Veganism: a beginner’s guide

Keen to make the switch to vegan eating? Dietician Jordana Smith has some advice to ensure you don’t miss out on important nutrients in your diet

Dietician Jordana Smith says a vegan diet needs to be properly managed

Many people are turning towards veganism in the hopes of improving their health, increasing weight loss and saving the environment. What is often not considered are the negative health effects that may arise if a vegan diet is not properly managed.

Our focus, commonly, is only on what we need to cut out of the diet without paying much attention to what we need to add in order to replace lost micronutrients. So, doing some research before making the change is essential.

Even though a vegan diet implies eating only vegetables and fruit, many people still don’t eat enough of these foods. We need to put emphasis on eating a variety of foods, with a particular focus on green leafy vegetables, to increase iron intake. And, ensuring that we have a rainbow of colours daily will improve the health of our gut microbiome. Another important thing to highlight is ensuring we meet our protein requirements.

Foods to focus on
* Tofu, tempeh and seitan: are all good meat, poultry, fish and egg alternatives
* Legumes: good sources of protein and fibre
* Nuts: offer additional protein and boost intake of minerals, such as zinc and magnesium
* Seeds: particularly chia and flaxseeds contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids
* Algae: spirulina and chlorella are good sources of a complete protein
* Nutritional yeast: increases protein content and adds a cheesy flavour to foods. Also a good source of Vitamin B12
* Wholegrains and cereals: quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth are high protein options
* Sprouted and fermented foods: help to improve gut health and mineral absorption

Important micronutrients

Vitamin B12: This vitamin is found mostly in animal products, with small amounts being available in some plant products.

Iron: Iron found in plant products is known as non-haem iron and is not as easily absorbed as haem iron in meat products. If following a vegan diet, ensure that you combine Vitamin C-rich foods with vegetables high in iron to increase absorption. Never supplement iron, unless a deficiency has been diagnosed.

Calcium: Found mostly in dairy, this can become a concern particularly for females. Make sure that you increase your consumption of plant products high in calcium, such as green leafy vegetables, beans, tahini, almonds and dried apricots. Calcium is essential for bone health, and if we aren’t getting enough, the risk of osteoporosis is increased.

Be cautious of milk alternative plant-based products; many of the commercially available ones contain very little of the key ingredient. For example, Almond milk only contains about 3 per cent of actual almonds.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential to allow our body to metabolise calcium. Animals products, particularly fish and egg yolk, have high amounts.

Zinc: This is essential for the functioning of our immune system, but mostly found in meat and shellfish. However, it is available in legumes, seeds and nuts as well. It is important to include these foods in the vegan diet, as they are great alternative protein sources yet are often forgotten about.

Iodine: Found mostly in seafood and is essential for the correct functioning of our thyroid gland. It’s recommended that you include seaweed in the diet and, if not, then adding ½ teaspoon of iodised salt per day will help maintain levels. Remember that our “healthier salts” do not contain iodine.

Vegan shopping
Jordana recommends Organic Foods and Café

Spinneys and Carrefour both offer a good range