Veganuary is the ‘Hot Topic’ of the month, stirring emotions around animal cruelty, healthy living and giving the instagrammers endless opportunities of self-promotion through photographs of even more green meals to share with the world. But, putting political and animal rights views aside is being vegan actually healthy and are there any proven health benefits to being vegan?
‘Going vegan’ means removing any animal-based products from your lifestyle. A dietary vegan would avoid the use of animal products in their diet e.g. meat, fish, dairy, animal fats, gelatin, honey. A strict vegan would also avoid other animal products such as wool, leather, feathers, furs, some soaps, wax and even vegetables that have been grown in animal manure.
How to eat a balanced vegan diet
We are well aware of the health benefits of a balanced diet and have many times seen the Food Standards Agency ‘Eatwell plate’ showing us the composition of the ideal diet, so if we remove large food groups such as meat and dairy, are we really getting the nutrients we need?
It is possible to eat a balanced vegan diet. Looking at the ‘Eatwell Plate’ you will have to make adaptations to the pink, protein section. Vegans cannot get their protein quota from meat, fish or eggs so need to rely on beans and pulses instead. Milk and dairy foods are not eaten by vegans but there are now a wide range of dairy alternatives, that are readily available in all supermarkets. Some dairy alternatives can be higher in sugar and fats though, so it’s important to try to look out for those that are low in sugar and low in fat.
It can be more difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals you mean with a vegan diet, but of you plan it carefully or also take supplements you can be sure to get all that you need. Common deficiencies are calcium, iron and vitamin B12 and Omega 3.
|Good Calcium sources||Good Iron sources|
|· fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
· calcium-set tofu
· sesame seeds and tahini
· bread (in the UK, calcium is added to bread by law)
· dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots
· wholemeal bread and flour
· breakfast cereals fortified with iron
· dark green leafy vegetables e.g watercress, broccoli
· dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes and figs
|Good Omega-3 fatty acid sources||Good Vitamin B12 sources|
|· flaxseed (linseed) oil
· rapeseed oil
· soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu
|· breakfast cereals fortified with B12
· unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
· yeast extract, e.g. Marmite, fortified with vitamin B12
If you are vegan but do not eat many of these particular foods, you may benefit from vitamins and supplements.
Are there any health benefits of being vegan?
Cutting out meat and meat products doesn’t automatically make you healthier, although a vegan diet is often lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. High consumption of red meat – particularly meat high in saturated fats – has long been associated with increased cholesterol, heart disease and some cancers, and therefore a diet without these meats can have a health benefit, however it is vital that a vegan diet is balanced, and nutrients taken from meat and dairy are replaced with alternatives.
With obesity being such a health risk for our society, it raises the question… Are vegans at lower risk of obesity? Studies have shown that vegans may have a lower BMI to meat eating populations. Often people who are vegan are more aware of what they are eating and therefore making healthier choices. Vegans do not eat dairy and meat products which can often be higher in fat and so this may contribute to maintaining a healthy weight. It is important to be aware that you can have a balanced diet vegan diet in the same way you can have a balanced non-vegan diet – The key is about balance.
Veganuary.com have lots of fresh and tasty recipes to excite your taste buds.
Even if you don’t think being vegan is a long-term choice for you, taking part in Veganuary may just kick start a healthy year and make you more conscious of the foods you are eating and ensure that your plate is always balanced.