There are now over 3.5 million vegans in the UK, which is 7% of the population, and with 1 in 10 UK adults thinking about going vegan in 2018 this number is set to go even higher. The reasons consumers cited for becoming a vegan was:
- Animal Welfare
While animal welfare and the environmental issues facing the planet are very important reasons for going vegan, we shouldn’t downplay the health aspects of a vegan diet. Eating a vegan diet has been proven to have a wide range of benefits to our health and can improve our longevity and wellbeing as we age. With a huge 185% increase in vegan products launched to the UK market in the last few years, we now have an amazing array of vegan foods available to us like nothing before. These foods are great to have on hand and great to have every now and again, but we should also remember to keep the wholefoods diet in mind when thinking and planning what we are going to eat.
As vegans we have all heard the same questions and misconceptions, ‘Where do you get your calcium from?’ or ‘Does that mean you are anaemic?’ There are a lot of mixed messages out there, so whether you are interested in becoming vegan or just wanting to brush up on your knowledge of optimal vegan nutrition, we hope to be able to give you informative and impartial information to help you debunk these myths and show you that you can get all of these six essential nutrients and much more from plants, it just takes a little planning.
- VITAMIN B12
Vitamin B12 is one of the greatest concerns for vegans as it is only naturally found in animals, and not getting enough B12 can cause serious damage to your body. At the lower end of the spectrum low B12 levels can cause weakness and fatigue, and in the long term it can have an affect on your balance and cause a decline in your brain function resulting in mental health issues such as depression. The easiest way to know that you are getting enough of this vitamin is to take a supplement, though you may not want to take supplements and prefer to get your vitamins from your food, doctors actually recommend that everyone over 50 take a B12 supplement as it gets harder for our bodies to absorb. Plant based milks and vegan cereals are often fortified with B12 too adding an extra dose of the vitamin. Nutritional yeast is also a good source of Vitamin B12 and is great for an alternative to cheese.
- VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is an important vitamin to help keep our bones and muscles healthy, and to prevent future health issues such as osteoporosis. It is also important for pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding, to help with the growth of their babies and children. The most natural way to get your source of vitamin D is to spend short periods everyday exposing your skin to the sunlight, mainly between 11am-3pm if possible, though do be sure not to spend too long out in case you burn. If you pregnant or breastfeeding it is advisable to take a supplement as it is very important that you keep your levels up for both you and your baby. Though always do your research, as not all supplements are vegan friendly. While there are some fortified vitamin D foods and drinks such as orange juice, always make sure they are labeled as vegan as some of the sources can often be from sheep wool or fish oil. Specialist mushrooms do have a high vitamin D amount, with Chanterelle mushrooms containing 30% of your RDA of vitamin D, and they are easily accessible and available to get from most supermarkets. Maitake mushrooms contain an amazing 157% of your RDA, but these are a little harder to get hold of, and usually come frozen or dried depending on the season.
- OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega 3 Fatty Acids (ALA) are important fats that can help reduce inflammation, improve the immune system, the brain and the eyes, and even reduce dementia. EPA & DHA is an important part of our health but this is mainly found in fish and fish oils. There’s good news though, our bodies can naturally convert ALA into EPA & DHA, if we eat enough of it and many sources recommend eating double of the recommended intake to make sure this process works. Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids include Chia Seeds (28g) providing around 300-400% of the RDA, Walnuts (28g) providing around 150-200% of the RDA and Hemp seeds (28g) providing between 350-550% of RDA. There are also DHA & EPA rich algae oil supplements on the market, which are vegan, and though research is still new, they have been found to be as effective as the DHA & EPA found in fish.
Iron is an essential nutrient for the growth of your body, circulating oxygen to your organs and preventing cognitive problems such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Iron is split between types, Heme Iron and Non Heme Iron; Heme Iron only exists in animal products or animal based supplements and Non Heme Iron is found in plant foods such as green leafy vegetables, beans and nuts. While there are concerns that non heme iron is less absorbable than heme iron, thus at an increase of issues like anemia, there are many more concerns when it comes to heme iron with health issues such as stroke, coronary heart disease and several types of cancer, associated with a higher intake of heme iron. While the slower rate of absorption presents an issue with non heme iron, it actually counteracts the problem that many can have with iron, in that when you eat too much iron in one go, you can get iron toxicity. This can start off as nausea, vomiting and stomach pain, but can go on to much more serious issues such as liver and brain damage. The slower rate of absorption of non heme iron means you can eat more iron rich foods without fear of iron overload. Foods rich in non heme iron include tofu, soybeans, lentils and seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseeds. Dark chocolate is also an excellent source of iron and a tasty treat too.
When you give up dairy the first question you may have been asked is ‘where will you get your calcium from?’ Did you know that there are lots of plant-based foods that are actually higher in calcium than milk, and much better absorbed by the body? Calcium is an important nutrient helping to strengthen our bones, keep our blood pressure in the normal range and prevent problems such as osteoporosis. If you are not consuming sufficient calcium through your diet, your body will extract the calcium it needs from your bone tissue, accelerating bone loss, which is a scary thought. The recommended daily allowance for normal adults is around 1000mg and this goes up as we age. There is an abundance of plant-based foods that contain calcium and some of them just might surprise you. Hemp milk contains the same amount of calcium as dairy milk, making it a great substitute for your breakfast. Two tablespoons of almond butter contains around 111mg of calcium (over 10% of your RDA) and kale and other greens, such as collard or turnip greens contain 10% of your RDA per one cup serving.
Iodine is a very common nutrient deficiency and one in which vegans are at a higher risk of being deficient in. It’s not one of the more common deficiencies that is talked about but nevertheless is still very important. Iodine helps to keep our thyroid hormones in check and can help to keep your metabolism in balance. It is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, because it is essential for a child’s growth and development, to keep you and your baby healthy. It is important to get the right balance though as it can be dangerous if used too little or too much. Iodine can be found in vegetables; grains and cereals, however this depends on where they are grown, and can vary dramatically between each product. The most efficient way to get Iodine is through sea vegetables or seaweed such as kelp, though as marine pollution increases, there are risks depending on where they are sourced.