Going vegan the smart and healthy way

Vegans must ensure their plant-based diet contains optimal amounts of nutrients to stay healthy. (rawpixel.com pic)

The first ever Kuala Lumpur Vegan Festival was held last month. There were vendors selling beautiful vegan, sustainable goods and food.

Panels discussed various aspects of going vegan, and there were cooking and fitness workshops as well. Vegans supporting the growing movement attended, plus those considering making the switch themselves.

This article does not dwell on the many good reasons to go vegan. Put aside the effects on the planet and animal welfare, what’s more concerning are the health implications of making that switch.

If you’re going vegan because someone told you it was healthier, then you may want to ask them to check their facts… and priorities.

For a start, there is very little literature that says eating a vegan diet is healthier. Most show that a plant-based diet with a small amount of organic, free-range, grass-fed beef and fish raised in unpolluted waterways is optimal.

The above is hard to source though, and often expensive. It’s also unsustainable to provide for seven billion people. This results in those consuming meat often consuming too much of it and from poor quality sources.

What studies have shown is eating large amounts of antibiotic-stuffed, hormone-pumped, processed meat is less healthy than being vegan.

Most people that go and stay vegetarian or vegan are not so concerned with whether it is healthier. They’re focused on how to be as healthy as possible whilst having minimal effect on the planet.

One thing many people fail to consider though, is the change in the nutritional profile of the food when making the switch.

Everyone gets very caught up with “where do you get your protein from?” and forgets to pay attention to the micronutrients. There are several that are not as abundant in a pure plant-based diet.

Sourcing good quality Omega 3s, calcium and iron is important in a vegan diet. (rawpixel.com pic)

Omega 3s

While Omega 3s are important to your health, finding out how to get enough DHA without consuming fish products becomes paramount when you’re a vegan.

Going straight to the source that the fish themselves eat is a top tip. Algal oil, or vegan algae capsules are exactly how fish get their DHA, and are a great source for you too.

These are easy to find online, but be sure to assess the DHA quantities against those recommended in the article.

Calcium

Vegetarians can consume this through dairy products. The dairy industry has for so long been pushing calcium as the reason to consume their products, that many now believe it’s the only source.

But this isn’t the case, and needn’t be for vegans. There is also an argument that milk-products are not suitable for all. Plus, the quality of milk sold in big-chain supermarkets is nothing near what it used to be.

Soy products, edamame, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables are a vegan’s best bet.

However, swapping your glass of milk with your cooked breakfast of spinach or bok choy isn’t equal. It requires eight cups of spinach to equal the calcium content of one cup of milk.

There are only 55 calories in the same spinach serving though (and it contains iron, magnesium, potassium etc), whereas there are twice that in milk.

Yes, that means if you like spinach, you now get to have a bigger, more nutritious breakfast, with more fibre to keep you full.

Iron

This is the key ingredient in ensuring your red blood cells are able to transport enough oxygen and nutrients around our bodies. As with many nutrients, where they’re found in our bodies correlates with animals.

Meat eaters get stronger, more accessible and better absorbed sources in organs and red meat. Plant-based dieters have no reason for concern though. There are plenty of alternatives with only a slightly lower conversion rate.

Dried apricots, peaches and prunes are a great source of iron, but they’re very dense in calories and sugar. They’re not ideal for high consumption by those who are less active.

Beans provide an equal iron:calorie ratio, with much higher fibre to ensure less of an impact on blood sugar. Spinach, as with calcium, should be the king of the iron:calorie ratio. It contains over three times the density of anything else.

Sadly, some studies show that the oxalic acid contained in spinach inhibits its absorption. Fret not though: not only is there a strong 2008 study showing oxalates have minimal impact on absorption, but you can reduce their inhibiting effect by cooking your spinach, which also makes it easier to eat more of.

Just remember to fry or bake it, not cook it – you’ve got to keep those minerals in there to have any chance of absorbing them.

Joompa is a digital platform that facilitates the sourcing and booking of freelance, mobile personal fitness coaches. Available on iOS or via www.joompa.com.my