Across supermarkets, restaurants and recipe books we are seeing the same key feature emerge – the need for plant-based alternatives. In 2019, it was reported that ~600,000 people were Vegans in the UK. In 2020, there was an exponential increase in the number of people taking part in initiatives such as Veganuary, with a record-breaking 500,000 people signed up. This was in comparison to just 100,000 the previous year. In addition, acceptability of the vegan diet has increased, Deliveroo reported that searches for vegan food was up by 153%.
Today is World Vegan Day, Vytaliving is looking into the vegan diet, how it may benefit you, and how to create a healthy and balanced vegan diet.
Why do some people choose to go vegan?
According to a 2019 VOMAD global research the most common reason for going vegan is for animal welfare (68.1%), followed by 17.4% people attributing it to health, 9.7% for the environment and 4.8% classified as ‘other’. The vegan society shares the same concerns and reasons why you should go vegan. If you would like to read more about this, check out the references below.
Sustainability and the Vegan Diet
Many of us already know that rearing animals can be a strain on our environment, from water requirements, to use of land and greenhouse gases there has recently been a call to reduce meat in diets and increase plant-based sources of protein. According to an independent article, ‘taking on a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on earth’. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by up to 73 per cent. Below are a few statistics from the People for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA):
- Water Use- It takes an incredible amount of water to rear an animals, grow the crops for their food, clean the habitat to meet food standards and provide drinking water for the animals. It is estimated to make 1lb or 450 grams of beef you would need 2400 gallons of water. Conversely to produce the same amount of tofu you would only need 244 gallons.
- Land Use – It takes 75% less land to feed a human on a plant-based diet than it does to feed someone on a meat-consuming diet. Lastly, 91% of Amazon destruction can be attributed to animal agriculture
- Greenhouse gases- Animal agriculture causes an estimated 18% of all emissions. Also, meat, eggs and dairy causes 65 per cent of all nitrous-oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide has 296 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide. Lastly, cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
- Oceans- 3/4ths of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted. For every 1kg of fish caught, up to 5kg of marine animals are also caught and discarded
Health and the Vegan Diet
It’s not that eating meat is inherently unhealthy, however, the way in which the western world consume meat is. Studies show that we overconsume meat in the UK. This overconsumption has been associated with a number of diseases such as gout, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. The Vegan society reports that vegan diets have been linked with a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol to healthier levels, as well as a reduction in heart diseases, diabetes and some types of cancer. In addition, the world cancer research fund (WCRF) recommends reducing the consumption of red and processed meats as well as enjoying more plant-based food sources such as veg, fruit, and beans which is more in line with the vegan diet. Compared with a meat-eater or a vegetarian diet, vegan diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, but higher in fibre. In addition, vegans tend to have a lower BMI, with lower serum cholesterol and blood pressure which substantially decreases the risk of heart disease. Lastly, multiple studies on the vegan diet have demonstrated a linked between a wholefood vegan diet and a reduced risk of breast, prostate, colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers.
Maintaining a Healthy Vegan Diet
Like all diets, it’s important to establish the correct balance of all nutrients in order to maintain health. Here are some of the nutrients that any person undertaking a vegan diet should be mindful of:
Majority of the time, most vegans are aware of this nutrient and prioritise this. Studies have even shown that despite plant-based protein having less protein per gram of food, many vegans are sufficient in protein, or consume too much. The most important thing to consider is that people on a plant-based diet should be consuming a wide range of protein in order to consume a complete set of amino acids. Vegan-friendly proteins include:
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Seeds and Seed Butters
- Tofu or Soy Products
- Meat Alternatives such as quorn
- Or you may like to opt for a vegan protein powder from pea, pumpkin, or hemp protein.
Iron is found in both plant and animal sources but is most available in animal-based sources. That being said there are tonnes of iron-rich food sources that are plant-based, including:
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Dried Fruits
- Dark Chocolate
- Fortified foods
- An iron supplement with at least 14mg of bioavailable iron
It’s important to note that iron is not always well-absorbed especially when consumed with tannins or sources of calcium and phytates. However, eating it alongside vitamin C can help to boost this absorption.
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal-based products. This is only because the animal itself is supplemented with Vitamin B12. This is because we have depleted natural sources of Vitamin B12 from over-farming which means both agriculture and humans regardless of dietary preferences should take a vitamin B12 supplement. Typically, you will see this in the form of cyano- or methylcobalamin. Studies demonstrate very little difference between the two, although methylcobalamin is thought to be more bioavailable.
The most common and abundant sources of zinc are animal-based sources. Not to mention it’s found in very small quantities in plant-based foods. This is a mineral that all plant-based diets should be mindful of consuming. Including the following food sources:
- Wholegrains and cereals
Lastly, is Vitamin D. this is a contentious vitamin as it’s not only vegans that lack vitamin D, it’s everyone. The only thing that makes it difficult for vegans is that majority of the food sources are animal-based. Some vegan sources of Vitamin D include:
- Fortified plant-based dairy
- Vegan Vitamin D sourced from Algae
Remember that if you want to include more vegan foods in your diet then introducing just one meal a week, such as meatless Monday’s can be a simple first step. For more information on the vegan diet or you’d like to start making simply one change a week you may like to visit the vegan society website for more information.
Here’s a link to Vytaliving’s Vegan Collection: