Often, people confuse veganism as a new health trend. They believe that it is the new fad diet to help people lose weight and become healthy. This opens the door to thousands of others claiming veganism can never be a healthy diet because it is so restrictive with the foods you can and can not eat.
If you want to become healthier on a vegan diet you should stop worrying about protein, eat plenty nutrient-dense starch and non starchy ruits and veggies packed with healthy calories, focus on whole foods and consider quality supplementation.
The truth is, while eating a plant-based diet can be incredibly healthy, it is not healthy by default. Nor is veganism solely based on being healthy. Here is the official definition of veganism from the Vegan Society:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
A healthy diet is just as much a choice as being fit. But luckily its pretty easy. With the following tips being a healthy vegan will be as easy as (vegan) pie.
Stop worrying about protein
One of the biggest myths surrounding veganism is that we don’t get enough protein. The fact is, the amount of protein we need as humans to live healthy lives isn’t that much and is easily achievable on a plentiful and varied plant-based diet.
If you are eating a wide variety of foods including complex carbs, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and tofu/tempeh you are likely getting enough protein in your plant-based diet already. Amino acids are present in all foods and you don’t need them all in one meal to get the adequate amount needed for your body. Its about eating a variety of food rather than concentrating on one food group.
When vegans start to worry about their protein intake they tend to form unhealthy eating habits including eating too many soy-based alternative meats. Some start to drink one or two vegan protein smoothies a day or constantly snack on vegan jerky to help boost protein to the max. These products are extremely high in salt, sugar, and fat. You will most likely consume too much protein which usually stores as fat in your body . You will excete the suplus of amino acids.
Over time this can lead to weight gain. Men need 56 grams of protein a day and women require 46 grams per day. Dr Valter Longo, author of The Longevity Diet says from his studies its even lower at 0.31 to 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This isn’t as difficult to get through your daily food intake as you may think.
Don’t be scared of carbs (complex carbs that is)
When people talk about veganism, there is confusion about how people survive on kale leaves and tomatoes. Well, they can’t just survive on these foods as they simply don’t provide you with enough calories.
Healthy vegans make healthy complex carbohydrates the main base of their plant-based diet. These foods are high in calories but healthy. Complex carbs, whole grains, and legumes not only provide you with enough calories for the energy you need but they help fill you up too.
Bean enchiladas, sweet potato casserole, and a chickpea curry are all great examples of vegan meals that pack a big calorie punch with tons of nutrients too. Healthy vegans aren’t salad munchers, they are starch munchers.
The idea carbs are unhealthy is a big misconception you should avoid falling for. There is a big difference between simple carbs like french fries and complex carbs like sweet potato or legumes. Simple carbs are almost nutritionally devoid and are usually contain high amounts of fat, salt, and/or sugar. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are nutrient-dense, help with weight loss, and can even reduce your risk of heart disease.
Focus on fresh whole foods
Eating whole foods is an easy way to ensure the foods you are eating are nutritionally abundant. A lot of modern foods (including plant foods) are ultra-processed. There is minimal processing with whole foods. All foods are processed in some way – washed, chopped, dried, freezed or canned. But it’s not always a bad thing.
Ultra-processing decreases the nutritional value of foods and usually involves a ton of fat, sugar, and salt being added in the process. Whole foods are as close to their harvested state as possible helping them to retain more of their nutritional value. Research from the USA found that 90% of the sugar in our modern diet comes from ultra-processing.
In regards to whole foods, research continues to show that choosing them is of great value for our health. There is consistent evidence that a diet low in ultra-processed foods promotes health and prevents disease.
The ultra-processed vegan industry is now in full flow with every restaurant on the high street offering vegan junk food and vegan snacks. Whilst these are great for the odd indulgence, they are not a staple of a vegan diet and they are not healthy. Just because something is vegan does not automatically make it good for you. Don’t let the green ticket next to the menu item fool you.
Supplementation is useful in our modern times
Supplementation is a difficult subject when discussing veganism. Some vegans claim you can get every nutrient you need from a plant-based diet. Others say you need just B12 to be healthy. Both are incorrect.
It’s important to understand that the best way to get nutrients is through food. However, our modern diets simply don’t offer all the nutrients or in the correct quantities. So, we all need some extra help here and there whether you are a vegan or not.
We can’t deny that supplements are important for vegans. We abstain from animal foods that are the sole source of essential nutrients. B12 is only found in animal meat. Alternatively, we simply can’t get enough of some nutrients. Some plant foods only offer small amounts.
All vegans should take B12 supplementation as a rule. They should also consider Iron, Zinc, Vitamin D and Omega-3 DHA supplementation. Getting the RDA of each can be difficult when eating plant foods alone. For example, for a woman to get her RDA of Iron she would need to eat 1.2 kg of kale or 545g of lentils per day. It’s just not realistic.
Supplementation is not something to turn your nose up at. It is a great way to provide your body with the optimal amount of nutrients to stay healthy with a food system that is making it increasingly difficult.
Not all supplements are good quality so you want to check the following boxes before purchasing:
- Good Bioavailability – the degree and rate at which the nutrients are absorbed by the body’s circulatory system to have an active effect.
- Third-Party Testing – the supplement has been tested by an independent company who tests for purity, content and ensures that the company’s claims are true.
- Great Customer Reviews – the experiences of others can help you to decide if the supplement is worth using or not.
If your supplement ticks all three of these boxes you can be pretty confident you are buying a good quality supplement.
Veganism is not a health movement or even a diet. However, you can be an incredibly healthy vegan if you choose to. Using the three vegan health hacks above you can be sure you are leading the healthiest vegan lifestyle possible.
Remember, no diet is healthy by default. Put in the time, work and commitment to eating healthy and lead an active lifestyle and you will achieve a healthy body and mind.