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World Vegan Day – what is veganism and is it healthy?

Happy World Vegan Day

Sunday, November 1st, was the national celebration of vegan awareness, World Vegan Day. As more people become interested in veganism, we have compiled a list of some frequently asked questions around this way of eating, along with some helpful tips with regard to the most healthful food and supplement options.

What is veganism?

A vegan diet comprises solely of plant-based foods. 

Food from animal sources such as milk, yoghurt and cheeses as well as meat and fish is a strict no-no when following this type of dietary pattern. Some follow an even more rigid lifestyle when committed to veganism by only wearing animal-free clothing and footwear.

Why follow a vegan diet?

The reasons for following a vegan diet vary. 

Some people are against what they feel is cruelty to animals and other creatures and decide to only eat plant-based foods. Others feel that there is a benefit to eating more fruits and vegetables and that meat and dairy are not necessary as part of a healthy diet. 

Does a vegan diet provide enough protein?

One of the criticisms of a vegan diet is that it is more difficult to achieve the levels of protein required by the human body from plants alone than it is via meat, fish and dairy products. 

Foods contain protein in varying amounts in the form of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total and nine are labelled essential as they cannot be made in the body, but must be consumed through food. Whilst animal proteins are what is known as complete proteins as they contain all nine of these amino acids, most plant foods do not – the exceptions are quinoa, buckwheat and chia seeds.

To ensure that they incorporate all of these nine essential amino acids into their diet across the day, vegans can combine legumes (peas, lentils and beans) with nuts and seeds or grains. These different foods contain different ranges of the essential amino acids and when combined provide all nine in a meal. 

It is possible to meet all of your dietary protein needs through a plant-based diet but you may have to do some research and track what you eat a little more closely.

Does a vegan diet provide enough healthy fats?

Fat is plentiful in animal-based products (both fish and meat), which contain high levels of saturated fats, required to support healthy cell membranes throughout our bodies.

Many plant-based foods contain fats, but they are predominantly mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, which are less stable than saturated fats. Essential omega 3 and omega 6 oils are particularly abundant in nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil.ย 

The primary source of saturated fat in a vegan diet is coconut oil and should be included in a vegan diet every day.

What about vitamins and minerals?

A plant-based diet provides a multitude of vitamins and minerals, but there are a number that are primarily found in animal foods. These include vitamin B12, iron in its most absorbable form, calcium and zinc. 

As well as including some key plant-based foods to support intake of these vitamins and minerals every day, it is worth finding a vegan supplement to ensure adequate amounts.

Vitamin B12 is available in fortified foods, such as milk. It is produced by our gut bacteria and is also found in some sea vegetables and seaweeds, but these sources have been shown to be inadequate for the levels required. As vitamin B12 is a key nutrient for energy, stomach acid production and DNA replication as well as many other functions, it should be supplemented each day by anyone following a vegan diet.

Iron can be found in lentils, chickpeas, beans, leafy green vegetables and pumpkin seeds, although our bodies do not absorb the iron from plant-based foods as efficiently as the iron from animal foods.

Calcium is also available in green leafy vegetables, seeds and grain, as well as blackstrap molasses.

Zinc can be found in nuts and seeds, oats and other grains and green leafy vegetables.

Will a vegan diet give me enough energy?

Sufficient energy can be obtained from a plant-based diet, but you will probably need to eat more than you think. Nutritionally complete meals that include complete proteins, healthy fats, slow release carbohydrates from grains and pulses and lots of vegetables can help to maintain balanced blood sugar levels to provide you with sustained energy levels throughout the day. 

Is veganism healthy?

The answer here, is a resounding yes.

Whilst it is possible to fill up with vegan starchy foods such as cereals, noodles, chips, rice, pasta and processed vegan foods without including any fruit or vegetables, this is evidently not best for your well-being and not the basis of a healthy vegan diet.

Fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains are living organisms that contain an array of enzymes and microorganisms, alongside vitamins and minerals. As a result they form a key part of a healthy diet and as long as the principles explained above are all followed, veganism can sustain health and even improve it for some people.

If you do choose to follow a vegan diet:

  • Eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables to supply your body with prebiotic fibre, vitamins and minerals
  • Include fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickled vegetables to help colonise your gut with beneficial bacteria
  • Include grains, pulses, lentils seeds, oils and nuts in your dietary regime and combine foods to ensure you are eating adequate protein
  • Include foods that contain healthy saturated and unsaturated fats
  • Supplement key vitamins and minerals
  • Pay particular attention to chemicals and additives that are often included in the processing of vegan items in the supermarket

You can find further information about veganism and World Vegan Day at the following links:

Want to know more?
ProVen Probiotics aim to provide the best support for both you and your health. If you wish to know more about gut health please do not hesitate to call us on 01639 825107 or alternatively, learn more via our blogs or in-depth ProVen research.

ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107

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