Throughout 2017 we have seen the rise of veganism. But what exactly is veganism? Why are people swapping their animal-based diets for plant-based diets?
In this four-part vegan series, we aim to answer questions such as; Is veganism actually healthy? Is following a vegan diet right for? What exactly should you be putting on your plate, and the deficiencies that can occur if you are not mindful when following a vegan diet.
WHAT IS “VEGANISM”?
Veganism is a lifestyle choice whereby there is the elimination of animal-based food products such as dairy, meat, and eggs from the diet. This therefore means that vegans consume a plant-based diet, including vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits.
WHY THE HYPE?
There are many reasons out there to why people decide to go vegan. Some people have grown up vegan, so that is all they know, others are vegetarian or pescatarian and decide to take the next step and others are completely knew to the idea of veganism. Veganism as stated by The Vegan Society is a “way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
However, there are actually other reasons out there to why people turn vegan such as;
- A vegan diet is perceived to be healthier than other diets,
- A vegan diet may cost less,
- It may be better for the environment,
- Some religions forbid eating meat
- Some people don’t like the taste of meat.
SO…WHAT DO VEGANS ACTUALLY EAT ?
With a vegan diet, while you are eliminating any animal based food products, this should not change the amount of macro and micro-nutrients you gain from your diet. It is possible that with this elimination of food, deficiencies may occur, but it should be noted that you are capable to follow a vegan diet, and not have deficiencies. Deficiencies could include; Vitamin B12, Calcium, Iron, Iodine and omega-3 for example. There will be a separate blog post, on what vitamins and minerals should be highlighted as potential deficiencies when following a vegan diet and how to get enough intake of these.
What some people get confused about is that they believe when on a vegan diet you “eat leaves and seeds”. This idea is completely wrong, as firstly as a vegan you will not be eating carrot sticks and lettuce on a daily basis. There are so many ways to prepare and cook food to make it interesting and palatable! Just research recipes, or grab a new cookbook such as my book Re-nourish, which includes vegan meals and you can always replace the animal produce with a vegan protein source. Make it fun to try out new ways to cook plant-based foods, you’ll be surprised at how many ways there are to cook different vegetables for example Secondly, there are substitutes for animal-based foods that you can consume in a vegan diet, such as milk. There are countless types of milk that are vegan; soya, almond, oat, rice and coconut to name a few. Just make sure you pick fortified versions with added vitamins and minerals to ensure you’re not missing out.
WHY SCIENCE SAYS YES
Studies have suggested that a vegan diet can be more effective in reducing total and LDL (bad) cholesterol when compared to an omnivore diet. On the other hand, there has been mixed results on HDL cholesterol. Evidence has also shown that following a vegan diet may improve blood sugar control in diabetics. This is interesting due to the fact that vegan’s diets are usually higher in carbohydrates compared to an animal-based diet, which may also dispel the myth that carbohydrates are not good for you. This is something I tend to battle with on a daily basis in my Harley Street Clinic. Lastly, vegan diets have been associated with lower blood pressure. Veganism has been seen as a way to lose weight, and while evidence does show that weight loss can occur from a vegan diet due to the lower amounts of fat and higher intake of fibre, other studies contradict that there is no difference in weight loss when compared to an omnivore diet. Ultimately you need to know your stuff, vegans can be just as unhealthy as meat eaters, it all comes down to dietary choices.
EDUCATION IS EMPOWERMENT
There are plenty of sources of information out there to find out more about how to go vegan, and how to do it well. In this mini-series on veganism we will talk through the basics, but if your questions are still not answered, seek advice from GP or local Registered nutritionist. But you can also research through the internet or at a good old library.
Education is key when going vegan, to enable that you know what to eat, both to follow the lifestyle correctly, but also to make sure you do not do yourself harm from eliminating subsequent food groups.