When a movement such as veganism goes from niche to mainstream it brings a flood of questions, the most pressing being: ‘Is it right for me?’ This question should be the one you ask yourself when making any decision for your health, simply because there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
As you've likely gathered, vegan diets are 100 per cent plant-based. But to embrace veganism completely, because diet is also a way of life, means that you’re not just eating and drinking plants, you are living a plant-filled life too. Say goodbye to leather shoes, bags and many a cosmetic item in your beauty cupboard. Becoming a vegan doesn’t mean you simply make some swaps in what you are eating - it’s a lifestyle choice with ethical and moral consideration, too.
Like any lifestyle choice there are pros and cons to veganism. Speaking purely from a health perspective, it's possible to maintain sufficient intake of most vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carbohydrates and fats while only eating plant-based foods. However, you’ll need to be very conscious of protein intake. It’s rare to find complete proteins in a single plant. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids that we must acquire from dietary sources as our bodies cannot synthesize them. Animal products such as eggs, fish, red meat and poultry all contain essential amino acids, whilst vegetables need to be combined in the right manner in order to fulfil protein requirements by our bodies. Adding grains and legumes, or legumes with nuts and seeds, will help fulfil these demands. However, they still won’t have the quantity of protein you would find in a single boiled egg, for example, so you’ll need to look at increasing the frequency and quantity of ingredients you are consuming when eating a purely plant-based diet.
One of the more common nutritional deficiencies we find in vegetarians and vegans is a lack of vitamin B12, which is traditionally acquired from animal tissue. This deficiency can affect how the body metabolises fat, protein and carbohydrates, the maintenance of healthy bone marrow and the integrity of our gut - just to start. To help maintain your energy and immunity check in with your doctor every six to 12 months for blood tests.
Finally, if you are considering moving forward into a vegan lifestyle, consider if this is something you can embrace with good health – mental, physical, emotional and psychological. If you’re not able to access the meals you need to sustain your health but don’t have time to cook your own, perhaps you need to consider other choices better suited to your lifestyle. You can still fill your life with plants and include the likes of fish, chicken, beef and eggs on a sometimes basis if it is going to work better to sustain you. Both vegans and vegetarians need to consume slightly larger quantities of food in order to obtain energy sources where animal-based products would stand. Your health comes before keeping ‘on trend’ when it comes to diet, and considering all aspects of such a huge lifestyle change is vital.
Food for thought.