The Dirt on Plant-based Diets
With ‘Veganuary’ just beginning and over 350,000 people estimated to be taking part, the popularity of plant-based diets is definitely on the rise. But what is it that is causing people to ditch the animal products in favour of a more plant-orientated existence?
Whilst the over-arching benefit of veganism on sustainability is well-known, there are a number of misconceptions that are commonly made about undertaking a vegan diet. Many people, both vegans and non-vegans, are often under the impression that eating a plant-based diet is healthier than an omnivorous diet. Although this can be true in some circumstances, it is not a given. Omnivorous diets can be as healthy, if not healthier, than vegan diets – there is no guarantee that becoming vegan will ensure you live a healthier life. By the same token, many people transition to a plant-based diet in an attempt to obtain weight-loss. Remember, a vegan diet is not another weight loss diet and does not always equal health.
Many of us are also under the impression that a vegan diet is more expensive to sustain. Of course this is subjective to each individual, however research suggests that the cost of sustaining a plant-based diet is actually, on average, lower than the cost of sustaining an omnivorous diet. Focusing the majority of your diet on fruits & vegetables, grains and legumes in place of meat and highly processed snacks can have a significant and positive effect on the purse strings.
Vegans that follow poorly planned diets are also particularly at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Studies show that vegans are at a higher risk of having inadequate blood levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc. Vitamin B12 is a vitamin involved in the function of every cell in the body. It's particularly important in the formation of blood and the function of the brain. It is thought that up to 92% of vegans are deficient in this critical nutrient. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Vegans are up to 74% more likely to be deficient than meat eaters and so fortified milk alternatives should be consumed. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that are important in preventing and managing heart disease by lowering blood pressure. Vegan foods rich in omega-3 include chia, hemp, flax seeds, walnuts and soybeans. To minimise the likelihood of deficiency it is best to limit the amount of processed vegan foods consumed and to opt for nutrient-rich plant-based foods instead. Fortified foods, especially those enriched with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, should also make a daily appearance. To enhance the absorption of iron and zinc, try fermenting or sprouting foods. A well-planned vegan diet that includes nutrient-rich whole and fortified foods can help provide adequate nutrient levels. And if you think vegan diets are boring, make sure to check out my super easy recipe for a plant-based chocolate mousse – you wouldn’t even know it was vegan!