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A vegan diet is completely plant-based, mainly consist of fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, rice, porridge oats), proteins (e.g. tofu, beans, lentils) and plant-based dairy alternatives (e.g. almond or soya milk). They don’t consume any animal or animal products such as eggs, animal milk, cheese and honey along with all animal meats. You can have a plant-based diet that does still include animal products though, it's all about finding what works for you.
Why might people choose to be more plant-based?
The Environmental Factor - The meat and dairy industry is ever-growing. This is having a detrimental effect on the planet, from growing crops to feed the animals, to transport and all the processes from farm to fork. For example, in Brazil, 5.6 million acres of land is dedicated to growing soya beans for the animals to feed on. Shockingly, the famers that tend to these crops often don’t have enough food for themselves and their families. The planet is struggling to feed an increasing human and farmed-animal population. On the other hand, plant-based diets only require 1/3 of the land, water and energy that meat and dairy uses. This is a major difference.
The Health Factor - A plant-based diet by its very nature often has some nutritional benefits to a typical diet. Plant-based eaters generally consume more fruit and vegetables which means you get more fibre and essential vitamins and minerals. Plant-based diets also have considerably lower amounts of saturated fat. This diet is associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
The Animal Welfare Factor - Some people will go vegan as they do not feel comfortable consuming animals. This choice has to be made by you, don’t be forced to do or eat anything you don’t want to. There are lots of ways to be more ethical with your consumption outside of food too.
Top Tips to Consider When Moving to a Plant-Based Diet
1. Always research and plan your meals
This is because you could be losing out on some essential nutrients if you don’t plan your meals properly. Some essential nutrients that might be overlooked are:
· Vitamin B12 is primarily found in meat and dairy products and is very important for producing blood cells. In terms of plant-based versions, it can be found in marmite, fortified in plant-based milks and cereals.
· Iron is a mineral that is found in red meat. Fortunately, it can also be found in plant-based sources such as lentils, chickpeas, kale and dried fruit. Iron is very important for producing haemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen around the body. Women need need more iron due to our menstrual cycle, so if you feel you are not getting enough, it may be worth speaking to your GP about supplementation.
· Calcium is found in dairy products like cheese and cows’ milk and it very important for our bone health. However, there are so many plant-based sources of calcium, such as kale, white bread, almonds and fortified in plant-based milks.
· Omega 3 & 6 are essential fatty acids meaning they can’t be made in the body so must be consumed through the diet. They affect our immune system, brain and eyes. Sources of omega 6 include pumpkin seeds, walnuts and sunflower seeds. Omega 3 sources are chia seeds, walnuts and vegetable oils. You can also get these in supplement form too but you should check with your GP first.
· Lastly, when it comes to protein, there are a lot of plant-based alternatives such as beans, pulses and lentils. Protein is very important for growth and repair of muscle along with giving structure to our bodies.
2. Make sure you read the label
Look out for the vegan society logo or ‘suitable for vegetarians and vegans’. In some cases, you may even have to look at the ingredients list and see if anything is highlighted in bold that contains animal products.
3. Be Flexible
We know this is a lot of information to take in so don’t worry if you feel a little overwhelmed. Most people gradually introduce it in to their lives rather than adapting straight away. There are lots of benefits of increasing the amounts of plant-based foods we consume but you do not have to cut out animal products completely if you don't want to.
For more information on plant-based diets, listen to the Achieve Oxfordshire podcast episode on 5 Myths about Plant-Based Eating with Nutritionists Maddy and Victoria.
Sources: Vegan society https://www.vegansociety.com/