Should you go vegan? Is it healthy? Whether it’s a nutritious choice, as with any other diet, all depends on what you eat. Living on potato chips, for instance, would technically be following a vegan diet, but it definitely wouldn’t be good for you.
What do vegans eat?
Going vegan means abstaining from any animal products or by-products and only eating plant-based foods – so no meat, fish, eggs, gelatine or dairy. While many experts claim that a vegan diet is the ultimate nutritious diet for humans, it’s all about educating yourself and knowing which nutrients you need. Following a vegan diet can make it more difficult to get essential nutrients if you don’t do your homework first.
Vegan diets are naturally low in amino acids (tissue building blocks), omega-3 fatty acids (nervous system function), calcium (bone health; muscle function), vitamin B12 (DNA and red blood cell production), vitamin D2 (disease-fighting; calcium absorption), iron (oxygen supply to the tissues), and zinc (cell repair; immune system function).
Initially, it’s best to consult a dietitian, who can help you work out a meal plan including a variety of foods to ensure all your nutrient needs will be met, before going vegan. They may also advise you on taking dietary supplements.
How do vegans get protein?
Every meal should contain protein, but dieticians agree that meat as a source has become far too prominent in South African’s diets. If you look at the UK Department of Health’s Eat Well Guide to portion control of the five main food groups, you’ll see that only 15% of what we eat on our plates should be a protein source – from animals.
As another simple guide, the US Institute of Medicine recommends that adults consume 0.8g of protein for every kilogram of their body mass per day – that’s about 52g of protein for a woman weighing 65kg.
The best vegan sources of proteins are:
- Nuts (e.g. almonds and pistachios)
- Seeds (e.g. chia and hemp; legumes)
- Leafy green veg (e.g. spinach and broccoli)
- Sweet potatoes
- Tofu and tempeh
- Nutritional yeast
- Wholewheat bread
- Wild rice or brown rice mixed with lentils
- Higher-protein grains (e.g. quinoa and spelt).
If you’d like to try going vegan or at least eliminating dairy, gluten or sugar, click here for our recommended list of suppliers.
Does a vegan diet help you lose weight?
This all depends on your choices. Without proper meal planning, it’s easy to fall into the trap of filling up on refined carbs and other processed foods, which are often loaded with sugar and empty calories, providing no nutrition. This will lead to weight gain and poor health.
But, the bottom line is… studies show that vegans who have a balanced diet have a lower BMI, i.e. are leaner, than meat eaters. A healthy plant-based diet is low in saturated fats – not only do these contain more calories per gram than other foodstuffs, but they increase your risk of heart disease.
Other than consuming fewer calories, vegans also tend to eat more nutritious wholegrains, fruits, veg, nuts and seeds than non-vegans.