The nutritionist’s guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan

This Vegetarian Week, Rohini Bajekal looks at the scientific and health benefits of a vegan versus vegetarian diet

By Rohini Bajekal, Nutritionist, Plant Based Health Professionals UK

 

 

The science is clear that a plant-based diet can meet nutritional requirements at all stages of life- from birth to old age. The vegetarian consumption of dairy or eggs from any mammals is not necessary for human health and can cause harm.

 

Dairy has been linked to an increased risk of childhood disorders such as asthma, eczema and acne. It may worsen symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) such as cystic acne. For men, dairy consumption increases the risk of prostate cancer. When you then take into account that up to 70 per cent of people globally have lactose malabsorption, many of whom are people of colour, and the harm that dairy farming causes to the environment, it’s clear.

 

vegetarian

 

 

 

An exclusively plant-based diet is one of the healthiest choices you can make, especially as unhealthy diets are now the leading cause of chronic illness around the world.

 

This is why national and international guidelines now recommend plant-based diets for prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer and the treatment of type 2 diabetes. These foods also honour compassion for animals, and the future of our planet.

 

Easy switches for milk, cheese and other dairy products 

 

There is no one right way or wrong way to make the transition from vegetarianism to veganism. One person might watch a slaughterhouse video and feel compelled to go vegan overnight, as dairy and eggs are a product of animal suffering and exploitation just like meat and fish. Some might transition more gradually.

 

The nutritionist's guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan 1

 

Whether you have gone plant-based for health, the environment or animals, it’s important to remember your ‘Why’ to stay on track.

 

Some people benefit from watching documentaries about the dairy and egg industries and joining online vegan groups.

 

Ditching dairy is a great idea as the plant-based alternatives are incredible. Soya milk and yoghurt taste great and are sustainable and healthy. Soya is a complete protein with a good amount of all 9 essential amino acids and a similar amount of protein compared with cow’s milk whereas almond milk for example is very low in protein.

 

The earlier you start soya in childhood, the lower the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Choose calcium-fortified products – these often contain added nutrients such as Vitamin D and B12. For those with soya allergy, pea milk is a good protein-rich alternative.

 

The nutritionist's guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan 2

 

When it comes to cheese, don’t compare dairy cheeses with vegan cheeses and allow time for your taste buds to adjust – there are some great options out there. Fermented cashew cheeses are becoming more widely available and are a good source of magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.

 

There are some other vegan cheeses in supermarkets nowadays and nutritional yeast is an umami condiment that is perfect for cheesy vegan dishes. It’s a great source of B vitamins and protein.

 

The store-cupboard staples key to any balanced vegan diet

 

While fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables should make up a large part of a healthy plant-based diet, it’s always a good idea to have a few reliable store-cupboard staples for easy and budget-friendly weeknight meals.

 

The nutritionist's guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan 3

 

Whole grains: opt for whole grains such as brown rice, oats, wholewheat pasta, amaranth and quinoa as they are higher in fibre, protein and micronutrients than refined versions.

 

Pulses: In terms of storage space vs nutrient density, dried beans and lentils win and are some of the most sustainable protein sources on the planet. Choose canned or jarred versions for convenience if you have the extra space. Try chickpeas, black beans, soya beans, lentils and frozen tempeh.

 

The nutritionist's guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan 4

 

Frozen fruit and vegetables: some frozen vegetables and fruits (such as frozen blueberries) can be higher in some nutrients than fresh as they are packed as peak ripeness.

 

Nuts and seeds: store these in the fridge or freezer to extend shelf life and prevent rancidity. Walnuts and ground flaxseeds are rich in omega 3 fats and pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc. Peanut butter is a great protein rich addition to meals.

 

The nutritionist's guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan 5

 

Herbs and spices: these are packed with anti-oxidants and can transform plant-based meals.

 

Other pantry staples include fortified plant milks, vinegars and condiments such as nutritional yeast, vinegars and miso.

 

How to obtain enough protein and essential nutrients on a vegan diet

 

Protein is not generally an issue if you are eating a variety of plant-based foods especially legumes – I recommend a couple of servings a day.

 

The nutritionist's guide to transitioning from vegetarian to vegan 6

 

It’s important to feel satiated and eat enough – whole plant foods are generally less calorie dense and bulkier than animal products due to their fibre content. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, tofu, lentils and nuts and seeds.

 

Include a daily serving of omega-3 rich seeds such as ground flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and hemp seeds (e.g. 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your porridge).

 

Ensure you are supplementing with B12 and ensure you are getting a good source of iodine, a supplement is most reliable. I take the multivitamin Veg 1 from the Vegan Society.

 

 

By Rohini Bajekal, Nutritionist, Plant Based Health Professionals UK

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. […] people who become vegan, or even simply reduce their meat intake will experience a lack of energy and will miss out on key […]

  2. Shireen on May 15, 2021 at 6:30 am

    Great article
    Thank you
    Will be useful to many

Leave a Comment