WHAT IS A VEGAN DIET?
A vegan diet consists of vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits and other foods made only from plants. Many argue that we should all be making a conscious effort to reduce consumption of animals and animal products for the sake of our health and for the planet.. Vegan or not, a diet high in fruit and veg, and plant-based food is a good starting point for a healthy lifestyle.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF GOING VEGAN?
The answer depends as much on what you eat as with any other diet. Someone living purely on crisps or chips, for example, would be technically following a vegan diet, but it would in no way be healthy.
Research has shown that the average vegan diet is higher in vitamin C and fibre, and lower in saturated fat than one containing meat, all of which are beneficial. In addition, statistics show that vegans have a lower BMI (height-to-weight ratio) than meat eaters – in other words, they are skinnier.
A diet without any meat or dairy products is likely to contain a lot less saturated fat, which is related to increased cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease. We also know that fat contains more calories per gram than other foods, and so vegans may consume fewer calories as a result. Finally, a vegan diet is generally thought to contain more cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds than a non-vegan diet.
By eliminating food groups from your diet, you are potentially at risk of missing out on certain micronutrients. By avoiding animal and animal products, a vegan diet is at risk of being low in calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, if you follow a vegan diet it is essential that you get enough of these nutrients through specific vegan food sources – and may even need to take additional supplements.
When selecting dairy-free alternatives, make sure you are choosing the fortified options, e.g. Alpro unsweetened soya milk is a source of calcium, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12 (which are found in milk), and also vitamin D. Humous is a good choice – the tahini (sesame seed paste) in the recipe is a good source of calcium, zinc and iron, which are all micronutrients hard to get a hold of on a vegan diet.
Many people see the word vegan on the label and they assume it must be super healthy – wrong. Even if it’s vegan, it’s just as important to look at the ingredients list and the nutrition information to see how much fat, sugar and salt something contains. Coconut oil is hugely popular in vegan baking and its health benefits are shouted about all over the place. However, it’s also worth noting that coconut oil is high in saturated fat. This is not to say you shouldn’t use it or it can’t be healthy in small amounts, but too much of it could be detrimental.
We should all be reducing meat consumption and eating more plant based foods…
According to the “eatwell” plate, you will see that less than 15% of our diet should be made up of protein. Try and moderate intake of both red and white meat and replace with plant-based proteins like beans and pulses, tofu, nuts and seeds, as well as having a few meat-free days a week.
If you do decide to follow a vegan diet, apply all the same principles that you would to any healthy balanced diet: eat plenty of different fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, and make sure you are aware of the nutrients you may be at risk of developing a deficiency for. For information about a healthy balanced diet, please see Jamie’s ten tips to a healthy lifestyle, and check out our gorgeous collection of healthy recipes.