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NUTRITION

How to thrive on a vegan diet

The British Dietetic Association and the NHS both confirm that ‘well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages’ – and this is exactly what we’re going to help you do!

When people go vegan, they often eat more fruit and vegetables, and enjoy meals higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat. Eat a variety of foods, not only to guarantee that your nutritional needs are being met but to really make the most of being vegan. Experimenting with food, discovering new ingredients and introducing meals to family and friends is so much more fun than the standard diets many of us grew up with, and you'll soon discover how easy it is to incorporate essential nutrients into your daily routine. 

Read and learn, be aware, but don’t turn your life into a chore. That’s not what being vegan is about. With a few changes, an increase in knowledge and a whole lot of great food you’ll find that you’re hitting your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) without even trying!


But don't just take it from us--you can get plenty of science-based nutrition advice from registered dieticians here: 

How does your diet compare to The Vegan Plate by dietitians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina? Apart from the fact that it shows only animal-free items, you will notice some differences between this image and the UK’s Eatwell Guide. The Vegan Plate shows that sources of calcium are found in many food groups. It draws attention to the importance of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds in a healthy diet. The Vegan Plate also highlights that it is essential to get enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fat and iodine. You will notice that there is no mention of high fat, high sugar processed foods. There are many vegan items that fall into this group--oreos, anyone?--but they are not an essential part of an animal-free diet. Limiting your intake of processed food will also help you to maximise the quality of your diet.

It is likely you will be better informed about your body, and what it needs to function than ever before. This is something to be excited by, not scared of. Welcome to the world of health, vitality and fun!

 
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PROTEIN

There may be a lot of protein in meat, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist anywhere else. In fact, vegans simply do what cows, pigs, sheep and chickens do; we go to the source – plants. Legumes (beans, peanuts, peas, lentils and soy), seitan and quinoa are the best sources of protein, and you’ll also find it in green vegetables (kale, broccoli, seaweed, peas and spinach), grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa, bulgar) and nuts (brazils, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and walnuts).

It is worth noting that it is high-calorie and high-protein foods that give you that ‘full’ feeling. Simply removing animal products from a standard diet could leave you with mostly low-calorie foods such as salads, vegetables, and fruit. Eating only these foods could quickly leave you feeling hungry and weak. Some people make this mistake and then feel that being vegan is a challenge.

Animal products are generally much higher in fat. Removing these can drastically reduce your fat intake (especially saturated fat), which can be hugely beneficial, especially if you have high cholesterol. Make sure, however, that you are getting adequate plant fats in your diet – these are the good fats and essential for health. Sources of plant fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives.

 
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CALCIUM

Calcium is often thought of as a nutrient that helps to keep your bones and teeth strong. It is also involved in your nervous system, blood clotting and controlling your muscles. In the UK, the recommended intake for adults is 700 milligrams per day. You can get all the calcium you need from a vegan diet.

Vegan-friendly sources of calcium

Calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified milk and yoghurt alternatives and bread fortified with extra calcium are particularly good sources of this nutrient. For example, 400ml of calcium-fortified plant milk – just under two cups – provides roughly two thirds of an adult’s recommended daily intake of calcium, and 100g of calcium-set tofu (uncooked) can provide half of an adult’s daily needs. Other good sources of calcium include kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds.

 
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B12

The biggie! Ensure that you get a reliable source of vitamin B12 through fortified foods (eat at least two a day at different meals) or cyanocobalamin supplements (25-100mcg a day is ideal or 2,500 mcg taken just once a week).

In the UK it is recommended that everyone over the age of 50, regardless of diet, take a daily B12 supplement. So if you’re over 50 then that’s exactly what you should do. You’ll find a range of great, vegan-friendly B12 options online and in shops.

Fortified foods. You’ll hear that a lot. But what does it actually mean? Well in this case, it means that it has B12 added and if you eat these foods regularly, i.e. several times a day, then you may be getting enough B12 to hit your RDA (at least three micrograms per day). If this seems like it might be difficult then take a daily B12 supplement and worry no more.

Examples of some fortified foods are, fortified non-dairy milks and yoghurts, fortified nutritional yeast (known as ‘nooch’ within the vegan community!) and marmite.

As B12 is non-toxic there is no harm in taking higher levels if you choose to.

It is important to note that if you are concerned about your B12 levels, you should get them checked by a medical professional. If you are low in B12, you may have an issue with absorbing it and regardless of how much you have in your diet, medical intervention may be required. This is relevant to everyone, regardless of their current diet.

 
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PHYTONUTRIENTS

Plant foods contain thousands of natural chemicals. These are called phytonutrients or phytochemicals.”Phyto” refers to the Greek word for plant. These chemicals help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats.

Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients. Other plant-based foods also contain phytonutrients, such as:

  • Whole grains

  • Nuts

  • Beans

  • Tea

Phytonutrients aren’t essential for keeping you alive, unlike the vitamins and minerals that plant foods contain. But when you eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and keep your body working properly.

More than 25,000 phytonutrients are found in plant foods. WebMD takes a look at these six important phytonutrients — and their potential health effects:

  • Carotenoids

  • Ellagic acid

  • Flavonoids

  • Resveratrol

  • Glucosinolates

  • Phytoestrogens

Carotenoids

More than 600 carotenoids provide yellow, orange, and red colors in fruits and vegetables.

Carotenoids act as antioxidants in your body. This means they tackle harmful free radicals that damage tissues throughout your body.

The types of carotenoids that may have other health benefits include:

Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Your body can convert all of these to vitamin A. This vitamin helps keep your immune system working properly, and it’s needed for eye health. Yellow and orange foods like pumpkins and carrots are good sources of alpha- and beta-carotene.

 
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VEGAN LIFESTYLE GUIDE

The tips below will help you to get the most out of your vegan lifestyle:

  • Make sure that your diet contains a variety of fruit and vegetables – eat a rainbow!

  • Choose higher fibre starchy foods, such as oats, sweet potato, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice

  • Include good sources of protein in most meals, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soya alternatives to milk and yoghurt, or peanuts

  • Eat nuts and seeds daily, especially those rich in omega-3 fat

  • Eat calcium-rich foods daily, such as calcium-fortified products and calcium-set tofu

  • Ensure that your diet contains a reliable source of vitamin B12 (either fortified foods or a supplement)

  • Ensure that your diet contains a reliable source of iodine (arguably a supplement is the best option)

  • Everyone in UK should consider a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter, and year-round supplementation should be considered by people who do not regularly expose their skin to sunlight, and those with darker skin

  • Use small amounts of spread and oil high in unsaturated fats, such as vegetable (rapeseed) and olive oils

  • Season food with herbs and spices instead of salt

  • Drink about six to eight glasses of water a day

  • Consider a supplement containing long chain omega-3 fats from microalgae, particularly for infants and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Check out our information about vitamins B12 and D, calcium, iron, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fats to make sure that you are getting enough

  • Keep active

  • Maintain a healthy weight, or lose some weight if it is above the healthy range