How To Get The Most From A Vegan Lifestyle

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Celebrated nutritionist and friend of SORTED, Jane Clarke is here to shed some light on some of the trends and misconceptions around food! To find out more about Jane and her amazing work check out her GRILLED article here

I can completely empathise with the reasons why people choose to become vegans, which often is a moral decision. For others, it’s about wanting to eat more healthily. Whatever the motivation, the choice to avoid all animal products should be an informed one, as following such a restricted diet can make it tricky to get right.

The pros: just think of all those delicious vegan dishes, like Asian lentil and vegetable curries, and Middle Eastern delicacies such as hummus and baba ganoush. A vegan diet can also be wonderfully rich in fruits and vegetables, meaning vegans rarely suffer from vitamin C or fibre deficiencies. The gut can feel amazing and those five or more portions of fruit and veg a day mean sky-high levels of antioxidants (which help protect your body and fight diseases such as cancer, diabetes and ageing).

The cons: I often see vegans in my practice who aren’t receiving the correct balance of nutrients and whose health is starting to suffer as a result. With a vegan diet, you may also struggle to keep enough weight on or, if you’re overloading on energy-dense foods, you can find weight creeping on. Insufficient calcium (found in dairy foods) and vitamin D (in oily fish and meat) may cause poor mineral density in bones, while a low intake of B12 (high in animal foods) can cause anaemia. This is the negative side of being a vegan who doesn’t eat enough of the correct nourishing foods.

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Even if you don’t want to follow a vegan diet all of the time, there are so many delicious vegan dishes to enjoy that at the same time provide your body with a wonderful boost of seasonal, vegetable, grain and fruit based produce.

Here are some simple pointers to help you get it right.

PROTEIN

How to give your body enough protein should be one of your primary concerns.

– Eat plenty of pulses (beans, lentils and chickpeas, of which hummus is a deliciously rich source), tofu and other soya proteins, TVP (textured vegetable protein), pasta and dishes that contain grains like wheat, barley, millet, quinoa, couscous and bulgur wheat.

– Have lots of seeds (such as linseeds), nuts and plant oils (such as rapeseed oil, avocado oil, which I love to drizzle on salads) for their beneficial omega oils.

– Snack on dried fruits mixed with seeds (which I like roasted), especially pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, sprinkled with a little sea salt.

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VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Calcium

– To ensure that your diet is rich in calcium, include fortified soya milk, white bread (which is baked with calcium-enriched flour), baked beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts, tofu, pulses, dried and fresh figs and cereals, such as oat-based muesli.

Vitamin B12

– Vitamin B12 is most concentrated in animal products but you can derive small quantities from fortified soya milk, bread and cereals, as well as such specialist products such as Vecon concentrated vegetable stock.

– A vegan diet may be particularly lacking in riboflavin, so focus on eating foods that contain this B-complex vitamin. Marmite, Vecon, fortified cereals and soya milk are all good sources.

– You may want to take a vitamin B-complex supplement to be sure you’re getting enough.

Vitamin D

– The skin generates most of the body’s vitamin D through exposure to the sun, but it’s crucial to compensate during the autumn and winter by boosting your intake of fortified soya milk, cereals and vegetable margarine.

– You may also consider taking a vegan vitamin D supplement.

Selenium

– A selenium deficiency can be a problem for many vegans, so tuck into sunflower seeds, lentils, Brazil and cashew nuts, whole grain bread and cereals.

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WEIGHT

– If you’re having difficulty keeping your weight up, increase your intake of nuts, oils and naturally good sweet foods such as homemade oat biscuits made with fruit-based sugars and nut butter.

– Instead of wholemeal, opt for white pasta, rice and bread (a sourdough or similar slow-fermentation bread with nuts or seeds in), as you can eat more of these before feeling full. It might sound strange to be saying go for the good white carbs, but this is especially wise if you have a poor appetite or are struggling to eat enough to maintain your strength. See my website for more information on how to tackle a poor appetite.

– Take sips of water at mealtimes rather than glugging it down, which tends to fill up your stomach at the expense of nutrient-rich foods.

– Snack on bananas and avocados, which provide more energy than most other fruits; hummus and vegan dips (like my recipe for broad bean and pistachio hummus), which are rich in beneficial oils; and high-calorie, sugary foods like milk-free plain chocolate (as if you needed an excuse!)

– If weight gain is a problem, simply cut down on the foods mentioned above and ensure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to lighten the calorie load of your diet.

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3 VEGAN FOOD TRAPS

1. Many sweet and set products, such as mousses and set yoghurts, contain gelatine, which is usually made from animal bones.

2. Bottled sauces, like Worcester Sauce, may have anchovies as an ingredient.

3. Stock cubes (apart from the vegetable-based varieties) generally contain animal products.

Jane is one of the UK’s most trusted dietitians and nutritionists. To find out more about here amazing work check out her website which is full of great advice and healthy recipes!  To continue the conversation head to Jane’s Instagram!

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