Adopting a vegan diet can be a challenge for some> Generally the switch is based on ethical or health reasons, so you know your personal reasons why, but you wouldn’t be human without wondering if you can truly fuel your lifestyle with this approach.
So, let’s take a look at body needs and what foods to include in your vegan diet.
The body is made up of cells, trillions, and trillions of them in fact. They all have jobs to do, whether they are skin cells that form a barrier or muscle cells that help you walk across the hall.
To do these jobs, they need certain nutrients.
Essential nutrients are those that cannot be synthesised by the body – so they must be provided by the diet.
Non-essential nutrients can be synthesised by the body, so they can be obtained either through production in the body or through the diet.
Nutrients are further divided into six major categories:
The nutrients that provide energy are classed as macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates). Micronutrients are equally as important but needed in smaller amounts, they are vitamins and minerals.
After energy needs have been met, only then will nutrients be used for other metabolic functions in the body.
The long and the short of it, to fuel yourself properly, you need all of these nutrients.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is used to supply energy to cells. Energy can be stored in muscle and liver cells, but only in small amounts. Excess sugar is stored in adipose tissue for later use.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. They have numerous functions and are the major structural component of hair, skin, nails, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. They are also involved in cell signaling, muscle contraction, oxygen, and nutrient transport along with a range of enzymatic reactions throughout the body. Amino acids are the basic units of proteins, and after ingestion, they are disrupted and re-formed into new proteins that can be used throughout the body.
Fat is broken down into fatty acids which are used to make cell linings and hormones. Fat can also be used as an energy source. Of interest, prostaglandins are made up of fats at the site of tissue damage or infection – they control inflammation, blood flow, and the formation of blood clots. So if you get injured, fat is a key component of the healing process. Fat also forms part of the skin layer, as well as cell membranes in the retina.
As you can see, these macronutrients have wide-ranging roles in the body, so optimal health depends on sufficient intake. Not just for energy needs, but for everything else that goes on in the body too!
Micronutrients as we have mentioned include vitamins and minerals. These, in short, help the body carry out the jobs it needs to.
Many vitamins support the processes of turning the macronutrients into energy. Many minerals play a role in the heart pumping efficiently along with a role in muscle contraction and relaxation.
What do I need to include in my vegan diet?
Protein is found in reasonably large quantities in several plant-based foods, for instance:
- Lentils and Legumes – Lentils, beans, and peas are great sources of protein, dietary fibre and are rich in a wide variety of vitamins & minerals.
- Nuts, Nut Butter & Seeds, etc – All kinds of nuts are a source of protein and of healthy fats. Seeds, such as chia seed and flax also contain considerable amounts of protein and plenty of fibre too.
- Soybeans, Tofu and Tempeh – Soybeans and the many products made from them like tofu and tempeh are great additions!
- Non-Dairy Milk – Soy, nut or oat sourced milks are all a source of protein.
Many of the water-soluble vitamins have a high turnover in the body, even more so if you find yourself stressed quite often. So, ensure your vegan diet contains plenty of these.
- Vitamin B12 – nutritional yeast, marmite, fortified soy and almond milk, fortified cereals, tempeh, chlorella, nori seaweed, cremini mushrooms,
- Vitamin C – strawberries, kiwis, orange, broccoli, berries,
- Vitamin D – mushrooms, the sunshine (tricky if you live in the UK),
- Vitamin E – almonds, hazelnuts, mustard greens, spinach, kale and olives,
- Calcium – leafy greens, parsley and coriander, broccoli, many beans and legumes,
- Magnesium – leafy greens, black beans, avocado and whole greens,
- Iron – pulses, fortified cereals, wholemeal bread, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, cashews, seeds.
Healthy Fats to include:
- Chia seeds,
- Cacao nibs – a rich source of iron too!
- Olive oil,
Exercise can place extra nutrient demands on the body, and some of the more common nutrient deficiencies include the following:
B vitamins – you may feel more fatigued or sluggish.
Iron – you may feel tired or have shortness of breath.
Zinc – you may notice hair loss, poor wound healing, unexplained weight loss, and tiredness.
The most common nutrient deficiencies noticed in vegan lifestyles include:
- Vitamin B12
If you are worried that you’re not keeping up with your workouts how you would like, pop to see your healthcare provider to establish your current nutrient status. Supplements are widely available which may be an option to support your lifestyle.