While veganism is not a new way of eating or life, there is currently a lot of hype around this style of eating and the purported benefits of a vegan diet. A vegan diet excludes all food from animal origin and the diet is made up of purely plant foods. Some of the reported health benefits of a vegan diet include reduced risk of chronic disease, positive effects on gut health and inflammatory conditions.
If you are new to the world of vegan eating, here is a beginners guide to becoming vegan, which provides a few tips to make sure you start in the right direction.
The label ‘vegan’ does not automatically mean healthy
Many people assume that because a meal or food product is ‘vegan,’ it must be healthy. This is certainly not true in many cases, especially foods like mock meats and processed vegan snacks. When consuming a vegan diet, just like any style of eating, it’s most beneficial to stick to wholefoods as the main components of your diet. On a vegan diet, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to whole foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, legumes and wholegrains to name a few.
Don’t forget the protein!
Vegan meals tend to be very carbohydrate heavy and in some cases low in protein. Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks required by the body to function optimally. Lack of protein can result in loss of muscle mass and lean tissue, insatiable appetite, poor wound healing, low immunity and low mood. This means, it is important to pay attention to your protein intake on a vegan diet. Including a wide variety of plant-based proteins across the course of the day is important to help your body receive all of the essential and non essential amino acids it needs.
Some examples of plant-based proteins are: tofu & tempeh, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, cannellini beans, red kidney beans, black beans etc), nuts/seeds, wholegrains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, freekeh, wholemeal pasta) and pea, hemp or brown rice protein powder.
Increase fibre slowly
Vegan diets tend to be quite high in fibre due to the heavy reliance on legumes, vegetables and wholegrains. If you swap to veganism and aren’t used to eating this volume of fibre, moving straight to a high fibre diet can result in bloating, discomfort and change to bowel habits. Its best to start off small and gradually increase your fibre intake until your body can adapt to eating a high fibre diet.
Favour the right kinds of fats
A major health benefit of following a vegan diet is that it is typically lower in saturated fats compared to a standard western diet. However, close attention still needs to be paid to getting in adequate omega-3 essential fats. Omega-3 fats are called ‘essential’ because our body cannot make its own supply and we therefore need to consume essential fats in our diet. Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines contains two beneficial omega-3 fatty acids known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) whereas nuts, seeds and some vegetable oils contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body converts to DHA and EPA. ALA isn’t as widely studied or recognised but still offers many health benefits, making plant-based sources of essential fats very beneficial. Eating a daily dose of hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts or flaxseeds, can help towards getting an adequate supply of essential fats.
Image credit: Pontus Ohlsson