January is a great time to take control of your diet and help yourself with the food you eat. Eating a more plant-based diet is undoubtedly recommended by many of the health professionals, however, it is essential that a healthy approach and balance is taken. Switching to a vegan diet can be unhealthy as well as healthy. In a vegan diet, it is essential to take note of particular nutrients that can get missed out which can lead to serious health consequences.
It is easy to not eat enough protein in a vegan diet. Your body needs essential amino acids to build proteins and be healthy, so you should ensure you have a wide variety of proteins in your diet, such as:
Calcium is an essential mineral for bone health. Insufficient calcium can lead to weak bones and bone fractures. Try and include as many calcium-containing foods each day. When choosing plant dairy alternatives try and choose those which are fortified with calcium. For milk look for at least 127mg calcium per 100g plant milk.
Foods that contain calcium include:
Iron is another essential mineral required for good health. Iron is a component of red blood cells. If we don’t eat enough iron then we can develop anaemia. This can cause severe tiredness, lethargy and generally feeling unwell.
Plant-based sources of iron include:
If you think you don’t get enough iron a simple blood test can confirm this, do check with your GP.
Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin present in animal food products. If you have been vegan for some time it may be worth considering a blood test to check your B12 levels. Discuss this with your GP.
Iodine can be low on a vegan diet and can affect thyroid function. Sources of plant iodine include:
Omega-3 containing foods, especially those high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are involved with helping the body produce longer-chain omega-3s such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Foods high in ALA include:
However, there is controversy as to whether this conversion is good enough to meet everyday needs. Some suggest a daily intake of 200–300 mg of EPA and DHA from an algae oil supplement may be a better way to prevent low levels, however, always check with your GP before starting any supplements.
Zinc is required for overall good health but in particular for healthy hair and nails. Plant sources of zinc include:
By Ruth Kander BSc(Hons)RD | Dietitian
If you wish to discuss ways to maintain a healthy vegan diet or are thinking of becoming a vegan, Ruth runs a clinic every Thursday.
^ Lines are open 9:00-17:30, Monday-Friday.
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