A vegan diet is one that is plant-based and excludes the use of animal products. This mean excluding meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy, honey or anything other animal-derived products such as gelatine. Other products avoided by vegans include fur, leather, wool, beeswax as well as cosmetics, personal care or household products that have been tested on animals or contain animal products.
A vegan diet can be very healthy if done right. It’s high in phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants as well as been very alkalising due to eating a high amount of plant based foods. All this supports cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Whether you want to embrace more of a plant-based way of eating or if you are about to take the plunge and go the Vegan way, here’s five top tips to help you along the way.
Tip #1 Protein Combining is Key
Adequate protein is essential for everyone. It will stop those sugar cravings, ensure good immunity, energy levels, hormonal and mental health.
Animal foods are complete proteins and are easily absorbed by the body.
Plant based protein however is incomplete and so needs to be combined with other plant proteins to become complete thus enabling it to be absorbed by the body.
This simply means that the plant foods that contain protein – i.e. nuts, legumes, grains and seeds – need to be combined and eaten together. The combining of these foods ensures you are eating a complete protein which the body will absorb.
For example for breakfast, if you like to eat a bowl of bircher or porridge, then simply add in some nuts and/or seeds and you will have a complete protein.
For lunch try some rye or oat bread topped with mushrooms, spinach, tomato and baked beans.
It’s pretty simple when you get the hang of it… and very important to keep you in optimum health.
Tip #2 Gotta be Prepared
When just starting out, a lot of new vegans complain they don’t feel satisfied after a meal.
Try using tofu, tempeh, legumes and meat and cheese substitutes to add protein, as well as bulk and variety to your meals.
Meat and cheese substitutes are good for texture in a dish if you are craving these. However be mindful that these ‘substitutes’ tend to be highly processed, so use sparingly as you transition into your plant-based lifestyle.
When cooking from scratch, cook a bit extra and freeze for future meals so you’re not overly reliant on processed options.
Tip #3 Watch your Vital Nutrients
Being vegan doesn’t automatically mean you are healthy. Some of the key nutrients you need to take care with are as follows.
Like protein, iron is much easily absorbed from animal sources. But if you eat plant foods rich in iron such as leafy greens, add some foods high in vitamin C such as capsicum or lemon juice as this will help with absorption. Brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses, kelp and pumpkin seeds are plant-based foods high in iron
Like iron, the zinc in animal foods seems to be better absorbed than that in the vegetable sources. But if you eat good quality grains and legumes you can still obtain adequate zinc. However it is important you focus on including zinc-containing foods to obtain your daily minimum requirement of 15mg. Whole grains such as whole wheat, rye and oats are rich in zinc and are good sources for vegans as well as nuts, pepitas, ginger root, mustard and chilli powder.
Although Vitamin B12 can be found in small amounts in tempeh, fermented soy bean products and savoury yeast flakes, there is not enough in a plant based diet to remain healthy. A B12 supplement is vital for all vegans. Go for a sublingual B12 or if very deficient you may need periodic injections.
Tip #4 Don’t Resort to Junk Food
The risk with any diet is to just take out the “good parts” and forget to embrace the whole diet. Make sure you are including wholefoods like wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds which will provide a large majority of your vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants your body needs. If you enjoy eating out, call the restaurant ahead to give the chefs’ time to prepare you something delicious or alternatively Asian restaurants (Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean) cater well for a vegan diet.
Tip #5 Keep it fun and Interesting
Lack of variety will lead to boredom with meals so it is important to create variety by using different ingredients in meals. Experiment with tofu, tempeh, miso, legumes, spices and herbs to create different flavours and textures. There are loads of recipes on-line to experiment with. Try www.ohsheglows.com or Chef Cynthia Louise for some healthy inspiration. Or speak to Jess, our in-store ‘Vegan-expert’ for tips and advice. Jess is in her final year of her Naturopathic degree and is in-store on Mondays and Fridays.
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