Are vegan and vegetarian diets healthy?
When someone’s says they’re vegan, many people immediately assume they must be super healthy, but there is such a thing as an unhealthy vegan diet. There are a lot of documentaries, like Game Changers, produced on the research behind plant-based diets and lifestyle changes. A vegan friendly diet can be highly nutritious, as it can be low in saturated fat, high in fibre and nutrients such as vitamin C, E, potassium and magnesium. However, starting out with excluding animal products from your “normal” diet with no proper planning can lead to health risks.
Food choices and preparation is important to ensure you can get enough macro and micro nutrients into your diet for health benefits. Without this, it is easy to fall victim to the convenience of take out and highly processed foods. A healthy diet is all about balance, my friends.
Vegans need to be mindful of nutrient deficiencies such as iron, calcium, omega 3’s, vitamin D and B12, as high sources of these come from animal products. Even if a product is vegan, it’s just as important to look at the ingredients list and the nutrition information to see how much fat, sugar and salt it contains, as these can be added into pre-made foods to ensure the taste is there.
People who adopt a vegan lifestyle need to look for other good sources of foods that can still provide the nutrients that predominantly come from the meat and dairy food groups.
Vegan Iron Sources:
Legumes: Lentils, soybeans, tofu tempeh, black beans, chickpeas
Grains: quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal
Nuts and Seeds: pumpkin, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, cashews.
Vegetables: spinach, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, Brussel sprouts.
Why? Vegans may be prone to developing iron deficiency because they are eliminating sources of easily absorbed iron coming from eating red meat. Compared to plant-sourced iron; you need more of it to be better absorbed.
Fun Fact: Having vitamin C rich foods with iron rich foods, will help iron absorption.
Vegan B12 sources: Fortified plant-based milks, nutritional yeast, soy products and vegan supplements.
Why? Inadequate intake of vitamin B12 can cause symptoms such as anaemia, fatigue, loss of appetite, brain fog and so on. Not fun at all.
Vegan Calcium and vitamin D Sources: tofu, soy beans, broccoli, bok choy and mushrooms.
Why? These nutrients are great for bone health, the immune system and eye health.
Fun Fact: The easiest way to obtain vitamin D is to sit in the sunshine for 10 mins a day.
Vegan Omega-3 fatty acids Sources: flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, kidney beans and edamame beans.
Why? These essential fatty acids play a key role in heart health, brain and eye health, and reducing chronic inflammation.
Superfoods can also give your diet a healthy boost as they are classified to be highly nutrient dense. Blueberries, acai berries, Kakadu plums, butterfly pea flower tea, matcha and goji berries are just a few examples of foods that have gained the "superfood" name. They are strong sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other nutrients.
If you do decide to follow a vegan diet, apply all the same principles that you would to any healthy balanced diet: eat plenty of different fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, lentils and keep your plate colourful. Most of all, make sure you are aware of the nutrients you may be at risk of developing a deficiency for and consider taking additional supplements if need be.
TL;DR - A vegan diet can be healthy, as long as it’s done right.