It’s been estimated that over half a million Brits are eating vegan diets, and many more are deciding to consume less animal products. Although switching to a vegan lifestyle is mainly motivated by wanting to avoid harming animals, people are also interested in environmental and health benefits.
All the nutrients without the animal products
Many people grow up thinking that animal products like meat and milk are essential parts of a healthy diet, but in reality we can obtain all the nutrients that we need without them. The Vegan Society works with the British Dietetic Association to share the message that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.
Arguably, getting your nutrients from plant foods allows more room in your diet for health-promoting options like whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables. These foods are packed full of beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Some research has linked vegan diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. You can eat a totally plant-based diet that supports excellent health, whilst helping animals and reducing your environmental footprint.
People are often surprised to find out how easy it is to get enough protein and calcium from a vegan diet. Good sources of protein include legumes (beans, lentils, peas), soya products, peanut butter, cashew nuts, ground linseed and pumpkin seeds. Dairy products can be replaced by plant-based foods that are really rich sources of calcium, such as fortified alternatives to milk and yoghurt, calcium-set tofu and soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium.
It’s important for all of us to eat plenty of iron-rich foods daily. Legumes, soya products, cashew nuts, ground linseed, kale, raisins and fortified breakfast cereals provide good amounts of this nutrient. Absorption can be enhanced by adding a rich source of vitamin C to meals, such as pepper, broccoli, citrus fruit or pineapple.
Avoiding oily fish doesn’t mean that vegans miss out on omega-3 fat. A really rich source should be consumed daily, such as walnuts, ground linseed, chia seeds or hemp seeds.
It’s recommended that all UK residents use a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter, and year-round supplementation is advised for certain groups. Vitamin D3 from lichen and vitamin D2 are animal-free options.
As society strives to shift towards more plant-based diets for health and environmental reasons, it’s the perfect time to embrace vegan food
It’s essential for vegans to obtain vitamin B12 from fortified foods or supplementation. This nutrient is made by micro-organisms, and isn’t produced by plants.
Generally, plant-based foods contain low amounts of iodine and selenium, although it depends on their growing environments. Anyone eating a dairy-free diet should consider iodine supplementation. Vegans can boost their selenium intakes by eating a couple of Brazil nuts daily or using a supplement. The Vegan Society’s VEG 1 supplement contains vitamins B12 and D, iodine and selenium.
Vegans can obtain the long-chain omega-3 fats found in oily fish from a microalgae supplement. We don’t have evidence that this is essential for vegan health, but it’s certainly a more important consideration for pregnancy, breastfeeding and childhood due to the role of omega-3 fats in brain development.
Not just for vegans
As society strives to shift towards more plant-based diets for health and environmental reasons, it’s the perfect time to embrace vegan food. Choosing vegan options can help with limiting saturated fat and boosting intakes of fibre, fruit and vegetables. Businesses can promote good nutrition and sustainability through a strong offering of vegan food.
If you’re keen to find out more about vegan nutrition, a range of resources is available at www.vegansociety.com/nutrition.
Dietitian, The Vegan Society