There are heaps of different reasons why people choose a vegetarian or vegan diet. It may be for environmental or ethical reasons, to achieve a health outcome, animal rights or religion. Some people also chose to eat vegan or vegetarian on certain days (meat free Monday) or try to have a plant-based lunch most days as a way to increase their veggie intake. There can many health benefits to a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet if done properly. Let’s take a look.
A vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet is a great way to increase your veggie intake and enjoy the benefits that come from plant based foods. These benefits often include an increase in phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre - including prebiotic fibres which are great for gut health. A diet high in plant-based food can also help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, may protect against certain types of cancer and support overall health and wellbeing. Plant based diets may also help to control weight, support blood sugar levels and reduce fat intake – especially the nasty saturated fat.
Whilst we support anyone choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, we do recommend you consult with your GP or dietitian to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need as part of a balanced diet. Some of the following nutrients are ones you should pay special attention to but there are others which are equally important and require careful consideration when making diet changes to avoid deficiencies.
Iron is a really important mineral that plays many roles in the human body. One role is the transport of oxygen around the blood which helps provide us with energy. Iron is also required for a healthy and well functioning immune system plus heaps more.
There are two types of iron in food - haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal foods like meat and non-haem iron is found in eggs and plant foods such as cereal grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, tofu and dark green leafy vegetables. Unfortunately, non-haem iron is not as well absorbed by the body as haem iron but there are ways to help. For example, foods high in vitamin C when eaten with these foods can improve absorption whilst tea and coffee can inhibit the absorption. Therefore, enjoy your cuppa between meals rather than with meals and if you are worried about not getting enough iron see your GP or a dietitian to discuss your dietary requirement as this can vary for males and females across the lifespan.
Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a really important role in the human body. Whilst some of the amino acids which proteins are made up of can be made by the body others can only be found in your diet. So, it’s important to eat a wide range of plant-based foods each day which contain protein. Some people consider legumes a superfood for anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet. They include chickpeas, lentils, canned or dried beans. Eating wholegrains rather than refined grains, such as brown rice, barley, quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat is also a great way to get protein. Whilst including dairy or soy products in your daily diet is also important. This includes milk, yoghurt, soy milk and tofu – check the protein, calcium and vitamin D content on the nutrition information panel. It's also a great idea to incorporate nuts and seeds in your meals, snacks or breakfast for extra protein.
This vegan Roasted Spiced Cauliflower w/ Chickpeas & Tahini Dressing is packed with veggies including cauliflower, zucchini, carrot, baby spinach, chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, sesame seeds, fresh herbs and dry spices.
Note the inclusion of chickpeas for protein and zinc, seeds and spinach for iron plus lemon juice to support absorption. This meal is packed with veggies which is great for your gut health.
Vitamin B12 is a tricky one as it is an essential vitamin found almost exclusively in animal foods such as red meat, cheese, seafood, poultry, milk, yoghurt and eggs. If you are vegan, you may need to look for foods which are fortified with B12 such as soy milk. A deficiency of B12 can cause a type of anaemia. Again, check in with your doctor or dietitian to ensure you are getting enough for your stage in life. They may recommend a B12 supplement but don’t go self-prescribing - speak to the experts.
This Thai Green Coconut Curry is packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals through the wide range of plant-based ingredients including edamame, brown rice, red capsicum, green beans, carrot, kale, peanuts, green onions, lemongrass, coriander, ginger, lemon juice, green chilli.
What’s not to love about a vegan or vegetarian meals. All this make for plenty of good reasons to add some to your cart next time you shop.
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