We all are aware of what being a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian is and what kind of food each consumes. Amongst this, many people around the world started to follow a new way of living by turning vegan. Here we have Pavithra. N. Raj, Chief Dietician, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, who will elaborate as to what being vegan is, what they eat and the pros and cons of accepting this lifestyle.
What is being a vegan?
“People who follow this routine avoid consuming any animal-based products, including honey and dairy products,” says Pavithra.
What are the kinds of food a vegan consumes?
They eat mainly fruits, vegetables, legumes, sprouts and nuts. They substitute milk and milk products with soy, almond or coconut.
Is it healthy being a vegan and does our body accept it well?
Pavithra says, “Yes, one can follow this diet if they are ready to consume only a certain kind of food. The routine is known to have less of saturated fat as people avoid meat, milk and milk products.” But one is potentially at risk of missing out on certain micronutrients like calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, they will need to find supplementation for them from the foods that they can consume.
What are the substitutes one can consume instead of dairy products and do they provide sufficient nutrition?
As consumption of any animal milk is avoided, milk and products made from fruits and nuts are consumed. Though they are healthy with a good amount of nutrients, a deficiency of Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 is possible. The following are the dairy item and their alternatives:
- Milk – Coconut, almond, soya milk, flax seed milk, hemp milk, rice and oat milk.
- Ghee – Coconut oil or Avocado oil
- Butter – Peanut or Almond butter, tahini
- Paneer – Tofu
- Cheese – Soya Cheese
Can all aged people opt for this kind of food habit and does it provide overall nutrition that our body requires?
Pavithra suggests, “It is not recommended for a young aged group, since they may lack the calcium and other micronutrients that their body requires for healthy growth. It may especially affect the development of bone strength.” Turning vegan can cause deficiencies of certain nutrients that will need food alternatives to compensate.
Are there any problems one can face by alternating dairy products with vegan products?
Eating too much of soya products can lead to hormonal imbalance as it increases the estrogen level.
Any tips to keep in mind, if one wants to turn to veganism?
- Choose whole and fortified grains.
- Avoid processed vegan foods like vegan margarine and palm oil.
- They have to depend on Vitamin B12 and Omega 3 foods and supplements
What are the nutrients that each of the substitutes you suggest has?
Pavithra shares a list of foods and their benefits for vegans:
Legumes – Beans, lentils and peas are nutrient-rich plant alternatives to animal-derived foods. Sprouting, fermenting and proper cooking can increase nutrient absorption.
Nuts, nut butters and seeds – These are nutritious and versatile foods that are rich in protein and nutrients. Every vegan should consider adding them to their pantry.
Hemp, flax and chia seeds – The seeds of hemp, chia and flax are richer in protein and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) than most other seeds. Flax and chia seeds are also great replacements for eggs in recipes.
Tofu and other minimally processed meat substitutes –Minimally processed meat alternatives including tofu, tempeh and seitan are nutrient-rich additions to the diet. Try to limit your consumption of heavily processed vegan mock meats.
Calcium – Plant milk and yogurt fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 are good alternatives to products made from cows’ milk.
Seaweed – It is a protein-rich source of essential fatty acids. It is also high in antioxidants and iodine.
Nutritional yeast: This is a protein-rich source of vitamin B12. However, non-fortified versions are not a reliable source of the vitamin.
Sprouting and fermenting foods help enhance their nutritional value. They also provide vegans with a source of probiotics and Vitamin K2.
Whole grains, cereals and pseudocereals, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa are flavourful, high-protein alternates for better-known grains such as wheat and rice. Sprouted varieties are the best.
Choline-rich plant foods such as soy, cauliflower, broccoli and quinoa are important for the proper functioning of your body.
Fruits and vegetables are very healthy and some of them can be used as alternatives for animal-derived foods.
The above tips help throw light on the pros and cons of being a vegan and also provide knowledge on the food habits you can incorporate to be healthy. As the trend of this food habit is popular, with the given knowledge, people can decide whether they are open to this lifestyle and if it’s a good fit for their body and mind.
Pavithra. N. Raj, Chief Dietitian, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital