By Grant J Everett
A while back New Outlook celebrated the advantages of eating a plant-based diet, and dietician Candace ran a healthy eating group to teach us the health benefits of veganism. Candace informed us that the average vegan has a lower cholesterol level, Body Mass Index, a lower risk of cancer, and a lower risk of Type-2 diabetes than the average person who consumes animal products. With such appealing bonuses on offer, we thought it was worthwhile to have a look at what a vegan diet has to offer.
Sadia, a Dietician from the Pick Up Limes vegan website, said that while becoming a vegan requires some knowledge and planning, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In order to be sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs, one of Sadia’s tips is to choose “fortified” vegan foods. Fortified foods are supercharged with essential nutrients like Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, fibre, calcium, protein and Omega-3 fats. Vegans also need to consume twice as much iron, as plant-based sources of iron aren’t absorbed by the body as easily as the iron from meat. Pulses (like beans and lentils) are a vital source of protein and carbs, though Sadia advises newcomers to start off slowly, as pulses tend to cause indigestion and flatulence if you aren’t used to them. Her video “Beginner’s Guide to Veganism – How to go Vegan” is one of dozens on the Pick Up Limes website, and can tell a newbie everything they need to know.
Stocking your fridge and pantry
What kind of things do you need for a vegan pantry? For starters, Sadia says that fresh produce, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, lentils and tofu are pretty much essential. But don’t forget the herbs and spices, because knowing how to season food is the key to creating amazing meals. The right combination of flavourings like salt, pepper, curry powder, rosemary, thyme, oregano, dill, chives, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, and parsley are all great, depending on your personal tastes.
Love eating meat, but are ethically bothered by it? Mock-meat (textured vegetable protein) is available as faux chicken, mince, meatballs, burgers, hotdogs and more. These meat substitutes can ease the transition to a vegan diet. Note that meat, dairy and eggs are all very calorie rich, whereas plant-based foods aren’t. So a cup of mince will be more filling than a cup of carrot.
Having plenty of choice
Do you think “plant-based diet” means “missing out” on tasty things? There are actually lots of vegan-friendly options in supermarkets now, and plant-based chocolate, lollies, bags of chips and ice creams are getting more commonplace. Some takeaway chains (like Soul Burger and Lord of the Fries) specialise in vegetarian and vegan options, but most fast food places have at least a few vegan options: McDonalds, Dominoes, Oportos, Guzman Y Gomez, Subway…the list goes on. You can even get vegan frozen yoghurt from Yogurtland.
Eat all these in moderation, of course! Just because something is vegan doesn’t automatically make it healthy.
Worried you’ll have to give up baking? You can still make everything from banana bread to blueberry muffins to mudcake without any animal products. Vegan versions of your favourite recipes are only a few clicks away on Google! Pinterest and Youtube, for instance, are loaded with cooking videos of every vegan dish imaginable. Remember that “vegan” doesn’t mean you have to be gluten free, sugar free, fat free, or anything else: it just means no animal products.
Switching to milk substitutes like soy, almond, rice or coconut milk means you can still have your morning cappuccino. Like cow’s milk, these plant-based drinks provide calcium, protein and other goodies.
Hidden in plain view
Many foods and products contain unexpected animal content. For instance, gelatin is derived from the boiled-down skin and bones of animals, meaning that many lollies and jellies contain cow or pig. Also, the “carmine” colour used in many red foods is made from a type of crushed up beetle, and some medications contain things like lactose, fish oil, blood, shellfish, lanolin (from sheep’s wool), cartilage, intestines, and even pregnant mare’s urine. Your GP or pharmacist can tell you more.
Sadia encourages new vegans not to pressure themselves. Take the transition at your own pace. You could even step down to a vegetarian diet first, then see how you go. Like any lifestyle change, a vegan diet gets easier and more natural with time.
To maximise your chances of success, ask yourself: Why do I want to do this? Is it for health reasons, environmental reasons, or for the sake of animal welfare? This can help strengthen your resolve.
Always consult your health specialist before making any changes to your diet, lifestyle or exercise routine.
“Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition”, by Brenda Davis RD and Vesanto Melina
“Beginner’s Guide to Veganism – How to go Vegan”, by Sadia
Want to know about animal products in pharmaceuticals?