Interest in veganism is at an all-time high. Celebrities such as Will. I. Am, Madonna and Moby are all on the long list of vegan celebrities, helping to cement the fact that “vegan” is no longer just a buzzword. Whether you’re thinking of going vegan for health, ethical or environmental reasons our biomedical scientist and health specialist, Leanne Edermaniger, has five things you should know before you begin.
1. You Don’t Have to Go Vegan Right Away
You should aim to transition over time rather than going completely vegan overnight. Research has shown that individuals who transition over a longer period are more likely to stick to the diet.
You can start by adding more plant-based foods to your diet and cutting back on animal-based foods, particularly processed and refined varieties. Set yourself a goal and work towards achieving it at your own pace. Going vegan is a change to your lifestyle and it will take time to get used to as well as working out what suits you best.
Another way to introduce veganism into your diet is by introducing one vegan meal into your diet every day. Perhaps having a vegan breakfast every day for one week, then adding a vegan dinner the next week and so on until your diet is 100% vegan.
Becoming vegan is possibly easier than ever before as there are plant-based alternatives available for most foods, so you don’t necessarily have to give up the things you love most.
2. You Might Need to Take Supplements
If you eat the right foods, a vegan diet should provide your body with all the nutrients it requires. However, without adequate planning, you may miss the nutrients you need and may require supplements instead. Vegans need to ensure they are getting enough calcium and vitamin B12 in their diet. Many foods are now fortified with these vitamins and minerals, but they also naturally occur in certain foods too.
If you are thinking of becoming vegan, you should plan to regularly consume foods which contain vitamin B12. Fortified foods, including certain breakfast cereals, soy and rice drinks, are readily available as are daily supplements. Interestingly, foods such as green leafy vegetables and seaweed do not contain significant amounts of active vitamin B12 and so can’t be regarded as reliable sources.
Dairy products are a major source of calcium in the diet, however, the vegan diet eliminates all animal-based foods, so if you’re thinking of becoming vegan you will need to get your calcium from elsewhere. Calcium naturally occurs in green leafy vegetables, tofu and tahini, but is also fortified in some soy and rice drinks, orange juice and ready-to-eat cereals. Therefore, if you’re thinking of going vegan, try incorporating these foods into your daily diet.
One study found that vegans who ate at least 525 milligrams of calcium every day were at no greater risk of bone fractures than meat or fish eaters. Some calcium-rich foods include kale, bok choy and almonds.
Humans can naturally synthesise vitamin D in their skin from natural sunlight. Therefore, in the winter when the sun can be harder to come by, getting adequate vitamin D can be a challenge.
Topping up your vitamin D can be done simply by eating vitamin D fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, orange juice or soy milk. However, it may be more beneficial to take a daily vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is also essential for your calcium levels too as it helps the body to absorb calcium.
3. You’ll Need to Find New Protein Sources
Meat is a major source of protein, so if you’re thinking of following a vegan diet you will, of course, need to find new protein sources. Proteins are known as the building blocks of life. Proteins are broken down into amino acids which help cell growth and repair. Good sources of vegan protein include lentils, natural soy and quinoa. You should try to incorporate protein into every meal where possible.
4. Get to Know Your Food Labels
If you want to be vegan, you need to read food labels. Just because something might not be obviously vegan, it doesn’t mean it’s not. Look for ingredients such as cochineal (derived from beetles), suet, gelatine or tallow (all derived from meat) or casein and whey which both come from milk.
There are support groups and resources available which can help you to identify non-vegan ingredients. You may find some foods like cereal bars or bread are not suitable for vegans because they contain some of these ingredients.
5. You Can Still Eat Out
Most food establishments now have their own vegan menus or vegan alternatives, so there is no reason to not eat out. There are even vegan restaurants popping up, too, so why not share your vegan experience with friends and family?
You can find Leanne at her blog https://scienceled.wordpress.com
References Appleby, P., Roddam, A., Allen, N and Key, T. (2007). Comparative Fracture Risk in Vegetarians and Nonvegetarians in EPIC-Oxford. Eur J Clin Nutr: 61(12), pp 1400-1406. Craig, W, J. (2009). Health Effects of Vegan Diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: 89(5), pp 1627S-1633S.