VEGANISM: MORE THAN JUST A WAY OF NUTRITION
Everywhere you go products are labeled vegan and people tend to buy vegan products more than ever before. No matter if cosmetics, precooked meals or single ingredient foods. ‘Vegan’ is a label that is connected to health.
But is a vegan diet really healthy? Which health benefits can you expect from going vegan and what does it mean to go vegan? In this article we will explain the ups and downs of a vegan lifestyle. And we chose the word ‘lifestyle’ on purpose because going vegan is much more than just changing your diet.
‘Vegan’ means a person who does not eat or use any animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or leather. And here is where the word lifestyle comes into practice. Not using any animal products can be challenging, especially when it comes to clothes or cosmetics.
Another reason why many people consider a vegan lifestyle is because of climate and environmental issues. The world population increases dramatically. Some research says that by 2050 we might not be able to produce enough protein to feed the world.
That said, industrial farming has been blamed to be one of the main problems causing global warming. A cow does on overage release between 70 and 120 kg of Methane per year. Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide (CO2). But the negative effect on the climate of Methane is 23 times higher than the effect of CO2.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide (this is more than the whole transportation sector).
Anyone of us should consider eating less meat and dairy products to reduce their personal carbon footprint and to generally reduce our personal negative impact on the environment.
If you do not only want to reduce your meat and dairy intake but totally ban animal products from your daily meal plan read on to know how.
So as we just mentioned vegan diets strictly consist of products from plant based sources such as vegetables, fruits, cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds.
To start a vegan diet you have to ban all animal products from your fridge and your pantry. These include butter, milk, yogurts and of course meat, eggs and fish.
If you want to go vegan the most important point to start with is your attitude. Instead of looking for replacements you should open your mind for new foods or food combinations you may haven’t tried until now. A healthy vegan diet should not consist of vegan cheese and burgers. Why would you want to eat a burger if you decided to go vegan? It’s just what you don’t want to eat anymore.
The reason why we wouldn’t recommend these types of foods is because they are often not the healthiest option. They come with a long ingredient list which doesn’t only include healthy things. Sometimes just the opposite.
We already mentioned the food groups that are the major part of a vegan diet and those are your ingredients from now on. Mother Nature offers a huge variety of fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds you can choose from.
One important point when going vegan is to fulfill your nutritional needs. This can be challenging in terms of certain nutrients we will go through now:
- Protein: our main protein sources are animal products such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Fortunately there is a load of vegan protein available as well. The downside of vegan protein is the amino acid profile. A lot of plant based proteins do not offer all of the amino acids our body needs to build up protein, yet there are some that do. The best plant based protein sources regarding their amino acid profile are:
- Soy protein isolate
- Pea protein concentrate
- Cooked oats
- Cooked kidney beans
- Cooked rice
➜ One word about soy: soy isn’t the best choice in terms of health and environment. Certain ingredients of soy can mess with your hormones and the production of soy isn’t very sustainable for our environment either. Despite the favorable protein composition you should rather choose one of the other options mentioned above.
- Calcium: the best calcium sources by far are dairy products. They do not only contain the highest amount of calcium but it is also best absorbed by the human body. Anyway, there are many good plant-based sources for calcium. The best ones are:
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale or Swiss chard
- Black beans
➜ Another very good way to fit your calcium needs are fortified products like plant milks and fruit juices.
- Iron: there are two different types of iron, called haem and non-haem iron. Latter one can be found in plant based products. The problem is again absorption. Non-haem iron can not be absorbed by the body in the same way haem iron from animal sources can be. The best plant based sources for iron are:
- Cashew nuts
- Chia seeds
➜ Vitamin C increases iron absorption. Combine your intake of iron rich foods with foods high in Vitamin-C such as red bell peppers or orange juice.
- Vitamin B12: : this is where vegans can get into trouble. Despite many myths out there, there is no way to get absorbable vitamin B12 from plant based sources. It has to be supplemented (1mg Vitamin B12/day) otherwise you take the risk of deficiency deficiency which can cause fatigue, nerve damage, digestive issues and neurological problems like depression and memory loss.
