The number of people who follow the vegan diet has increased considerably in recent years.
Several factors have contributed to this significant growth.
The inclusion of vegan products in stores and supermarkets has made veganism much more accessible to everyone, this being one of the most important factors in increasing the popularity of the vegan diet.
The health benefits of being a vegan have also caused a lot of interest in recent years. People, increasingly aware about the importance of eating a healthy diet, associate the vegan diet with healthy nutrients like vitamins and fiber, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
However, as with any diet, it is possible to misinterpret veganism. Simply because a diet omits the consumption of meat and animal products does not make it healthy instantly.
In this article we will discuss why eating a varied and balanced diet is important when following the vegan diet to ensure that the body gets all the nutrients it needs.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is one that completely omits products of animal origin. This includes meat and fish, but also derived from animals such as milk, cheese and eggs.
Therefore, vegan diets consist of vegetables, mushrooms, legumes, fruits, cereals, nuts and herbal products, such as tofu and almond or soy milk.
What are the nutritional benefits of a vegan diet?
Following a vegan diet has several nutritional advantages.
Lower intake of fats and cholesterol
By not eating meat or cheese, the vegan diet usually implies a lower intake of saturated fats and lower cholesterol levels. As a result, the vegan diet tends to contain fewer calories (since fats contain the most calories of all meals).
And as we know, if someone consumes a high amount of calories but does not spend them, he is more likely to put weight and increase his BMI, which may lead in the future to develop diseases such as diabetes and heart problems.
Higher intake of fiber and vitamin C
Vegan diets, which stand out for the consumption of vegetables, legumes and fruit, are usually high in fiber as well.
Fiber, as we mentioned before, has a number of health benefits. It slows the digestion in the intestine, which means that we will feel full for longer. It also helps lower cholesterol levels, stabilizes blood sugar and improves bowel health.
Vegan diets are rich in other nutrients, such as vitamin C and E, which are important for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Do you neglect essential nutrients in the vegan diet?
It is possible to get all the nutrients that the body needs from a vegan diet if carefully planned.
However, it is possible that a vegan diet contains less nutritional value than another diet that allows milk and meat.
As with any diet, this really depends on what we eat.
Therefore, especially if you are ceasing to eat meat or products of animal origin and switching to a vegan diet, it is important to remember that these foods contain essential nutrients; And therefore, if you do not take them, you must replace them.
One of the main nutrients the body gets, especially meat, is protein. Protein is vital in the process that involves the growth and maintenance of healthy tissues, including our organs, muscles, skin and hair.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you get enough vegetable protein, such as legumes (chickpeas and beans), nuts and soy. Legumes are not only rich in protein, they also contain plenty of fiber, vitamin B and iron.
Calcium is a nutrient that our body normally gets from dairy products, such as milk or cheese. This mineral contributes to the health of our bones, muscles and nervous system; Making it a vital part of any healthy diet. The recommended daily amount in adults is 700mg.
Some calcium-rich vegetables that are easily absorbed are kale or cauliflower. Plant-based replacements like vegetable milks reinforced with calcium are a good option to increase the intake of this mineral.
Iron contributes to the formation of red blood cells, which are responsible for distributing oxygen through the body. The recommended daily intake in adults is 8.7mg.
Getting enough iron is one of the most common concerns in people who stop eating meat, since iron from plants is not absorbed as easily into the body as iron from animal products.
However, it is possible to get enough iron without having to eat meat. Some foods of non-animal origin with a good contribution in iron are legumes, such as lentils, seeds, cashews, cereals and some dried fruits like raisins or figs.
Vitamin C can also help in the body’s ability to absorb iron; So in addition to the above, fruits like orange and pineapple, or vegetables like broccoli, can help increase iron levels.
This nutrient plays a key role in the cellular function of the blood and helps our nervous system to stay healthy. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause different problems, such as fatigue and tiredness.
A worldwide study in the year 2014 found that the vitamin B12 deficiency was mainly between vegans in India and Hong Kong, “where vegans do not normally take food supplemented with vitamin B12 or vitamin B12 supplements.”
The recommended daily intake is 1.5 mcg. This vitamin is not found naturally in plants, so people who do not eat animal products normally need to include:
- Foods reinforced with B12 (such as some cereals or dairy substitutes)
- Or a vitamin B12 supplement.
There is no recommended daily amount of Omega-3, but consuming omega-3 as part of our diet has several benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the health of the immune system and the nervous system and have natural anti-inflammatory properties. For non-vegans, fish is the main source of omega-3.
However, there are good sources of omega-3 that are not animal-based and are easy to include in our diet. These include nuts and soy products such as tofu.
Control salt and sugar intake
A diet with a high content, on a regular basis, in sugar and salt can have several adverse effects on health; And this applies in all cases, to vegans and non-vegans. In addition to getting enough nutrients, as we have discussed before, it is essential to be aware of the recommended daily limits of salt and sugar intake.
- The recommended daily intake of salt in adults is 2 – 6 grams per day.
- 90 grams is the total amount of sugar recommended in adults.
- However, foods with added sugars should not constitute more than five percent of total calories in adults.