Plant-based diets for new vegans. By Yvonne O'Halloran, plant-based dietitian
Going plant-based can seem daunting for many, particularly if you are moving from a meat, dairy, and egg-heavy diet. But fear not, I am here to give you some strategies to help your transition be a smooth as possible.
When you move to a fully plant-based diet, it is important you are including the four main food groups. These include:
• Legumes (including nuts, seeds and soya)
A plant-based diet is high in complex carbohydrates, and though many fear carbs, they are our friend! We need glucose from carbs to fuel our brain, and it's the primary fuel source for your body. Complex carbohydrates also contain fibre, which is essential roughage for your bowels, keeping everything moving along nicely. This helps to collect any excess cholesterol and remove it from the body. It can also help our gut to produce important gut microbes that are important for our immune health. You need to ensure you don't consume too much of the refined, processed carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, pastries, biscuits and vegan ice creams etc., as these are unhealthy options.
Choose plant proteins
Discover new plant proteins to add to your meals in place of the animal protein you are ditching.
Remember, protein is found in all foods, just lesser amounts in some fruits and vegetables. Including foods like beans, lentils, chickpeas, houmous, tahini, peanut butter, almond butter, nuts, seeds, vegan burgers/sausages, edamame, tofu, and seitan, will ensure you are getting correct amounts of protein every day.
Most people consume way over the recommended amount of protein. Consuming a varied and balanced diet will mean you will have no issues with your protein intake!
When eating out, most restaurants will accommodate vegans. It is always a good idea to call the restaurant ahead of time to check if the chef can accommodate you. If ordering takeaway, always ask if there is egg or dairy in a dish and choose options such as black bean dishes in Mexican food, yellow dahl in Indian food and tofu and vegetables in Thai food, for example.
Find new recipes
It is always helpful to find about 10-12 vegan recipes you think will suit your taste/ lifestyle / family and try them out over time, slowly finding a new meal plan that will work for your situation.
Keep it simple when you are still learning, using the mock meats if needed until you build your confidence and taste preferences change.
Then try to move more towards whole plant foods and meals you can create from scratch yourself as this is, of course, lower in salt and fat.
Choosing wholegrains will benefit your health and increase satiety, which may help you if trying to lose weight.
Wholegrains have shown in studies to protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. Include foods like:
• Brown Rice
• Wholewheat bread/pasta/crackers
• Wholewheat flour
Refined grains such as white bread have the germ and bran removed, leaving only the endosperm, and eliminating most of the nutrients and fibre. Whole-grain kernels have three parts making them far superior. They include:
• Bran: This is the hard, outer shell. It contains fibre, minerals, and antioxidants.
• Endosperm: The middle layer of the grain is mostly made up of carbs.
• Germ: This inner layer has vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds.
Vegans should supplement with B12 because this vitamin is found primarily in animal products. This is because animals are either supplemented with B12 in their feed, or the soil they grazed on contained cobalt, which is used by their rumen bacteria to produce cobalamin (B12).
Humans therefore must obtain B12 from food or supplements.
B12 is added to some plant milks and packaged foods such as burgers, however it is advised that all vegans take a supplement to be sure of adequate intakes. Recommendations are that adults consume about 100-250 micrograms per day. Other professionals recommend even more per day, depending on your age, current B12 levels, and if you are pregnant/breastfeeding.
Another supplement you should take if you are not getting 5-15 minutes of sun exposure every day is vitamin D. Be aware that some vitamin D supplements are not vegan as it can come from an animal source, such as sheep's wool, however there is a vitamin D made from lichen that is vegan-friendly.
Adults require 600 IU per day and over 70's need 800 IU per day.
It is important you include healthy fats such as flax meal, walnuts, hemp seeds and chia seeds daily for your ALA that our body can then convert to the usable EPA and DHA. We need about one to two tablespoons of these foods daily. Since the conversion rate can be poor, some may like to also add a marine algae supplement into their daily supplementation. It is also important we don't consume too many oils in our diet as the omega 6 contained in oils compete for the same enzyme and may result in less omega 3 being absorbed.
Overall, if you are eating a well-balanced diet that is heavy on fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, and legumes, limiting those refined sugars, treat foods and taking the recommended supplements, you should be well on your way to being a healthy and happy vegan!