With the rising awareness of “Veganuary”, and the movement in vegan eating, it’s timely for experts to share their knowledge on how to make a vegan diet balanced and nutritious. So here are my top tips.
Well-planned vegan diets can be good for your health. A diet that’s primarily based on plant foods has been shown to have numerous health advantages, such as helping to reduce rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and some cancers. But simply changing to plant-based milks and avoiding meat and animal-derived products won’t necessarily bring you the health benefits. To be sure you’re getting the right mix of quality proteins, and the full range of essential nutrients, your vegan diet does need to be well designed and thought-through.
Five top tips
- In some cases, people who choose vegan diets may have low stores of iron, because this mineral may be less bioavailable in vegan eating. Accompany your meal with a source of vitamin C (e.g. small glass of fruit juice, side salad, piece of fruit) to increase iron absorption. And avoid drinking tea with meals as this can reduce iron absorption.
- Vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal origin. Regularly choose foods that have added B12, such as a fortified breakfast cereal or yeast extract (eg Marmite), or take an appropriate vegan supplement.
- Vegan diets can be lower in calcium than diets that include dairy foods. Although dark green leafy vegetables contain calcium, you’d need to eat four bowls of spring greens to get the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk! Check the label and choose milk alternatives that have been fortified with calcium, and ideally vitamin D too.
- A vegan diet is typically rich in fibre, which is great news! Make sure you have enough water, as fibre needs fluid to work.
- You need good-quality vegetable protein daily – and make sure you have a variety of different types throughout the day so you get the best mix of amino acids (building blocks of protein). Choose foods such as beans, nuts, lentils, soy/tofu, sweetcorn, peas, chick peas, kidney beans and cereals. Include at least one of these in every meal.
Want more? Join me and the RDUK team as we dedicate tonight’s RDUK Professional Twitter chat to #Veganuary. See http://www.rdukchat.com/chats/
Craig WJ. Health effects of vegan diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1627S-1633S.