Mind & Body

Thinking About Going Vegan? Read This First

The vegan movement has transcended buzzword status and is now an increasingly popular dietary option, with initiatives such as Veganuary continuing to drive momentum. Are you considering switching to a vegan diet? We have the lowdown…

Jessica Chastain and Natalie Portman both famously favour a vegan diet

Veganism is gaining serious traction, with the global vegan food market value estimated to reach around $37.45 billion by 2030. Tennis player Venus Williams and stars such as Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Jennifer Lopez, Natalie Portman and Jessica Chastain have shown that a plant-based lifestyle can benefit your health, performance and wellbeing. However, veganism requires cutting out significant food groups and it takes effort to ensure your diet still has all the nutrients you need. Here’s everything you need to know to make the switch…

How to get started

A vegan diet can exacerbate existing health problems such as anemia, so you should speak to a health professional to guide you through the transition. It’s also worth supporting your digestive system with pre- and probiotics, plus lots of water to help it cope with the increase in dietary fiber.

Plan and prepare

The high levels of phylates in seeds (wheat, legumes, chickpeas and so on) reduces iron absorption, so a vegan’s requirements are 1.8 times greater than those of meat-eaters, according to the US National Academy of Medicine. “Certain nutrients in plant-based food can be less bio-available than those in animal products, particularly magnesium, iodine, calcium, iron and zinc, and fat-soluble vitamin A and E. This means their uptake and absorption can be lower, so you may need to supplement,” says Eve Kalinik, a nutritional therapist. “Pulses, legumes and grains – such as protein-rich quinoa and buckwheat – should be properly soaked and rinsed thoroughly in order to remove the substances that may impair the absorption of certain nutrients. Fermenting and sprouting can also help, but not everyone has the time or inclination.”

Beware of hidden dangers

A vegan diet can still consist of processed foods, white carbs and refined sugar. As with any diet, there are also hidden pitfalls in seemingly healthy options. Canned legumes can contain one third of the recommended daily salt intake for adults (simmer them in fresh water for 3-5 minutes to reduce levels by 40 percent), and dairy-milk substitutes can be high in added sugars. Sourcing good-quality, organic plant-based foods is vital for your health, so do your research and always check the labels.

Think about protein

“Getting enough protein is not as difficult as many people think if you’re eating sufficient legumes, pulses and protein-rich foods,” says Kalinik. If you’re regularly working out, vegan-based protein powders can make up the deficit. “Plant-derived pea and hemp proteins are the best wholefood protein sources, but they don’t always contain the full spectrum of amino acids, so look for protein powders hat combine both,” says Charlie Turner, former GB swimmer and co-founder of Neat Nutrition.

Supplement your nutrients

There are no reliable plant-based sources of B12, which naturally occurs in meat and animal by-products (except honey) and is essential for creating healthy DNA and red blood cells, plus keeping your hair thick and healthy. It’s also near-impossible to achieve the recommended levels of the vital omega-3 essential fatty acids found in oily fish. There are three main kinds of omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are shown to have the most health benefits, and plant-based ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The body needs to convert ALA (found in flaxseed and chia) into EPA and DHA. “However, at our most efficient, conversion is only around 5 percent,” says Kalinik, so supplementing is your best bet here.



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