I am often asked for both my opinion on vegan diets and my professional advice on maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vegan nutrition but is a must read for those wanting to live your fullest, healthiest life as a vegan! Note I am not a vegan but I absolutely in no way condemn a vegan lifestyle. Happy reading x
WHY are you vegan?
This is the most important question I want you to ask yourself either as a vegan or as someone considering going vegan. Get honest with yourself and dig deep inside. Find out your why for being vegan. Write down a list of reasons why you wish or are vegan and look at each of those reasons and ask yourself whether it is self motivated or externally motivated.
What do I mean by this? Well… Is your motivation coming from a space of self-love and your true self? Or is it coming from that mean girl in your head telling you that you should go vegan because you saw a total babe with a banging body on insta who was a vegan, or because your friend said she feels so much better as a vegan? The most important thing here is BE HONEST with yourself.
If you are going vegan for ethical, animal welfare reasons, environmental reasons or religious reasons or you honestly believe your body thrives on an animal free diet – fantastic. It’s not an easy choice and it is certainly something I hope you’ve done your research on. What I’d like you to do is now write down what other things aside from diet you are doing to support this cause as it is obviously one of your core values if you are changing your entire nutritional intake based on this value. For example if it is based on envonmental reasons how else are you minimizing your impact on the environment – minimizing plastic and packaging use, reducing electricity use ect ect.
How to THRIVE on a vegan diet?
Firstly, If you do not feel you are absolutely thriving on a vegan diet, if you are not loving the food you are eating or if you are doing it because that inner voice in your head said it is the only way to be healthy, skinny, accepted whatever, then stop right now. Like I said this is external motivation for being vegan and is NOT in line with your true beliefs and true self. So if that is the case, stop right now and think about what way of eating does align with YOU. Maybe it is vegetarian; maybe it is plant-based with occasional animal products?
Vegan diets can be extremely healthy, however you need to plan them. Don’t assume that switching to vegan means you are immediately more healthy. Carefully planning is needed and it is easy to eat a poorly balanced or unhealthy diet as a vegan. Humans did not evolve on a vegan diet and it is not enough to just eat a wide variety of plant foods, as a vegan particular attention needs to be paid to meeting nutrient needs. Vegan diets are more complex than simply eating more plant foods. I have outlined below some of the BASICS of vegan nutrition (note this is not all you need to know when it comes to vegan nutrition).
• Love your carbs! – Carbs must be your friend on a vegan diet legumes, wholegrains and veggies make up a huge part of you diet.
• Protein combinations – It is not enough just to eat protein based plant foods you need to eat a variety of protein rich plant sources to obtain the essential amino acids. Don’t rely on just legumes for your protein, include a variety of protein sources including soy and soy products, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
• Healthy fats – While most vegans get plenty of monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts and seeds many don’t get of the super beneficial enough omega-3 fats. Many vegans will choose to supplement omega 3, however vegan food sources of omega-3 include flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and chia seeds. Seaweed, unlike chia and flax, is an amazing source of the beneficial long chain omega-3s (also a fab source of iodine). Any excuse to eat more sushi, right?
• Iron – Unfortunately the iron found in vegan food sources isn’t as well absorbed as those found in animal food sources. That means every day you need to include multiple of the following iron rich food sources.
o Fortified foods
o Nuts and dried fruit
Don’t forget to include vitamin C rich foods with your iron rich foods to help increase absorption and minimize tea and coffee intake.
• Vitamin B12 – If you are going vegan because it is a more “natural” way of eating maybe think again. You NEED to supplement vitamin B12 as a vegan! Sea vegetables and fermented foods are not a reliable source of B12 so you will need to include vitamin B12 enriched foods or take a vitamin B12 supplement.
• Calcium – A well balanced diet can include enough calcium but make sure you are including plenty of the following
o Plant based milks fortified with calcium
o Calcium set tofu
o Collard greens
o Turnip greens
o Mustard greens
o Almonds or almond butter
Due to the high amount of phytates and oxalates which inhibit absorption of calcium (and iron) in spinach, it is not a great source of either calcium or iron.
Like I said this is just a basic overview of some of the key areas to focus on in vegan nutrition, this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many more minerals that need to be monitored as well as considering energy intake, especially for those who are highly active. If you are confused about how to eat a balanced diet as a vegan – DO NOT STRESS! We are here to help. Find an accredited practicing dietitian who is able to help you.
While I openly admit I am not vegan – this does not mean I don’t care for animal welfare, it does not mean that I don’t care for the environment and it does not mean that I don’t think a plant-based diet is healthy.
I do follow a plant-based diet in that I eat MOSTLY plant-based foods – not all but mostly, in fact I would say that 85% or more of my daily food intake is from plant based foods. This is how my body thrives, this is how I feel my best and this is how I live my true self. If I were to go vegan it would be for reasons that weren’t true to myself. If you don’t agree with me that is your opinion and you are completely entitled to that. I want you to do what makes your body THRIVE.
We can all help the environment by consuming a plant-based diet and swapping meat products for plant products – every bit helps! Imagine if every person in the world swapped two meals a week from a meat based meal to a plant based meal. The impact would be phenomenal! The same goes when it comes to animal welfare – KNOW YOUR FARMER. Shop locally and understand how they farm and how they care for their animals. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say dairy cows are treated horrendously as a broad statement – I have been to dairy farms and I have seen these majestic animals roaming their rolling green pastures and walking themselves up to be milked daily. Yes there are going to be farms that treat their animals differently but if you KNOW where your products are coming from you are one step ahead. PLUS you are supporting local farmers. These farmers aren’t animal killers they are humans trying to make a living doing what they love, farming.
Love Marika xo
I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this post and hear your insights into why you are vegan and how you thrive as a vegan.
P.S If you found this post helpful or know someone who it would help please share it on.