The basis of a healthy nutritious diet is providing the body with balanced macro and micronutrients. Whenever we take a food group out of our diet we need to ensure that there are no deficiencies.
The body needs, an energy source to function well. It also needs adequate protein to repair and build itself on an ongoing basis. We know animal protein is well absorbed by the body human body. Humans for centuries have adopted a carnivore diet where both plant-based foods and animal-based foods are eaten and processed successfully to extract nutrients. there some cultures that restrict certain foods on a religious basis.
The vegan diet has found big followers and many people are choosing to try or adopt a vegan diet and vegan style of living where all animal products are excluded.
When done carefully a vegan diet is a nourishing diet. Including a variety of fruit and vegetables, grains, beans, lentils nuts and seeds ensure the gut microbiota is well fed and this results in health benefits to the person.
It may have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. Vegan foods are nutrient-dense and proper food preparations techniques can ensure optimum nutrient intake.
It may have a cardiovascular protective effect. As a vegan diet is naturally low in saturated fats this may benefit the body and provide protection.
Vegan foods are naturally low in calories compared to animal food and this may have a positive effect on weight management.
Ensure adequate protein. Ensure you give your body all the amino acids it needs to build protein for essential functions. A good way to eat is to combine grains with pulses and including plant foods that contain complete protein sources. These foods are soya and soya-based products such as you, tempeh and other soya products. Add shelled hemp seeds and quinoa to your diet. These foods also have remarkable protein content.
Lysine is considered a limiting amino acid in a vegan diet. Good sources of lysine are soya, lentils, and other legumes. Also quinoa, Amarnath, pistachios and pumpkins seeds are good sources.
Combine mushrooms with vegetables to ensure complete protein in your diet.
Stir-fried vegetables with mushrooms and noodles
Spinach and mushroom pasta
Other rich sources of plant protein on a vegan diet are nuts and nut butters and seeds such as chia seeds and hemp seeds, beans and pulses. Combine beans and lentils with a grain source such as:
Baked beans on sourdough toast
Chickpea curry and brown rice
Combine a variety of foods and eat the rainbow. For optimal nutrients choose foods from different species and colours. Experiment with different spices and herbs, new fruits and vegetables.
Essential Fats: Essential fats as the name suggest essential to the body. We can not make these fats in our body therefore we need to take in adequate amounts by our diet or we need to take a supplement. These fats are Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fats. Especially omega 3 is important here. Omega 3 is found in abundance in fatty cold-water fish it has great anti-inflammatory properties and together with omega 6 it is essential for a healthy cell function. Vegan sources of good omega 3 and 6 are flax seeds, hemp seeds and algae oil in supplement form. The omega 3 fats need to convert to EPA and DHA further in the body to be effective. This conversion is limited by various factors including genetics and nutrients available for the body. Plant source conversion to EPA and DHA is also limited.
Iron is essential to the body and the most bioavailable source is animal products such as meat, and liver. There are plant sources of iron also these are lentils, chickpeas, molasses, pumpkin seeds, dry apricot, dry figs, sesame seeds or tahini, almonds, cashew nuts, tempeh, white beans and dark chocolate and spinach, sea vegetables. Ensure eating vitamin C rich foods to increase the absorption. soaking grains before cooking to release the phytate that binds to minerals also may help increase absorption.
Zinc, an essential mineral for over 300 enzymatic functions in the body. Good vegan sources are hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds. Other sources are beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, quinoa.
Vitamin D, this is a fat-soluble vitamin and is concentrated mostly in animal foods. Best vegan sources are sunshine, mushrooms exposed to sunlight and fortified foods. Vitamin D has many important functions in the body and winter months are not ideal to maintain adequate levels. It is important for bone health, a healthy immune system and cardiovascular health.
Vitamin A this is a fat-soluble vitamin mainly concentrated in animal foods. Beta-carotene is plant-based vitamin A but some people are not able to convert beta-carotene to retinol in the body. Retinol is the active form of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is important for a healthy immune system, bone health, skin health, and eye health.
Plant sources of vitamin A are carrot, broccoli, spinach, apricot, papaya, and other brightly coloured fruit and vegetables.
Iodine, the main source is seafood and good vegan sources are sea vegetables. Iodine is essential for a healthy Thyroid function. For vegans, seaweed and algae are good sources of iodine however as the levels are variable it is best to supplement with this important trace mineral to ensure adequate levels. Another source of iodine enriched table salt.
Calcium is in abundance in dairy products however plant foods also have adequate levels of calcium. Leafy green vegetables, seaweed, nuts and seeds provide the body with adequate calcium. Other sources are fortified foods and drinks such as soya, plant-based milks such as almond, soya or coconut.
In summary, a vegan diet may have many health benefits when followed well planned. However, it may still fall short on some important key nutrients that diet along may not be able to meet.
Vitamin B12, the main source for this important vitamin are animal foods. Plant based sources are very scarce and the main sources are fortified foods or supplementation. Nori and shiitake mushrooms, nutritional yeast, are vegan sources of Vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 has important functions in the body and being deficient can cause problems. It may take a long time to notice deficiency as it is stored in the body. Deficiency of B12 cause impaired nerve function, this can cause numbness, pins and needles sensations and burning feeling. It can also cause impaired mental function that can mimic Alzheimer's disease.
Lack of vitamin B12 can cause an amino acid called Homosytein to raise in the body. This in return can contribute to cardiovascular disease, dementia. Especially in the elderly low vitamin b12 is common as an impaired digestive function can affect absorption. Vegans need to supplement with Vitamin B12 on a daily basis to ensure adequate levels.