements.
Vitamin B12 is a vitamin essential to human health but is only found in animal products. Deficiencies in Vitamin B12 are serious and have been linked to mood disorders, poor development and muscle function to reduced fertility. It is essential that Vitamin B12 is supplemented in a vegan diet via a supplement or through fortified foods.
Non-dairy calcium can be found in dark leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, almonds and almond butter, tofu and fortified drinks like soy and nut milks.
Plant based omega 3 is different from marine omega 3 and our bodies get the most health benefit from the marine omega 3. Plant based omega 3 found in flaxseed and walnuts are not as readily absorbed so a vegan omega 3 supplement is a good option.
If you’re looking to follow a vegan diet for whatever reason, it can be done successfully with some planning and preparation to ensure you get all the right nutrients. A good idea is to talk to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Nutritionist to provide you with a diet plan specific to your needs.
Diet is just one area in which you can make a difference to animals. If you’d like to consider other daily decisions and how you can consider animals, grab the free guide.