A growing number of people are adopting a vegan diet for a range of ethical, environmental and health reasons, but there are a few things you should consider before you do the same.
Dietician Susie Burrell explains that it’s important to ensure you’re replacing the essential nutrients you’d usually be getting in your slab of steak or creamy milkshake.
“You really need to be onto your nutrition and make sure you are getting complete protein each day, as well as enough iron, zinc and vitamin B12 from some specific foods and supplements,” Susie tells Women’s Health.
There are plenty of plant-based protein sources available but not all of them are considered complete – i.e.featuring all nine essential amino acids. Soy and quinoa are both complete sources of protein while chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, rice are incomplete. A regular combination of both (like a tofu stir fry with brown rice) will ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
Susie says that one of the biggest mistakes she sees people making on vegan diets is their sources of protein.
“[They’re] not getting enough protein from legumes as many people are scared to use them. Also not utilising special vegan products that often are fortified via extra nutrients.”
Vitamin B12 is vital in maintaining healthy cells and DNA, but for vegans it can be difficult to come by.
“Vitamin B12 is the biggest concern as it is really only found in animal foods which means that vegans definitely need a fortified soy or rice milk plus supplementation to get adequate amounts,” Susie says.
Dr Fiona O’Leary, Accredited Practising Dietitian, says it’s especially essential that if women consuming a vegan diet and considering kids, speak to a dietician or doctor about supplementing vitamin B12.
“It is critical that vegan mothers and women in the childbearing ages, who may fall pregnant, get enough vitamin B12. This can be from fortified foods or from supplements.”
“The developing baby in the uterus, relies solely on the mother for vitamin B12 and if the mother has low levels and/or inadequate diet then both the mother and particularly the baby are affected. Babies of vegan mothers who are breast fed should have a vitamin B12 supplement.”
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world with menstruating women, pregnant women, teenage girls and female athletes being the highest-risk groups. Iron is an essential dietary mineral, transporting oxygen in the blood and providing the body with energy.
However, it’s important not the self-diagnose iron deficiency and reach for the nearest supplement as overdoing it can result in toxicity and even death. So always speak to a doctor if you’re feeling symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, heart palpitations and pale parlour.
Vegans should ensure they’re stocking their diets with iron rich foods like lentils, chickpeas, tofu, cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach, kale, quinoa, raisins, beans and fortified breakfast cereals.
And how you consume these sources is also important. For the mineral to be properly absorbed by the body it need to be eaten with a source of vitamin C like capsicum, oranges, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi fruit strawberries, pineapple or brussels sprouts.
Also avoid coffee and tea around meal time, these have been found to inhibit your iron absorption.
RELATED: 10 Signs You Have An Iron Deficiency
Calcium is essential for building bones and maintaining their health, not getting enough of it can result in osteoporosis and hypocalcemia. Traditional sources of calcium tend to include dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt, but there are plenty of plant based options that are packed full of the stuff.
Fill your plate with tofu, sesame seeds (including tahini), dark leafy greens, bok choy, seaweed, white beans, broccoli, figs and almonds, while ensuring you’re getting adequate vitamin D to increase absorption.
The benefits of omega-3s can’t be understated, they play a huge role in keeping our nervous system functioning and reducing inflammation. They’re called essential fatty acids for a reason, because the body cannot produce them on its own.
Vegans should ensure their diets include foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and walnuts.