Veganism has become a popular trend in recent years. Many people are turning away from animal-based foods due to ethical, environmental, or health reasons. A vegan diet excludes all animal products including meat, fish, egg and dairy. Scientific research has proven that nutritionally-sufficient vegan diets offer multiple health benefits. Vegan diets, however, may lead to nutritional deficiencies since plant-based foods lack some essential nutrients. Veganism can be challenging at first due to the diet's strict rules. Additionally, you should consider affordability, local availability, convenience and the pleasure of eating when planning your daily diet.
Here are some step-by-step guidelines to help those who wish to opt for veganism as a way of life without compromising on nutrition.
Key points to remember
While veganism is gaining popularity, it is still perceived as extreme by many people. There may be criticism and resistance for a beginner, but don't let it bother you as what you want to eat, what lifestyle you want to adopt is a personal choice. Getting optimum nutrition is your priority. Stock up on vegan foods and plan your meals in advance.
In the beginning, you shouldn't beat yourself up if you feel like eating some foods that aren't vegan.
Read about the latest research related to plant-based nutrition and find delicious plant-based recipes to enjoy this weekend.
Food to avoid
Knowing what you can’t eat is the first step in adopting a vegan diet. The list includes both animal flesh foods and foods derived from animals. Meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products and animal-derived ingredients such as whey, casein, lactose, gelatin, etc. are completely excluded from a vegan diet. When shopping or eating in a restaurant, read the ingredients list carefully to avoid buying any food that contains animal products.
Foods to include
The next step to becoming a vegan is to learn which foods to include in your diet. Plant-based proteins lack some essential amino acids, making getting quality protein challenging in a vegan diet. However, multiple plant-based foods can be combined to provide daily protein requirements. These foods also provide essential vitamins, minerals and other plant-based health-promotive components.
Soy-based foods: Tofu, soybean, tempeh are excellent sources of a protein alternative to meat, fish, poultry and chicken. Protein in soy foods ranges between 12.95 g to 20.1 g per 100 g.
Whole grains and legumes: Foods in this group such as oats, quinoa, millets, beans, chickpeas, lentils, moong and green peas are great sources of protein, vitamin B, minerals and antioxidants. To enhance the quality of these foods sprouting, fermenting, soaking are recommended.
Vegetables and fruits: Wide varieties of colourful vegetables and green leafy vegetables are consumed in the vegan diet. These veggies are sources of powerful antioxidants, minerals and dietary fibre. Mushrooms in this category are rich sources of plant protein and some vitamin D2. Low-sugary seasonal fruits such as guava, pears, apple, etc. are rich sources.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnut, peanuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds etc. are a powerhouse of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, fibre, magnesium, zinc, selenium and vitamin E.
Fortified foods: A vegan diet lacks vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron, which are exclusively found in animal products. Be sure to consume foods fortified with these nutrients to prevent nutritional deficiency.
Fermented foods: Yoghurt is one of the best sources of probiotics, but it is derived from dairy thus not suitable for vegans. Daily probiotic consumption is recommended to promote gut health and other health benefits. Vegans can choose a variety of plant-based fermented foods including sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables, kombucha, etc. These foods are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, probiotics, potassium and vitamin K.
Milk substitutes: There are plenty of plant-based milks such as almond milk, oats milk, soy milk, etc. These milk are lactose-free, rich sources of calcium and other nutrients.
Mind nutritional deficiencies
Vegans have a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies. Vegans are often lacking in nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D3, omega 3, iron, zinc, selenium and calcium — essential for many functions of the body. Discover plant sources of these nutrients to ensure daily intake. Vitamin B12 and D3 are best obtained from fortified foods. Omega 3 can be found in nuts and seeds, including chia, hemp, flax, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
Some reliable sources of iron and zinc include lentils, red kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, spinach, oats, and quinoa. Nuts and seeds also provide a decent amount of selenium. Dark green leafy vegetables, soybeans, lentils, spinach, bok choy, cabbage, okra, and broccoli are rich in calcium.
A regular blood test can help you learn if you have nutritional deficiencies. If you are severely deficient, speak to your physician about adding supplements to your vegan diet.
Eating homemade, whole plant-based foods is health-promoting. The processed foods that comprise a vegan diet are more harmful than beneficial. Make sure to be mindful when planning your vegan diet. Nutritional deficiency is a primary concern for vegans that should be addressed carefully.
(Subhasree Ray is a Doctoral Scholar, Clinical and Public Health Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator. She can be followed on her Twitter @DrSubhasree)