There are many good reasons to go vegan - but your personal health isn’t necessarily one of them. Sounds crazy - we know eating vegetables is good for us - but the health implications of a vegan diet are a little more complicated than that.
There is little evidence that strictly suggests that eating a vegan diet is healthier. In fact, many studies do show that a balanced omnivorous diet with quality ingredients - such as organic, free-range, grass-fed beef - is optimal for our health.
However, this isn’t always practical or affordable - or available. Hence, we over-consume cheap meat - the processed stuff, full of antibiotics and hormones - that studies do show is a less healthy choice than going vegan.
Most people that choose and stick to vegetarian or vegan diets aren’t focused on their personal health - but the health of our planet. But many people fail to take in account exactly what such a switch means for their nutritional intake.
“But what about protein?” - a good question, but an even better and more accurate one should be: “but what about your micronutrients?” Because there are several which are relatively lacking in a purely plant-based diet.
While Omega 3s are important to your health, finding out how to get enough DHA without consuming fish products becomes paramount when you’re a vegan.
Omega 3s are important to your health - and if you’re vegan, it’s even more important to figure out how to get enough DHA into your diet without consuming fish products. Top tip: skip the fish, and go straight to their source. Algal oil or vegan algae capsules are a winning choice, and easy to find online - as long as you properly assess the DHA quantities.
Admit it: as soon as you read ‘calcium’, your brain responded “Easy! Dairy!”, right? ‘Big Dairy’ has been pushing their calcium-rich agenda for so long and so successfully, that many believe eggs, milk and cheese are their only option for the bone-strengthening stuff. This isn’t the case - many argue that the milk sold in supermarkets really isn’t what it used to be. But in any case, vegetarians can still make this choice - but vegans can’t.
But the thing is, they don’t have to.
Almonds, edamame, dark leafy greens and soy-based products are a great source of calcium. However, it takes a little more time and effort; one cup of milk equals eight cups of spinach as far as calcium content is concerned. But that spinach serving contains half the calories as the serving of milk - plus a whole load of other minerals and nutrients such as iron, magnesium and potassium.
So if you like spinach, get your fill and enjoy a bigger, more nutritious breakfast that’s full of fibre.
Iron ensures our red blood cells can transport the necessary nutrients - not to mention the necessary oxygen, which is kind of critical - around our bodies. Organ meat and red meat in particular are excellent sources of iron for meat-eaters - but plant-based folk have plenty of alternatives to choose from, too, without too much compromise on the conversion rate.
Spinach is the safest bet, the king of the iron:calorie ratio, with over three times the iron density of anything else available. Dried apricots, prunes and peaches are great, but also extremely dense in calories and (natural) sugars, so not recommended for the less-active types. Beans have an equal iron:calorie ratio, with the additional benefit of high fibre to mitigate any spikes in blood sugar.
One note on spinach; some studies do show that the oxalic acid contained within does have a negative effect on the absorption of iron. However, one study does indicate that not only do oxalates have minimal impact on absorption, but you can further reduce this impact by cooking spinach, which in turn makes it easier to eat in greater quantities. Just stick to frying it or baking it, and you’ll keep the minerals intact.
As with any major lifestyle decision, going veggie or vegan should considered carefully, and not because of that one documentary you watched on Netflix ...