Whether you’re giving up animal products for the sake of your health, the planet, or ethical reasons, going vegan will take a bit of planning. Nutritionist Kathleen Alleaume has the guide to ensure you get the balance right.
What is veganism?
Vegan diets (or veganism) are a type of vegetarian diet where only plant-based foods are eaten, while all forms of animals, including red meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, dairy and honey are excluded. Typical vegan foods include:
- Soy (tofu, tempeh)
- Milk alternatives (fortified): soy, almond, cashew rice, coconut, macadamia, oat
- Yogurt alternatives: coconut, almond
- Wholegrains bread and cereals (brown rice, quinoa, teff, freekeh, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, spelt, rolled oats)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes/pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas)
- Nuts, nut butters, nut-based oil, avocado oil, olive oil
- Seeds (hemp, chia, flaxseeds, pepita, sunflower, sesame)
Health benefits of veganism
When planned carefully, switching to a plant-based diet may result in various health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved blood sugar control and increased longevity. Why? Plant‐based diets tend to have higher levels of heart-healthy fats, less refined carbohydrates and added sugar, and are rich in fibre and antioxidants.
On the same token, a diet based exclusively on plant foods may also increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies. If not balanced correctly, vegan diets may be lacking in certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, omega-3’s, iodine and calcium.
What about protein?
A common myth is that it’s difficult to get protein from plant foods. In reality, plants can provide all the essential building blocks (aka amino acids) provided you consume a wide variety. In fact, health surveys show that Aussies are consuming more than enough protein, so a protein deficiency is highly unlikely in the western world. Good plant-based sources include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya products, nut butter, nuts and seeds. Wholegrains, such as whole wheat, rolled oats, brown rice and quinoa also nutritious sources of protein.
Try these delicious plant-based recipes to get started:
Take it slow
Rather than go cold-turkey, start by incorporating one meat-free meal a week and gradually work towards an entire meat-free day. Each week gradually build by incorporating plant-based substitutes of your favourite food, such as swapping milky coffee to an almond latte or try a plant-based patty when your next burger craving hits.
Focus on wholefoods
There are plenty of unhealthy vegan ‘junk foods’ as many processed foods and snacks labelled ‘vegan-friendly’ are packed with additives, fillers and added sugar. Always read the label. Be careful not to overload on too many refined starches — going vegan is not a license to load up on pastries, white pasta, fries, bagels or Turkish bread. Focus on wholesome foods to give your body the vital nutrients and antioxidants it needs.
Forget the labels
Getting caught up in the diet labels or moralising food can have damaging effects on our mental space and body image. Instead, make conscious choices and eat what feels right for you. If you’re finding a vegan lifestyle too strict and limiting, don’t beat yourself for slipping up. In my opinion, a ‘flexitarian’ approach — i.e. eating plant-based most of the time and occasionally including a steak or a piece of fish once or twice a week may be the most realistic diet to adopt and stick with!
This article originally appeared on Fitness First.