Frida Harju, in-house nutritionist at health and fitness app Lifesum ( www.lifesum.com ) comments:
Protein is essential to any healthy diet and if you are planning on going vegan, then you will have to find alternatives to add to your meals. Protein is responsible for promoting cell growth and repair, and you should ideally get some protein with every meal. Some great vegan alternatives for protein include soy, quinoa, beans, pulses and lentils.
In addition to protein, you will need to think about your calcium intake - the NHS recommends that an adult below the age of 50 consumes 1,000 mg of calcium a day. This might seem like a lot, but you can get your amount by eating calcium-rich foods, such as kale, almonds and figs. You can also still have cereals and plant-based milks.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart health, but the majority of these can be found in oily fish and eggs. For a vegan, you should try and consume foods like soybeans, canola oil and flaxseeds to get the necessary amounts of omega-3.
Iron and zinc
Iron and zinc are important diet staples, as the first is key to red blood cells and the second is responsible for cell division. The problem with plant-based diets is that zinc and iron aren't as easily absorbed by the body as they would be if they came from animal produce, which is why the recommended daily intake of iron for vegetarians is almost double to that of a meat-eater. To help your body absorb the metals, consume plenty of vitamin C, which speeds up your body's absorption.
Whether you are just starting a vegan diet or have been following it for a little while, you might require vitamin supplements, in particular B12, which is typically found in animal foods. A B12 deficiency can lead to a number of side effects, such as tiredness, weakness and even depression. Make sure to eat foods that are fortified with B12, or consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
It can be tempting to just replace meat products with processed foods such as pasta and bread, or alternatively soy meat. However, these 'substitutes' are often less healthy than high quality meat, and the dangers and benefits of soy have been debated by scientists for a number of years. Make sure that you check nutrition labels and buy products low on sodium and preservatives. If you want to have soy, then edamame, miso, tofu and soy milk are the healthiest options.
Watch the sugar
Making the switch to a vegan diet can make it easy to overindulge on deserts and sweet treats. However, sugar actually possesses no nutritional value and plenty of empty calories. If you are craving something sweet, try adding maple-syrup and agave nectar for extra sweetness or eating fruit-based deserts.
When you find the vegan foods that you can eat and that you enjoy, it can be easy to fall into a routine where you just eat the same foods all the time. However, remember that the same foods might not meet your nutritional requirements, causing you to become deficient in certain minerals and vitamins over time. Make sure that your diet is as varied as possible and that you get enough protein, B12, iron, calcium and vitamin D as a basis and work around this.
If you are new to veganism, make sure that you don't rush your transition from your existing diet to a vegan one. Not only can it be difficult to get your head around all the things that you can and can't eat, but your body will also need to adjust. Start by adding more plant-based foods into your diet, while also reducing the amount of animal products you eat.
While a vegan diet can have a number of health benefits, it won't guarantee that you will never fall ill, experience health problems or lose lots of weight and keep it off. The advantages of a vegan diet are environmental, reducing animal cruelty and your carbon footprint, with health benefits being a pleasant bonus.
Lifesum (www.lifesum.com) is a health and fitness app, which has just launched a new vegan/vegetarian/pescetarian feature, allowing users to select their food preference when using the app. What this means is that Lifesum has become one of the first health apps to include these diets and provide users with recipes to suit their lifestyle and make sure that they do not miss any essential nutrients and lead a healthy lifestyle, no matter their diet. Once signed up to the app, the user will be presented with recipes, tips and nutritional content aimed specifically at their diet and their lifestyle goals, whether those are to lose or gain weight, get fitter or stronger, or achieve a balanced lifestyle.
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