Being Vegan

The ideal is not to follow any diet that restricts or eliminates particular food groups. However, everyone has a reason for following such a diet – as I do. I personally follow a vegan diet, which still has a certain stigma attached to it within the health and fitness world. I have to admit, it still grinds my gears when the stereotypical image of a skinny, pale person is conjured up by those who really can’t get their head around that those on a vegan diet actually can consume sufficient calories, vitamins, minerals and protein.

As with any diet, it’s important to ensure you aren’t missing out on vital nutrients. You should find though, that with just a bit of forward planning, or general awareness of what to eat, you can avoid the need to make any sort of supplement.

As a vegan, I need to be mindful of the fact that vitamin B12, calcium, iron, zinc and OMEGA 3 fatty acids will be in short supply in my daily diet. Many also question where I get my protein from.

Let’s start with calcium. Firstly (and this applies to all diets), our bodies need vitamin D to regulate calcium, so we should watch our vitamin D and calcium intake together.

Suitable sources of calcium are:

– Fortified, unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks

– Calcium-set tofu

– Sesame seeds and tahini

– Pulses, such as beans and lentils.

– Dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

Note: Fortified refers to a process where vitamins or minerals have been added to a food that don’t naturally contain it. When it comes to selecting fortified foods, opt for the healthier alternatives where possible. Items such as fortified breakfast cereals are very likely to be high in sugar, and hence should be limited.

Vitamin D can be absorbed purely from exposure to summer sunshine, but for those times when sunshine is in short supply, you can turn to:

– Fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and unsweetened soya drinks

Iron – The problem with iron is that plant based sources are not absorbed by the body as readily as iron from animal sources. This isn’t necessary bad news though – it means that as vegans we need to consume more iron rich foods than those on a non-vegan diet. There is also the option of eating foods containing vitamin C along with our iron sources (vitamin c boosts the absorption of iron from plant based foods).

Sources of iron to opt for are:

– Pulses, such as black-eye beans, lentils and soybean

– Breakfast cereals fortified with iron

– Dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens

nuts

– dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and figs

B12 – Vitamin B12 is a tricky one, as it can only be found naturally in animal sources. Here you are looking at foods that are fortified with B12.

Suitable fortified foods include:

– Breakfast cereals fortified with B12

– Unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12

– Yeast extract such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12

Omega-3 fatty acids is another tricky one as it’s primarily found in oily fish. However, unlike B12 there are natural sources of Omega-3 that are vegan friendly:

– Flaxseed (linseed) oil

– Rapeseed oil

– Soya-based foods, such as tofu

– Walnuts

And finally – protein! Protein should make up 10-15% of any diet, and for those who work out, this may need to be higher. There is a misconception that vegans find it hard to achieve their daily protein needs, but it really has never been easier.

Good sources of protein include:

– Tofu

– Tempeh

– Seitan

– Nutritional yeast

– Soya products – milk, beans, yoghurt

– Quorn vegan products

– Quinoa

– Buckwheat

– Broccoli

– Pulses (beans and lentils)

– Nut butters

For those who are regular gym goers, and are looking for an alternative to the traditional whey protein drinks, fear not! The sports supplement market has recognised the demand for plant based protein products, and there are now many good brands to choose from that don’t actually taste of dirt (again though, watch out for those that add high amounts of sugar to make their products more palatable). You can now find protein drinks, bars and other supplements on the high street and online.

I have been vegan for around two years, and have really noticed an increase in products (foods and supplements) come onto the market in that time. As you can see from this blog, there’s no reason why those avoiding animal products can’t enjoy a healthy, deficiency free diet.

Any questions on this, or other diet type, feel free to ping me at info@TRRPersonalTraining.co.uk

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