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Could You Go Vegan?

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

Whilst I do not promote any “one size fits all” diet, there is no denying that veganism is becoming more popular for a variety of reasons, including environmental, ethical, religious/spiritual, or health reasons. But is it healthy? What else should you be aware of?

In this blog, I’m going to put it all out there for you: what it means to be vegan, what’s great about it, what’s not so good, where you might struggle – and I’ll also be giving you tips for getting started, whether your intention is to immerse yourself fully, you fancy dabbling a couple of days a week, or you just want to be more plant-based generally.

Note: The aim of this blog is not to push anyone in any direction – only to give more information so you can make your own dietary choices in the healthiest way possible.


What is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is a stricter version of a vegetarian diet. On top of not eating any meat, fish or seafood, a vegan diet also cuts out any food stuffs made from animal sources (some of which are very nutrient-dense foods).

For example, not just cutting out meat, but also cutting out eggs, milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese. And that means honey, too, as well as certain wines* and desserts (gelatin).

There is no set macro of micro nutrient ratio for a vegan diet; just vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and any other foods made from plants. However, since the main vegan protein sources are pulses and grains, and only a combination of the two provides complete proteins (containing all the amino acids); this can also mean a high carbohydrate diet by definition.

* If you’re wondering ‘why is wine not vegan?’ Here’s the answer…

All young wines are a little bit cloudy thanks to tiny molecules like proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are completely harmless, but we wine-drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright. To make the wines clear, wine makers have traditionally used some added ingredients called ‘fining agents’ to help the process along. They include casein (milk protein) or albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) or isinglass (fish bladder protein). They act like a magnet, resulting in far fewer ­– but larger – particles that are more easily removed.

So What Are the Pros and Cons of a Vegan Diet?

Advantages of Going Vegan

  • Cruelty-free

  • Promotes natural foods

  • Better for the environment

  • Rich in vitamin C and fibre, plus other plant chemicals

  • Helpful for some health conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, other auto-immune conditions).

Disadvantages of Going Vegan

  • Natural food is not a requirement to comply with the diet

  • Does not explicitly encourage healthy eating patterns

  • May be nutrient deficient (B12, haem iron, omega-3 fats, complete protein)

  • Often high in carbohydrates

  • Does not limit or exclude sugar

  • Not always practical, especially when travelling abroad

  • May or may not be effective for weight loss

Is it Healthier to be Vegan?

Good question! The answer ism it depends! A vegan diet doesn’t mean a healthy diet.

There have been various well-publicised assertions over the years (most notably the book The China Study and, more recently, the film What The Health) that claimed eating a vegan diet was the healthiest thing you could do.

Although vegans commonly take an interest in how diet relates to health and tend to educate themselves about nutrition, the vegan diet does not explicitly prescribe healthy foods. There is a vegan alternative for every junk food out there, and it can be every bit as unhealthy as a non-vegan, junk food diet. In theory you could live on white toast with margarine and jam (and see your blood sugar levels sky rocket) while still being vegan – and that is certainly not healthy.

Regardless of whether you are vegan, a healthy diet is determined by many factors. For example:

  • Enjoy an abundance of freshly prepared vegetables (frozen is also fine!)

  • Choose local, organic foods

  • Minimise processed foods and instead cook meals from scratch

  • Eat mindfully and slowly

Given the vast majority of health complaints are linked to chronic inflammation, and a plant-heavy, antioxidant-rich vegan diet will go some way to mediating inflammation, it will certainly not hinder your attempts to be healthy. Given we don’t eat nearly as much fibre as we should for optimum health, committing to eating more veg is only going to be a good thing.

Nutritional Considerations for a Vegan Diet

Vegan diets are low on vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is found mainly in animal products like eggs, poultry, shellfish, red meat and dairy products, so vegan diets are therefore low on this vitamin. Several studies showed 68% of vegans tested were deficient.

B12 plays a variety of important roles in the body and is involved in making red blood cells, providing the body with energy and protecting the nervous system.

Long-term deficiency can result in fatigue, depression, and anaemia and can potentially lead to irreversible brain and nerve damage.

