According to the Vegan Society there are now 150,000 vegans in the UK, and the movement is growing fast thanks to initiatives like November’s Go Vegan and Veganuary.
Both campaigns encourage people to try going vegan for a month, in the hope that they might make the life change. A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products, including meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods. It’s essentially eating anything that comes from a plant – fruit, vegetables, seeds, pulses, nuts, beans and grains.
Those who read my features on a regular basis will know that I’m always promoting the “balanced plate” concept to encourage the consumption of each of the food groups at any typical meal, and the same applies for vegans. Foods from the protein food group are vital for the growth and repair of muscles and brain development. For a vegan, sources of protein may include beans, nuts, seeds and pulses. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and eating some of them is essential because they can’t be produced by the body.
Meat and fish is classed as a complete protein, in that it contains a sufficient amount of all these essential amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins found in beans, nuts, seeds lack the full range of necessary amino acids. But that’s not an issue for vegans, as long as you’re consuming different protein foods so you get all that you need. As well as being a great source of protein, beans, nuts and seeds offer plenty of other nutritional benefits, which is what I want to brief you on this month. Here are three great protein sources for vegans:
I’ll start with beans, which are a source of fibre and naturally low in fat. Butter beans are a significant source of manganese, which makes and activates some of the enzymes in the body. Kidney beans however, are a significant source of phosphorus, which combines with calcium to form strong bones. This emphasises the idea that a varied diet is essential to ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals – right down to the kind of beans you eat. Jamie’s recipe for beans on toast is a great way to get some inside you.
Nuts are, and deservedly so, a staple in the diet of many vegans. They’re a great source of protein, but also potassium, which is necessary for lowering the risk of high blood pressure, and magnesium, which is needed for helping turn the food we eat into energy. Nuts can get a bad reputation due to their high fat content, but they are a source of unsaturated fat (the good fat) and can help lower blood cholesterol.
Seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin are a versatile ingredient that can be used in stir-fries, drinks, soups and salads, and a great source of nutrients. Calcium isn’t just found in dairy foods – sesame seeds especially are a great non-dairy source of calcium, needed for strong bones and teeth. However, there is much debate about the availability to the body of calcium from non-dairy foods. Seeds take some flack, because they contain a substance called phytic acid which some studies suggest can hinder calcium absorption. If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough vitamins and minerals on a vegan diet, perhaps consider topping up with fortified plant milk. However, if you take the time to plan your diet carefully then there shouldn’t be any concerns for nutritional deficiencies.
My favourite Jamie recipe that any vegan (or non-vegan!) would enjoy is his sweet potato veggie chilli, which can be tailored by adding your favourite beans – mine are black-eyed beans, which are a good source of soluble fibre that can be digested and broken down by the body and may help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. To turn this into a balanced meal, serve it with brown rice or whole-wheat tortillas.
There are plenty more vegan recipes on JO.com to inspire you, especially if you’re signing up to Veganuary in the New Year!