Being a vegan

Is veganism really good for your health?

There are many reasons to turn vegan – but is better health really one of them?

Giving up animal produce and loading up on plant-based foods… It’s good for the planet and great for your conscience. You may think it’ll also do your health the world of good… And, yes, if you’re prepared to put in the work and cook from scratch, using a full range of nutritious foods, you can be a very healthy vegan.

But you’ll need to stick to a few ground rules…

Veganism – Know what you’re getting into…

Strict vegans don’t just give up meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Even honey is off the menu (it’s produced by animals). ‘But it’s not just about what you don’t eat as a vegan,’ says leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville (www.marilynglenville.com). ‘When it comes to your health, you have to look carefully at what else you are eating when you give these things up. If you fall into the trap of living off pasta, processed meat substitutes, and too much bread, cake and biscuits you’ll be doing yourself no favours at all. A vegan diet needs a lot of thought and planning to get all the nutrients you need and it can be difficult to get it right.’

Up your antis…

One of the main benefits of your new vegan regime is that you should be eating more antioxidant-rich fruit and veg – and the more of these you eat, the better your chances of living a long and healthy life, says Marilyn. ‘Eating ten portions a day can reduce your risk of a premature death (from cancer and heart disease) by 42 per cent – but of course you don’t have to be a vegan to make this change to your diet. For maximum benefit, eat a rainbow of colours every day. Leafy greens, berries, carrots and beetroot all contain different antioxidants. ’

Don’t expect being a vegan to save you money…

In a 2016 survey of 2197 people with different diets, vegans typically spent around £162 a month more than meat eaters. Not that surprising when you start totting up the cost of all the different plant based foods needed to meet all your nutritional requirements. ‘You should also factor in spending out on supplements,’ says Marilyn. ‘Nutritional deficiencies are common in vegans – and you’re particularly at risk of missing out on vitamins B12 and D3, omega-3, iron, and calcium. Even if you’re eating nori seaweed (for B12), mushrooms (for D3), flaxseeds (for omega-3), spinach (for iron), and tofu (for calcium), you’ll probably need to top up with a vegan multi vitamin and mineral and an algae supplement for Omega-3 fats.’

Chew, chew, chew…

If you’re new to a vegan diet, especially if you’ve come straight from eating meat, it can take your body a while to start picking up nutrients from vegetable sources, warns A. Vogel’s nutritional therapist Ali Cullen. ‘But if you chew your food well, you’ll up your chances of absorbing more nutrients.’

Look after your gut…

Take a quality probiotic supplement. If you give up meat, and have less protein in your diet – which most vegans do – you could miss out on the essential building blocks that support the cells in your gut lining. ‘If you have an already sensitive gut and are susceptible to IBS, you could find yourself more sensitive now. A low FODMAP diet is often recommended to ease your symptoms. But this involves giving up a whole load of vegan-friendly fruit, vegetables and pulses, and you may be left wondering what you can eat,’ says Natalie Lamb, nutritional therapist at Bio-Kult.

Taking a probiotic supplement can help you cope with a vegan diet without the added complications of unpleasant gut symptoms – constipation, wind and diarrhoea – and an even more restricted diet. You should also make sure you cook your vegan food correctly. For example remembering to pre-soak pulses so that they are properly fermented and better for your gut.

Meet your inner vegan half way

Get all the benefits of a plant-based diet without losing out on the nutrients meat, eggs and fish give you. ‘Lean red meat is one of the most nutritious foods around, providing easily absorbed iron and zinc, as well as complete protein, B vitamins and selenium,’ advises Dr Carrie Ruxton of the Meat Advisory Panel. ‘Eggs are rich in vitamin D while dairy foods provide calcium and iodine. If it’s health rather than ethics motivating you to change how you eat, trade up to lean red meat, double your vegetables, and eat eggs and oily fish a few times a week.  Avoid processed foods and cut down on alcohol too.’