Can a vegan diet be healthy? Yes, if one adheres to a well-designed, balanced meal plan.
Living a vegetarian lifestyle has been associated with improved health, including reducing the risk factors for heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity and blood pressure. The downside, some believe, especially with vegetarians classified as vegan, is that vegetarians can’t obtain adequate amounts of protein, iron and other nutrients because they don’t consume animal products. While it’s slightly more difficult, vegetarians who follow a well-balanced diet can get all the nutrients they need, possibly in a healthier manner than their meat-eating friends.
Types of vegetarians:
▪ Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Eats no meat (including fish) or products made from meat, such as gravy and gelatin.
▪ Lacto-vegetarian: In addition to eating no meat or meat products, does not eat eggs or products containing eggs, including baked goods.
▪ Vegan: Consumes no animal products at all, including meat, fish, eggs, honey, milk or products made from milk, such as cheese or yogurt.
By definition a vegan diet consists of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and other wholesome non-animal products, all of which are quite healthy. The challenge for vegetarians, especially vegans, is to consume a variety of these foods to meet their individual caloric and nutrient needs. When planning the vegan diet, there are some nutrients that are especially significant to consider for ensuring proper nutrition: protein, calcium, iron, iodine and vitamin B12.
Here are few tips from to ensure a healthy vegan diet plan. Consume the following at most meals:
Color. This should include a variety of fruits and vegetables such as green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, fruits and berries. Include plant protein sources such as beans, peas, nuts, nut butters, seeds and soy protein.
Calcium. Vegetarian sources can include calcium-fortified plant milk (soy milk, almond milk, rice milk), plus fortified breakfast cereal, tofu, orange juice and some dark green leafy vegetables.
Iron. Eat a balance of beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products and fortified whole grain products. Consuming a good source of Vitamin D at the same time improves iron absorption.
Grains. Not only will they fill you up, they are healthy. Whole grain bread and cereals provide additional fiber and are a good source of fortified nutrients, including B vitamins and iron.
Vitamin B12. Since this is naturally found only in animal products, it’s important that vegans consume foods fortified with B12 such as cereals and soy products, or take a Vitamin B12 supplement.
Calories. Sometimes it’s difficult for vegans to consume enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. Add additional omega 3 fatty acids from various nuts and flax seed. Avoid processed foods that contain trans fats and try to limit excess sugars.
Advantages of following a vegan lifestyle include decreasing calories from fats, therefore reducing the overall caloric intake, and a diet that’s higher in fiber content, potassium and vitamin C than the non-vegetarian pattern.
If you’ve never tried a vegan meal and want to test the waters, try changing the protein in your favorite recipe by replacing it with beans or tofu, or adding a tangy sauce in place of meat. Bean burritos, spaghetti and red sauce (no meat), hummus and peanut butter sandwiches are vegan meals you may already be eating.
Sheryll Clarke is a dietician for Via Christi Clinic on Murdock.
Interested in learning more about healthy vegan eating? Check out these resources:
▪ Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.eatright.org
▪ USDA Choose My Plate, www.choosemyplate.gov
▪ USDA Dietary Guidelines, www.dietaryguidelines.gov
▪ The Vegan Society website, www.vegansociety.com