Lifestyle Columnist Tristan Rees explains how you can make sure you are getting the essential nutrients into your diet during this Veganuary and beyond.
Over the last decade, for a variety of reasons, many people have adopted a more plant-based diet. Due to the growing concern surrounding the climate crisis, environmental activists are changing their dietary habits to become more sustainable. Ethical reasons are another motivation behind avoiding meat; many have decided to stop eating animal-derived food in order to end the exploitation of animals. Finally, the latest research shows that adopting a vegan diet is one of the healthiest choices an individual can make. The diet not only can be well balanced and nutritious, but it also eliminates the harmful consequences of eating animal products, such as high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.
However, despite the known benefits, navigating the shift away from meat can pose problems. The internet is full of misleading information which can scare people away from changing their diet. In general, the more vegetables and less meat people eat, the better. Here is a rundown of the vitamins to look out for if you decide to try out a vegan or vegetarian diet.
To start off, the only essential vitamin that cannot be obtained through a vegan diet is vitamin B12; vegans therefore have to source it through a supplement. Many plant-based milks such as oat or soy are fortified with vitamins, often including B12. Another option is to take vitamin B12 tablets, which are inexpensive and easy to find in pharmacies and health food shops.
All other essential vitamins can be found naturally in plant foods. Iron, for example, is found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, and pulses like lentils. Sesame seeds offer a potent source of iron for vegans and vegetarians; tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, and a regular component of middle eastern cooking, is a great option.
Calcium is often thought only to be found in dairy products. While these are still an option for vegetarians, there are plenty of plant-based sources too. For example, nuts, seeds, and pulses are high in calcium. Tofu is also particularly calcium-rich, and as it is also high in protein, it is a good vegan alternative to meat. As previously mentioned, plant-based milks are often fortified, and calcium is a common ingredient.
Iodine and omega-3 fatty acids are often believed to only be found in fish, however both are actually found in the food that fish eat. For example, omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in algae, which can be taken as a supplement. This may not seem all-that-appealing to eat, but the good news is that there are other sources too. Key examples are linseeds (which are also referred to as flaxseeds) and chia seeds. These can be found in most supermarkets and have numerous other health benefits, such as being high in fibre and protein. Iodine can be found in any seaweed, which again, might not be to everyone’s liking, but the nori sheets used in sushi are a good source. Iodized salt is also available in many stores and is a convenient alternative to table salt.
Vitamin C and fibre are essential components of a healthy diet. Luckily for anyone considering dropping meat from their diet, getting enough vitamin C and fibre should be easy. In fact, these two essential components are not found in any animal products; getting a good quantity of fruit and veg into your diet will more than cover your vitamin C and fibre requirements.
A vegan diet is a great way of reducing your environmental impact, being kinder to animals and improving your own health. To ensure you don’t fall into the same trap as others who have tried the diet, it is vital to eat enough calories. Often when you drop meat from your diet, you will inevitably reduce the number of calories you are eating because meat is very calorie-dense. If you eat plenty of calories, take a vitamin B12 supplement, and eat a varied diet, a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle will more than fulfil your requirements for vitamins, protein, and minerals, in a cheap, enjoyable and sustainable way.