2020 has arrived and people are going meat-free for a month! With veganism on the rise, availability of alternative products has gone up and there is more and more information helping people to educate themselves on what it is to go vegan and how to avoid deficiency. Unfortunately, becoming Vegan does not equal health as there are plenty of vegan junk food products too!
There are lots of things to consider when going vegan including omega 3, getting enough from plant based sources such as pumpkin seeds, chia and walnuts. Omega 3 essential fatty acids should come from the diet to support our cell membranes, inflammatory processes, brain, skin and eye health. Vitamin D, iodine, calcium, vitamin K2 are also amongst the list of nutrients that should be kept an eye on and should be obtained from supplements and plant sources where possible.
Two nutritional considerations of living well on a vegan diet which cannot be avoided are that of the incorporation of protein and vitamin B12.
Where will I get my protein from? Protein is one of the things you think of first when cutting out meat. You may or may not have heard of complete proteins. Meat is a source of complete protein, meaning that they contain the full spectrum of amino acids required by the body. Here is where eating variety in a vegan diet is important. Whilst jackfruit may have a ‘pulled-pork’ texture, it is low in protein. Seitan is a good source of protein, again not complete, but a good way to go. Unfortunately however, being derived from gluten, be sure to avoid if you suffer from coeliac disease or know you have issues when consuming gluten. Pea protein, although still not a complete, is a good source of protein but also fibre too. Soy has always had mixed reviews, however not only is it a complete protein, but it also can be found in many different forms such as tofu and tempeh. When choosing soy products, be sure to go for non-gmo and unprocessed sources to make sure nutrients are intact.
If you’ve considered going vegan, you’ve probably heard about vitamin B12. This particular B vitamin cannot be obtained from a plant based diet. The only sources are animal products, supplements or fortified food and yeasts. Vitamin B12 is needed for many things including energy, cognition, DNA, neuron function and much much more. It’s role in keeping homocysteine down is crucial to avoid development of heart conditions, stroke and pregnancy issues related to high levels. Deficiency can be recognised in low energy, poor memory, personality changes, numbness, blurred vision and can cause conditions such as anaemia. A vegan diet runs the risk of becoming B12 deficient and ensuring B12 is included via fortified foods or supplementation is an absolute necessity, especially in children, pregnant and nursing women.