In a nutshell, the vegan diet is a slightly more restrictive form of the vegetarian diet. It’s meat-free, but it’s more than just that. It’s also free of any products that come from an animal. It’s free of all animal protein, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, Vitamin D3, white sugar, and for some, leather.
But it’s so much more than just a list of “can’t haves”. A healthy vegan diet is filled to the brim with fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. It can be a very healthy diet. Or…you can eat an out of balance vegan diet. There are lots of vegan junk foods (potato chips, many cookies, and other junk food is vegan). A vegan diet doesn’t guarantee a healthy diet.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
With the vegan diet, protein combining is very important. There are very few vegan foods that are complete proteins. These are foods that contain all of the essential amino acids. All forms of animal protein (meat, dairy, eggs) are complete proteins, so only the vegan diet has this issue.
And it’s all about beans! Nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain a chunk of those essential amino acids, and beans/legumes contain the rest of them. You don’t need to have both kinds of food in each meal, but you do need to have them in each day.
So, if you’d like to enjoy a more vegan diet, just make sure you’ve got lots of beans that you enjoy, like my favourite, hummus.
Benefits of Adding More Vegan Recipes to Your Diet
Vegan recipes are delicious, healthy, and (most of them) are cheap to make. Adding more vegan meals to your diet will add more veggies and reduce your animal protein consumption. When we eat less meat it becomes more affordable to buy ethically-raised or organic meat. It’s a great win/win.
A vegan diet can be a lovely and healthy diet for some, or these foods can be a great addition to increase your veggie intake and create more variety. If you’re looking for some great vegan recipes, check out the website or cookbook Oh She Glows Every Day. Some of my all-time favourite recipes are from her website (ohsheglows.com).
Symptoms of Imbalance to Watch For
A few nutritional deficiencies are common on a 100% vegan diet. This doesn’t mean that everyone will get them, but some of us have trouble absorbing certain nutrients/protein, so we’re more likely to become deficient.
There are very few absorbable sources of Vit B12 in the vegan diet (and some argue that there are none). It can take years to become deficient, and a deficiency in this important nutrient can lead to permanent nerve damage and dementia. Happily, a blood test from your GP can tell you if you’re deficient and there are lots of ways to supplement.
There are many forms of non-heme iron in the vegan diet, but no forms of heme (animal-based) iron. This won’t be an issue for everyone, but some of us struggle to absorb non-heme iron. And, like with B12, you can find out your level with a blood test. Symptoms of low iron are exhaustion, sallow complexion, and running out of breath easily.
Vegan forms of protein can be harder to absorb than animal-based protein and this will be a struggle for some (it’s a big struggle for me). You can eat lots and lots of vegan protein but you still may be deficient. Signs of a protein deficiency are low energy, muscle loss, sluggish metabolism, blood sugar imbalances, and limp hair.
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), and a faculty member at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. While many nutritionists focus on just food, Lisa sees it as just one of those puzzle pieces. She truly believes how we care for ourselves: our emotions, gut flora, sleep, stress, and of course, the food we put into our bodies, all work together to help us heal. Her mission is to help you find those missing pieces and give you the skills you need to solve your puzzle once and for all. Learn more about Lisa: lisakilgour.com
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.