We would like to start off by saying, contrary to popular opinion, vegan does not necessarily imply ‘healthy’. For example, potato is vegan, but eating potato chips every day is bad for you. But when you combine vegan with healthy, and eat the right way, the health benefits are untold. In addition to the nutritional advantages from an increased intake of plant-based foods, there are also the added benefits of reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes as a result of eliminating unhealthy foods such as red meats and saturated fats.
As with any other diet, you need to get the right quantities of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fibre. You also need to consume all thirteen vitamins (A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12) and essential minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, sodium and potassium among others. So, what foods comprise of a nutritionally rich vegan diet? What must you eat and how will it benefit you? Here is how you can go about it:
Add colour to your diet
Eat as many different types of fruits and vegetables as you can. Make your diet as colourful as possible. It is recommended to get four to five varieties of fruits and vegetables every day and mix it up as often as possible. This will cover most essential vitamins and minerals your body requires for optimal health.
Powered by plant protein
There is a common misconception that vegans do not get enough protein in their diet. Just Google ‘vegan bodybuilders’ and you’ll know how inaccurate that is. Ideal protein sources for vegans include lentils, beans, tofu (also rich in antioxidants), soy meat and even plant-based milks (they contain just about as much protein as animal-based milks). Furthermore, there are plenty of high-quality vegan protein supplements available in the market today. Adding lentils, tofu and soy to your meals will very well take care of your protein requirement.
Help yourself to superfoods such as hemp, chia, and flax seeds, as they are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are said to be essential for heart function and immunity and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Eat a variety of nuts (and nut butters) such as walnuts, almonds, cashew, and macadamia among others as they are rich in good fats, and thus, good for heart health, lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
It is simple: eat complex
Comprising of about one-third of your daily food intake should be carbohydrates. Fibre-rich complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat breads and pastas, oats, sweet potatoes, and brown rice. To further supplement your carb requirements are high-fibre vegetables, beans, chickpeas, and various other legumes.
The B-12 conundrum
Vitamin B-12, commonly found in animals, is essential for metabolism. It helps in creating red blood cells, maintaining nerve health, and making DNA, among other functions. A vitamin B-12 deficiency will lead to anemia and nerve damage, show symptoms such as joint pains, fatigue, shortness of breath and numbness, and increase the risk of stroke.
As Vitamin B-12 is not found in plants, there is an argument that the vegan diet is unsafe. This is untrue. B-12 is found in certain bacteria and can be synthesized for human consumption. A fortified B-12 supplement will do the trick and ensure a vegan diet is perfectly safe.
As you have seen, a healthy vegan diet comes with plenty of protein, healthy fats, starchy carbohydrates, is rich in fibre, and micro nutritionally wholesome. It is perfectly alright to take a multivitamin and a B-12 supplement if required. When done right, a vegan diet is perhaps the best diet on the planet. And just like that, without harming animals or the environment, you can lead a compassionate, environment-friendly, and healthy life.