Veganism and plant-based eating have been on the rise over the past few years and right now it’s hotter than ever.
There are multiple claims plastered all over these diets from environmental benefits, economical benefits and health benefits. If the plant-based diet or vegan lifestyle sounds appealing to you we’re here to guide you on everything you need to know whilst following this way of eating. Considering November has #WorldVeganDay, we thought now was the perfect time to shine some light.
Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between plant-based eating and the vegan diet. Whilst they’re often used interchangeably there are some differences. Both diets are focused around the omission of consuming animal products or animal derived foods (e.g. dairy, honey and eggs etc) yet they do differ. A vegan diet is heavily focused on the removal of animal foods yet it can include highly processed alternatives. Veganism is also often more of a lifestyle choice where-by the values are carried through when it comes to clothing, accessories and beauty products too. A plant-based diet emphasises the importance of eating wholefoods which are derived from plants. Examples of these foods include: beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.
There are many health benefits of eating more of a plant-based diet, namely increased fibre intake, increased phytochemicals (chemicals found naturally in plants) and increased dietary diversity although there are also risks of nutrient deficiencies associated with this way of eating. Let us explain…
We’ve outlined some key nutrients which pose risk of deficiency and how you can minimise your risk below…
You’ll likely be aware that calcium is vital for bone health. Around 99% of our calcium is stored in our bones with 1% in the blood. Deficiency can sometimes be challenging to identify though as when calcium in the blood drops it draws calcium from the bone. Therefore, it’s important to stay on top of your calcium intakes in order to prevent long term damage to your bones. Calcium is usually found in dairy and so following a plant-based diet can pose deficiency risk. Plant-based sources include: tofu, nuts, green leafy vegetables and seeds. We recommend ensuring that your plant-milks are fortified too.
Vitamin D is vital for bone health and mood. It also plays an important role in helping with the absorption of calcium. You’ll be pleased to know that this nutrient risk is not limited to individuals on a plant-based or vegan diet. Vitamin D is difficult to get from the diet as dietary sources are limited to: eggs, milk, salmon and mushrooms. Consequently, we rely on the sun which stimulates the skin to synthesise vitamin D. As sun exposure is limited in the UK during the winter months it’s recommended to supplement with 10ųg.d and ensure your plant milks are fortified with this too.
Animal sources and plant sources of iron are often compared as being on par with each other. Although, what’s missed is that iron from animal sources (aka haem iron) is significantly more bioavailable than the iron from plant sources (aka non-haem iron). This means that more of the iron can be absorbed and utilised from animal sources than plant sources. As a result. you just need to be a little smarter when it comes to consuming plant sources. Try adding a source of vitamin C to your plant sources in order to increase the absorption. For example, squeeze lemon juice onto your greens. Other plant sources of iron include: nuts, seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables.
This is a nutrient which isn’t spoken about as much although is very important in maintaining a healthy thyroid function. It’s usually found in dairy products and white fish but can also be found in seaweed (in very high quantities so eat in moderation), potatoes and prunes. Avoid supplementing with kelp as the iron levels are so high it poses a risk of toxicity.
This nutrient is predominantly found in its active forms (EPA and DHA) in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring- remember SMASH). You can also find omega-3 in its inactive form (ALA) in plant foods such as hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds. ALA needs to be converted into DHA and EPA before it can be used, this leads to much of the ALA getting lost in translation. As a result, it’s recommended to consume a source of omega-3 most days. E.g. add some flax into your porridge or try our hemp and banana pancakes.
This nutrient gets the most coverage when it comes to discussing a plant-based diet. B12 is vital for energy production. As B12 is mainly found in animal products and is limited in plant sources it’s recommended to supplement daily. Please speak to your health care provider though as medications and supplements can sometimes interact. Additionally, fortified milks, fortified yeast spreads and nutritional yeast are good sources of vitamin B12 too.
There you have the low down on the key nutrients to be aware of when following a plant based or vegan diet. Please monitor how you’re feeling (and don’t just go along with it because someone else told you too). We also recommend that you get your bloods done regularly to ensure you’re not deficient in any nutrients.