How to maintain a healthy vegan/vegetarian diet

Vegan creamy cashew nut mushroom soup. Picture: Supplied

Vegan creamy cashew nut mushroom soup. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 11, 2022


Are we really going to get healthier and find all the nutrition we need in plants?

More consumers are choosing to move away from animal-based diets to ensure the protection of the environment and the humane treatment of animals.

The desire to feel good about what we eat has fuelled the vegetarian and vegan trend.

Now you may be wondering what the difference is between a vegan and a vegetarian?

According to Tabitha Hume, a registered dietician and spokesperson for The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), a vegan is someone who adheres to the principle of doing no harm. They will not use/eat anything derived from an animal. A vegetarian is someone who will not eat animal flesh but will eat eggs and dairy products.

However, adopting a plant-based lifestyle necessitates gaining knowledge of what can go wrong, just as getting the balance right in any kind of diet does.

Vegans rarely have difficulty getting enough protein. It is now much simpler thanks to the huge variety of meat replacements available, such as tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Healthy tips to help you start eating a vegan/vegetarian diet:

Bacteria in the soil produce vitamin B12, which is then consumed by animals and given to meat eaters. However, vegans may not get enough B12. B12 is typically found in fortified foods such as soy milk, almond milk, nutritional yeast and Marmite.

However, it is advisable to take a vitamin B12 supplement as a sort of insurance policy, particularly as we age, because vitamin B12 is less readily absorbed (regardless of whether you consume meat).

Iron deficiency can be a problem for meat-eaters and vegans alike, so being aware is important. It's recommended that all vegans have an annual blood test to check their iron levels. However, it is easier than you think to get the recommended daily amount of iron from vegan- and vegetarian-friendly food. Good sources are kale, spinach, black treacle, dried apricots and nuts. Tofu and legumes also contain iron, but they also have substances that can hinder the full absorption of iron, so eating other iron-containing foods as well is advised. Should your iron levels be low, a supplement is recommended.

Picture: Chad Montano/unsplash

Calcium is another element that those contemplating changing to a vegan diet may be concerned about. However, ample calcium can be obtained from broccoli, kale, grains and fortified dairy substitutes. As with meat-eaters, if you are underweight or have a history of osteoporosis, a calcium supplement is recommended.

Because your body cannot produce omega 3 fatty acids, they must be obtained from food sources such as fish. However, is simple to include a supplement of flaxseed oil in your diet. Flax seeds and flaxseed oil include the precursor to both omega 3 and 6. You could also add a tablespoon of ground flax seeds to your morning smoothie or cereal.

When moving plant-based, some people believe that “if it’s vegan it’s healthy and slimming”. This is not true. Veganism/vegetarianism is healthier, but balance must still be maintained.

Eating healthy carbohydrates rather than junk food is crucial. Vegan foods can still contain a lot of fat and can be just as fattening as fast food. For instance, coconut cheese made from plants tastes wonderful but contains significant levels of saturated fat, which, when consumed in excessive quantities, can lead to heart disease, obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

A nutritionist can help you ensure that your diet is balanced and contains everything your body needs. Similar to how learning a new language involves practise and repetition until it becomes second nature, professional guidance is needed before you decide to cut out animal products and “go vegan” overnight.