The number of people going vegan has quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. With every one of the top restaurants in the UK offering vegan options and every supermarket offering their own vegan range, it is now easier to explore a plant-based diet.
People on vegan diets tend to have a lower risk of heart disease and lower levels of cholesterol. The draws of being vegan also include weight loss, controlled blood sugar, and an overall environmental and moral desire not to use animal products.
The risks, however, can be severe if the change is not made correctly. Due to lower intakes of Vitamin B12, people living a vegan lifestyle tend to have a higher risk of strokes. There is also an assumption that, just because a food is vegan, it is healthier. Vegan ice cream is still ice cream (sorry to disappoint), and your body still needs a variety of different fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to function well.
Want to make the change to a vegan lifestyle but unsure about the best way forward? Read our top 7 tips to get you started on the right path.
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Just because a product is vegan, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the healthier alternative. It is essential to be aware of food's nutritional value when you are using substitutes to know what is good for the body and what is just filler.
The human body isn’t very good at processing vegan food alternatives. For example, tofu contains a type of omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) difficult for humans to process. Equally, the vegan meat alternative, jackfruit, has no protein value (mostly made up of carbs) but is billed on menus as a good substitute.
One of the best ways to make sure you are getting the right nutrition levels from your vegan diet is to pair food groups and maintain a balanced diet.
Making your food is also an excellent way to keep track of your sugar intake from vegan alternatives. There are plenty of vegan recipes online such as BBC Goodfood that’ll give you quick, easy recipes to try at home. With a bit of meal planning, you can reduce your intake of processed alternatives.
Vitamin B12 plays many important roles in the body, including the creation of red blood cells and DNA
As B12 is usually derived from animal products, vegans are more likely to suffer from B12 deficiency, which can cause memory problems, risks of strokes, and fatigue.
To maintain a healthy vitamin B12 level and blood systems and bodily functions, the best vegan-friendly foods with B12 in are:
The body doesn’t readily absorb vitamin B12. So, a good recommendation is to take a125 mcg supplement per day. Always ask your doctor if you are concerned about your vitamin B12 intake.
Cutting out meat and dairy products doesn’t mean you still can't have a healthy calorie intake. There are plenty of healthy, vegan foods that are high in healthy fats and calories. These often tend to have high protein levels as well, which is useful when cutting out animal products.
A good list of foods to include in your vegan diet, according to Livestrong, are:
It is important to note that, with these foods, a high-calorie count and fat count shouldn’t be off-putting. The fats present in these, unlike in processed food and animal products, are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. In moderation, these can help lower LDL (low-density lipoproteins) levels, preventing clogged arteries.
Vegans tend to eat a high fibre diet, which requires water to function correctly in the body. Soluble fibres hold onto water making the digestion process and bowel movements easier (especially important with a plant-based diet). Switching diets can also cause digestive distress, so increasing water intake aids in smoothing out the process.
Vegans have an increased risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia as they only have access to a specific type of iron (Non-heme iron). The recommendation is that vegans and vegetarians increase their iron intake to be 1.8 times higher than those who eat meat.
Many vegetables, especially leafy greens like kale, are a great source of iron and can be easily absorbed into the body. Some other good food options to add to your diet to increase iron levels are:
Your body requires protein to help you build tissue and create enzymes and hormones. Studies have shownthat you can promote feelings of fullness by eating protein, increase your muscle mass, and reduce food cravings.
Getting enough protein into your diet as a vegan is easier than you might think.A diet with a variety of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables can provide all the essential amino acids to meet our bodies requirement. However, it is important to include lots of protein-rich foods into your diet, such as beans, lentils, and nuts, to make sure you’re avoiding nutrient deficiencies.
Making a significant change to your diet and lifestyle can be daunting, especially if you are doing it on your own. If you know you workout best with a friend by your side, you may find it the same when going vegan for the first time.
It requires a lot of willpower to cut meat and dairy products out of your life and knowing the best supplement intake or foods to highlight in your diet can be challenging.
Joining vegan groups on social media and having a vegan friend can give you the social boost you need (and some guidance) and be good for sharing recipes and voicing concerns. Know what you can and cannot eat and meal plan in advance. Vegan food needn’t be boring so make sure to shake up your diet every so often by introducing a new meal or new food.