Cara Cunningham, MINDI, Community Dietitian
Veganism definitely seems to be a trend this year. A Vegan goes further than just cutting out meat, they will also cut out any products sourced from animals – this includes dairy products, eggs and even honey. With such restrictions it is very important to plan well to ensure that your diet is balanced, healthy and provides all of the essential nutrients.
Without any animal sources vegan diets do tend to be lower in saturated fat which is beneficial for promoting good cholesterol levels. However, it doesn’t always mean that a vegan diet is automatically low in all fats – chips cooked in vegetable based oil are vegan but should only be eaten in moderation. Coconut oil is in itself high in saturated fat so best not to be an everyday choice.
When you cut out meat, you cut out a source of iron that is easily accessible to your body. Although iron is contained in many plants and cereals it is more difficult to absorb. It is important therefore to watch for signs of anaemia and possibly to monitor your haemoglobin level to make sure your body is getting sufficient iron.
Some vitamins may be difficult on a plant based diet. Dietary sources of Vitamin D, nearly all occur in animal based products such as Oily fish, Egg yolks, whilst it is added to some foods such as fortified milks and breakfast cereals Vegans would need to check if the fortifying vitamin D is animal free. Although Vitamin D can be manufactured by your skin when it is exposed to sunlight in the darker months (October-March ) sunlight isn’t strong enough to provide an adequate amount – it might be prudent therefore to make sure that milk substitutes (soya milk etc. ) are fortified with a vegan friendly vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is the main vitamin often called into question as it is only found naturally in animal products. However there it can be made by bacteria using bacterial cultures, this is then used to fortify some foods or to make supplements. When sourcing supplements vegans need to be mindful that many contain gelatine which may come from an animal source.
Beans, lentils and soy products like quinoa are good sources of protein, it is important to include these in a vegan diet. However be careful if you are relying on processed ready meals contain meat substitute whilst they can be handy they make be packed with salt – best to check the labels.
That is not to say that there isn’t huge benefits to having more plants in your diet – one of the major ones is that a vegan diet usually contains way more fibre which is great to aid digestion, keeping you ‘regular’. Also when you eat more fibre this fills you up making you less hungry which should mean you eat less; good for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
So a Vegan diet can be healthy however it does take planning and a willingness to try a wide variety of foods. Always remember many highly process fatty sugary foods can contain no animal products and a label of ‘Vegan friendly’ doesn’t necessarily mean Healthy. For more information on diet and nutrition see www.indi.ie or contact Maria at: The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster: (044 ) 9395518 or email [email protected].