Are you doing Veganuary? Here are some tips, cautions and hopefully useful information on being Vegan.
I truly admire people who are taking part in Veganuary, for both environmental and animal rights reasons. I personally eat almost no meat and have reduced other sources of animal products in my food intake. But as a qualified Nutritional Therapist I do believe that I know what I’m doing and I am free to eat meat if and when I might feel that my body needs it.
The jury is still out on whether true Veganism is actually good for our health. There are many well researched papers, both for and against veganism.
How you approach Veganuary is important. Being prepared, informed and listening to your body is essential.
Here are some of my own thoughts and notes about following a plant based diet.
Essential nutrients your body needs these to function & they are often limited on a plant-based-diet:
Vitamin B12 – Mainly found in fish, meat & dairy, so using a good quality supplement is advised.
Vitamin D – Although meat eaters get low levels of vitamin D in their diet, it is recommended that EVERYONE in Ireland & UK supplements with vitamin D daily, vegans & non vegans.
Omega 3 fatty acids – There are 3 types of omega 3 fatty acids, ALA, DHA & EPA.
ALA is found in many plant sources such as: chia seeds (soaked), linseeds (soaked or ground), hemp seeds, linseed oil, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans.
EPA & DHA are rare in plant based foods, but are in Nori, spirulina, chlorella, seaweed.
Unless you are eating a regular combination of the above foods, with EPA & DHA my advice would be to use a good quality vegan supplement for EPA & DHA.
Protein – Tofu, Tempeh, Lentis, Chickpeas, Beans, unsalted Nuts, Nutter butters (without palm oil or emulsifiers), seeds, grains, beans – vegetables, fruit and grains do have protein in them but the content is not enough to meet your daily requirement.
Calcium – Dark leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, kale, almonds, chia seeds (soaked overnight), sesame seeds, tofu, figs, oranges
Iron – beans, broccoli, spinach & dark leafy greens, raisins, wheat, tofu – non-animal iron is harder to absorb so eating an iron rich food with a food high in vitamin C helps the absorption for e.g. eating an orange or red berries straight-after or with a meal will help.
Zinc – Beans & nuts
Iodine – Similar to selenium (below), there is no easy way to figure out how much iodine is in a plant, it is totally dependent on the soil it’s grown in. For that reason I’d recommend choosing organic wherever possible, as it’s more likely that the organic soil is higher in nutrients and crops are rotated than that of a conventionally farmed product. Green beans, courgettes, kale, watercress, strawberries, potatoes with skin-on, wholegrains such as brown rice, millet, buckwheat, whole grain oats, rock salts, Celtic sea salt.
**Iodine is essential for Thyroid health, which many of my clients have issues with, but both too much and too little can cause issues, so please do not supplement without testing your levels first.
Selenium – brazil nuts – 2 to 3 brazil nuts daily should be enough instead of a supplement, although it depends on the soil they’re grown in.
For more information on supplements or to have a personalised assessment, get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org
Recipes books or websites of interest:
The Happy Pear
The Mindful Chef
Processed & packaged foods:
Vegan milks: if you are vegan for environmental reasons, do your research on “milks”. There are many milk drinks available now so soya is no longer the only one. Soya milk is very highly processed is usually grown intensely and is not as sustainable as you may think. Likewise, almond milk has sustainability concerns.
Check labels to see what additives are in the drink. Those with water, and nothing else besides the oats, almond, hazelnut, cashew, coconut etc.. are usually best. Some need sea salt for flavouring. I always choose organic ingredients where I can.
My preferred non-diary choice is Oat milk – oats are grown in Ireland & the UK so less air miles, we don’t need to irrigate the lands thankfully, so less water usage, and they are often grown organically,
General rule on ingredients:
If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, it’s probably not going to be good for you.
If there are more than 3 ingredients, skip it
Meat replacements: usually will fall into the category of processed foods and are not healthful – ok as a treat but not suitable for regular intake – Vegan labelled food does not equal Healthy! Don’t fall into that trap. Processed food is still processed foods, vegan or otherwise.
Check labels: for salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners content – Sugar Free or no added sugar does not mean artificial sweeteners free or that they haven’t added natural sugars from fruits or other natural sources. Natural sugars are far better than added “white sugar” and better than artificial sweeteners, but you do need to be careful not to have too much as it will still increase your blood sugar levels.
Ready-made sauces are processed foods, be careful when choosing these.
Stock up on passata, fresh tomatoes and coconut milk along with lots of herbs and spices, experiment and make your own favourite sauce.
1. Fill up your plate / bowl with 1/2 vegetables
2. Eat the rainbow
3. Aim for 5 portions of vegetables every day
4. Plan your meals so you know you’re getting the nutrients you need
5. Monitor how you feel – maybe keep a journal so you remember the changes you experience
If you are interested in checking any nutrient levels, please get in touch with me and I can arrange testing. Most GPs are happy to test Vitamin D, B12 and Iron levels.
Some caution to a vegan ‘diet’
Anyone that knows me, know that I don’t do diets. I hate the word, the idea, the bandwagon mentality, the peer pressure to be like everyone else or look like someone else.
Many of my own clients do not have a healthy relationship with food. They emotionally over-eat, may binge and restrict themselves from certain foods and food groups. Often shifting from one diet to the next, but never really feeling they have freedom to make their own choices or feel truly good about themselves inside or outside.
They can be easily influenced by media ‘success’ stories about weight loss or how I found my soulmate after X diet, how I shed 20lbs in 10 weeks etc…
If you are a person who has tried many diets or you think about food a lot, please do not jump on the Vegan Bandwagon – get support to understand your relationship with food.
Most diets can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and your own body.
Sometimes going Vegan is another excuse to restrict food intake and many people with eating disorders have been known to use Veganism as a disguise.
Restricting, binging, depriving yourself of ANY food or using food as a coping mechanism is not the answer.
The good news is that many of my clients come to me and are told to eat more food not less, and they feel great afterwards. AND they do not gain any fat. If you’re depriving yourself and not eating enough, or not eating certain nutrients, this will cause a slowdown of your metabolism and your body won’t use the fat as fuel.
To understand why you eat the way you do, learn about your triggers to overeating or why your body just does not want to let go of the fat, get in touch and I’ll be happy to help.
There is NO ONE RULE FITS ALL in my practice.
We are all biochemically different and deserve individualised care and support.
Wishing you Love, health and happiness