If a vegan diet is healthier or not really depends on your choices. Stuffing yourself with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds will definitely come with an array of benefits like lower cholesterol levels, a lower risk of heart disease or even help with weight loss.
From the point of view of a nutritionist there are some really important nutrients that can’t be found in vegan diets. One of them are Omega 3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been shown to be the most beneficial types of omega 3 fatty acids. They are anti-inflammatory, heart protective and play an important role for a healthy brain.
There are plant based sources rich in omega 3 like walnuts or chia seeds but they come with a downside. Other than omega 3s from fatty fish, which are rich in ready to absorb EPA and DHA, the omega 3s from plant based sources still have to be transformed to EPA and DHA. This is a process, the body isn’t very efficient in. Only about 5% of plant based omega 3 is transformed to EPA and DHA. So you might consider supplementing these nutrients as a vegan.
Even though vegan food seems to be everywhere it may be challenging to find healthy options when eating out or even more when traveling. Many vegans find themselves eating bread or potatoes in a restaurant because of the lack of vegan options.
Another problem may arise when people are not a lot into cooking or when they do not have a lot of imagination on how to put ingredients together for a healthy meal. Especially young people who did not cook for themselves in their life find themselves eating crisps or sweet stuff which are not the healthiest choices.
Having these 10 foods in your pantry will always help you to put something healthy and vegan together:
- Vegan protein powders: as we already mentioned at the beginning protein may be the macronutrient where healthy amounts are most difficult to achieve. 1 scoop of vegan pea protein powder comes with 20g of complete protein your body can use to fulfill the daily requirements. Check out OkamiBio Vegan Protein Powders
- Chickpeas: either canned or raw ones. Chickpeas are not only super healthy but also super versatile. They can be used to make a salad, a stew with other veggies or roasted chickpeas as a snack.
- Frozen vegetables: frozen vegetables contain the same amount of nutrients like fresh ones do. Spinach, mushrooms, artichokes, eggplant or whatever you fancy can easily be put together to a veggie stir fry ready to eat in 5 minutes.
- Vegan dark chocolate: dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, the higher the percentage of cacao, the better. 99% dark chocolate is almost always vegan, just be sure to check the ingredients or the label. Once you get used to the bitter taste you’ll never want a different one anymore.
- Plant milk: no matter if coconut, oat or almond milk. These drinks are perfect to be used in coffee, for a chia pudding or in your morning oats. Also be sure to check the ingredients. Some are really high in sugar or come with a huge ingredient list. As they are super modern you’ll always find those without sugar added.
- Nuts: healthy, nourishing and tasty. Nuts and seeds are the number one ingredient in vegan kitchens. You can make sauces with cashews and oat milk, use them as a snack or toss over your salad. No matter which nuts you fancy, they are all great. The best option is to choose them natural without salt added.
- Grains: whole grains are a must in a vegan kitchen. Oats, whole grain pasta, bread and brown rice should be the main ingredients of your meals. They come with a lot of health benefits and will provide your body with energy.
- Vegetable broth: No matter if you use it for soups, sauces or just to drink a glass of warm vegetable broth when hunger comes up.
- Nutritional yeast: worried if you’ll be able to eat pasta without Parmesan cheese? Here you have the solution. Nutritional yeast will perfectly do the job. It is high in B-Vitamins, low in fat and like that the healthiest and apart from that the most delicious replacement for Parmesan cheese.
- Dried fruits: Dates, dried apricots or banana crisps are not only great for snacking, but they can add unexpected and delicious flavor to salads, roasted vegetables or your morning oats.
Veganism is more than just a diet. It’s a lifestyle and in this article we were just talking about the food part. There are more and more people adopting this lifestyle nowadays for whatever motivation behind. Like any restrictive diet it is important to eat balanced and healthy to nourish your body with all the nutrients required.
Even if there are still discussions about the role industrial farming plays on global warming, it is clear that it does play a role. Our planet would benefit a lot from us being more mindful with our food choices.
Cutting down our meat consumption and choosing plant based foods more often would already make a notable difference. There is more awareness amongst health conscious and young people, which is amazing. Remember: how many people are necessary to change the world? 1. YOU.