What is veganism?
Veganism is a type of vegetarian diet where you only munch foods that grow – a.k.a. fruit and veg! Vegans eschew meat and all other animal-based produce, including eggs and dairy.
What to foods should I enjoy as part of my vegan diet?
A healthy vegan diet is a well balanced one that includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Most new vegans realise quickly that there are an almost infinite number of meals that can be thought up simply using the grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruits which form the basis of a vegan diet. And veganism has become a well-enough recognised lifestyle now that there are lots of substitutes out there for familiar and well-loved foods which traditionally include animal produce, including vegan cheese, mayonnaise and even ice-cream (because, lets face it, who really wants to go without ice-cream forever)!
What to foods should I avoid as part of my vegan diet?
The answer to this question may seem blatantly obvious; however, because of the manufacturing processes that a lot of the foods we buy in the supermarkets go through, it can sometimes prove tricky to tell whether something contains animal produce, especially if it is pre-packaged.
Lots of crisps and sweets, wines and even refined sugar contain animal derivatives. The best and simplest solution is to be sure to always read the label when buying anything that is ‘tampered with’ before you eat it. Common sense really!
There are plenty of meat and dairy substitutes out there, but do be aware that some substitutes can be higher in fat than the original version.
There is a continuous debate among vegan communities as to whether honey should be included in the vegan diet (do insects like bees count?). Whatever you may decide is right for you, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution if cooking for other vegans.
What are the benefits of a vegan diet?
One of the biggest health benefits of the vegan diet is that it is free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. So you can be assured that you are eating in the best possible way when it comes to reducing the risk of major chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Lots of people are under the impression that it is difficult to get enough protein into your diet if you are a vegan. This is a bit of a misconception if you are eating protein rich substitutes; conversely, it is actually quite easy for a vegan diet to meet the requirements for protein if you are getting enough calories because all foods except for alcohol, sugar, and fats provide some protein. Good vegan sources of protein include: lentils, chickpeas, tofu, peas, peanuts, soy, almonds, spinach, rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, broccoli and kale.
What are the risks of a vegan diet?
There are a couple of dietary requirements that can be tricky with the vegan diet, so many vegans take supplements, especially vitamin D and calcium.
Vitamin D isn’t found naturally in the vegan diet but we humans are also clever enough to produce it naturally when we come into contact with sunlight. So vegans, make the most of your summers! The experts say that ten to fifteen minutes of summer sun on hands and face two to three times a week is the optimum amount of sunshine for vitamin D production to occur in the body. But don’t forget that sunscreen, the lobster look is not becoming on anyone let alone a vegan! (Plus, you don’t want to counteract all that good work your diet does in combating heart disease only to end up with skin cancer!) Winter months can prove a little trickier, but you can make up for it with produce like vitamin D-fortified soy milk and rice milk.
We all know that calcium is needed for strong, healthy bones, and although some people argue that lowering the amount of animal protein you eat reduces calcium losses, there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that vegans have lower calcium needs. Vegans need to keep an eye on the calcium content of their diet by eating foods that are high in calcium like tofu, almonds, brazil nuts, sesame and flax seeds and dark leafy greens. Many herbs like savoury, celery seed, thyme dill, marjoram, rosemary, and sage are a decent source of calcium too, so a good way to top up your calcium intake is simply to add a few extra pinches of dried herbs to your cooking.