There’s no doubt about it, vegan foods and veganism are on the rise. Everywhere we look, we’re seeing more vegan foods emerging to tantalise our taste buds. From the innovative Silicon Valley Impossible Burger to the humble high street vegan sausage roll, plant-based food is having its moment in the spotlight.
Of course, this is all driven by consumer demand. In the US alone, the number of people following a vegan diet quadrupled from 2014 to 2018. It’s estimated that there are over 1 million vegans in the US (as of 2018). When we add in vegetarians, it’s expected that around 7.3 million US people avoid meat already.
Vegans, What on Earth Do You Eat?!
A vegan diet eliminates all animal products including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs and honey. But that’s not to say it’s a boring diet. As a vegan, you can fill up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and pulses, not to mention all the exciting new vegan friendly foods now available.
With some careful planning, it’s entirely possible to get all the nutrients you need on a diet based solely on plants. Here’s how…
Micronutrients – Vitamins and Minerals
As you’d expect, eating a lot of fruit and vegetables means that most vitamins and minerals are covered. But vegans must pay special attention to vitamin B12. The Vegan Society recommend taking a B12 supplement as unless a food is fortified (such as cereal), plant-based foods don’t generally contain this essential vitamin.
Vegans should also watch out for vitamin D. Vitamin D is present in dairy products but the majority is synthesised by the body when sunlight hits the skin. So during the winter especially, a vitamin D supplement is advised. Plant-based sources of vitamin D include mushrooms and fortified soya products including tofu.
Iodine is a trace mineral that’s present in fish and seafood. Snacking on seaweed snacks a few times a week will ensure you’re getting enough iodine.
Another mineral to consider is iron. Red meat is full of iron, but plants can be iron rich too! Make sure you’re eating plenty of dark, leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, tofu, beans and seeds.
Macronutrients – Carbs, Fats and Proteins
As a vegan, all your carbohydrate needs can be met the same as anyone else’s – from bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and whole grains.
Fat-wise, eating nuts, seeds, avocados and plant oils such as olive oil and coconut oil will provide you with all the fats you need. What’s more, plant-based fats tend to be healthier, unsaturated fats, when compared with the less healthy, cholesterol-laden saturated fats found in meat and meat products.
Fish provides essential polyunsaturated fats called omega 3 fatty acids. Plant-based omega 3 alternatives include walnuts, flaxseeds and supplements made from algae. Aim for three walnut halves a day and a large sprinkling of (tasteless) flaxseed powder on your main meal and you’ll be ticking the omega 3 box.
The biggest problem with plant-based protein is that there isn’t one. Many people believe that it’s not possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet but that simply isn’t true. Meat replacements such as soya mince, sausages and burgers are high in protein, as are many plant-based milks including soya, almond and pea milks.
Kidney beans, white beans, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils and quinoa are all rich sources of plant-based protein. Aim for a quarter of your plate to consist of protein, a quarter carbohydrate and the rest fresh fruits and vegetables, with a little healthy fat.
There’s a whole world of vegan foods to discover and experiment with. Don’t ever accept that a vegan diet is bland, uninspiring and lacking in vital nutrients, because it really isn’t!