If you’re thinking of going vegan, you’ll want to be taking a B12 supplement, but you should also be spreading your intake through the day by eating B12 fortified foods, too, like plant-based fortified milks and nutritional yeast.

There are Less Sources of Vitamin D in a Vegan Diet

Vitamin D is a special vitamin as it can also be obtained by exposing the skin to sunshine (or other sources of UVB radiation).

Good food sources of vitamin D are found in fish liver oils, fatty fish, and egg yolks. Plant sources of vitamin D include beans, broccoli, and leafy greens, but content without fortification is low, except for some wild mushrooms that contain a relevant concentration of this vitamin.

Consider, in addition, the lack of winter sunshine for those of us living in the UK, and it can be even more important to consider a vitamin D supplement (ideally D3) if following a vegan diet.

Consider Omega-3 Supplementation

There’s a lot of discussion about omega-3, and it does get a bit complex. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning you need to eat or supplement it as the body can’t make it on its own. There are several types of omega-3.

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -the biologically active forms of omega-3, found predominantly in fish (oily fish being the best source), seafood, and pasture-raised eggs.

  • Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant-based omega-3 and is found in flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. It needs to be converted into EPA or DHA before the body can use it.

Studies report that low omega-3 levels are associated with reduced life expectancy, and higher risk of major adverse cardiovascular events. In addition, omega-3 deficiency is associated with a long list of other conditions including depression, anxiety, systemic inflammation, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

You may also have heard an argument that humans can convert ALA to the beneficial, biologically active long-chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA).

Whilst this is true, it takes several reactions in our body to make EPA from ALA and further reactions to change that EPA into DHA. In order to successfully complete these reactions, the body needs an adequate supply of B3 and B6 vitamins, magnesium, and zinc.

Even then, the liver converts less than 5% of ALA to EPA, and virtually none (less than 1%) to DHA.

It’s highly likely that you will need to be making friends with supplemental algae oil to get your quota.

Ensure Sufficient Iron

Iron from animal sources (meat) is called haem iron, and it’s much easier for your body to absorb than iron from plant sources (non-haem iron). Some tips:

  • Ensure you absorb as much iron from your food as possible by neutralising the nutrient-stealing molecule called phytic acid, which is found in nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. You can do this by soaking these foods overnight before cooking or sprouting them. This also increases the bioavailability of zinc in these foods.

  • Calcium (although you need plenty of it in your diet) actually reduces iron absorption, so try to eat calcium-rich foods away from iron-rich foods for maximum absorption.

  • Eating foods that are rich in beta-carotene (usually orange or yellow foods) can increase iron uptake.

  • Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-haem iron, so consider using lemon or lime juice for your salad dressings.

  • Adding onions and/or garlic to the meal may also increase the bioavailability of iron.

Eat Real Food

Many people try to be vegan by relying on fake food ­– they replace milk, cheese and meat with foods manufactured to look and taste as though they are milk, cheese and meat. Often, what is used is non-foodstuffs, including stabilisers, gums, thickeners and highly processed protein extracts. Moreover, you may be counting your vegan cheese in as a source of protein, when many of them are actually made from carbs.

How to Get Started On a Vegan Diet

  • If converting to vegan in one go seems too much, you might try changing one meal at a time – possibly having a vegan breakfast during your first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on.

  • Try changing one product at a time - for example, swapping traditional cow’s milk for a nut milk, or butter for coconut oil. There’s a plant-based alternative for most things you can think of.

  • Get recipe inspiration by choosing a vegan recipe book. There are an abundance of them to choose from. You can also download my ‘How To Go Vegan’ ebook to start you off.

  • Be mindful of any dietary deficiencies, and supplement if necessary, especially whilst you are getting used to any new foods or recipes to address the shortfall.

Bringing the principles of being vegan into your life even a few days a week (assuming we are talking veg-based meals rather than fake or junk foods) will deliver a whole new taste experience. There will be things that you love – and things the family rejects. It’s all part of the fun of discovering new things.

Have you seen my eBook all about going vegan? If not, I highly recommend it. It's full of information and vegan-friendly recipes to get you started. Head here to download it.

And of course, if you would like more nutrition information or advice, get it touch now to book a free 30 minute call with yours truly!


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