Veganuary – going vegan for the month of January – seems to be increasing in popularity every year. It’s a great way to get more vegetables into your diet, try out new recipes and ingredients, and (for some) think more about the impact what we eat has on the planet. But if this is your first time trying a vegan diet, it’s worth keeping a few things in mind in order to keep this month as healthy as possible. These are my Veganuary tips and tricks from a nutritionist’s perspective.
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 can only really be obtained from animal sources, with the exception of some fortified vegan products. Don’t worry, you won’t become B12 deficient in the space of just 31 days – that takes years to fully develop. If you are concerned feel free to take a B12 supplement, but please don’t rely on so-called “superfoods” like spirulina to get your B12. Read more on this here.
Iron from plant sources is harder for your body to absorb than iron from animal sources, thanks to phytates and oxalates, which are chemicals naturally found in plants that inhibit nutrient absorption. By cooking foods like spinach the iron becomes much more bioavailable as it removes at least some of these chemicals. Eating your iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C also helps with absorption, so if you’re having a smoothie in the morning, try pairing spinach with berries, for example.
Foods high in iron include: lentils, soybeans, grains, nuts and seeds, and some greens.
Make sure you’re getting a variety of sources of plant protein in your diet every day, by eating a range of beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, and soy products. All plants contain some protein, but these are especially good sources.
4. Milk, or mylk?
We’ve all been told from a young age that milk is a great source of calcium. So if you’re swapping your cow’s milk for almond milk, try and choose a brand that’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D to ensure you don’t miss out on these vital nutrients.
Speaking of calcium, good sources include kale, soybeans, broccoli, and almonds. Most greens tend to be high in calcium, even if you have to eat larger amounts of them than you would with dairy products. However, some greens contain high levels of oxalates which inhibit absorption, for example spinach contains plenty of calcium, but is also high in oxalates, making it a less-than-ideal source.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are essential for normal human growth and health, and have anti-inflammatory effects. The main omega-3 PUFA important to human health are ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is usually found in plants whereas DHA and EPA are usually found in animal sources (oily fish for example). Dietary ALA is relatively easy to come by, and is found in most plant sources, and some of that is converted in the body to EPA and DHA.
Flaxseed and walnuts are great sources of ALA, and I would recommend trying to have some flax in your diet on a regular basis in order to get your omega-3 needs.
If, after a month of Veganuary, you love it so much you want to continue, then great! But please do see a registered nutritionist or dietitian to make sure you’re getting everything you need to stay healthy in the long-term, and to answer any questions you have. Always choose a professional over anecdotal evidence from sources like YouTube or blogs, as what helps one person thrive on a particular diet might not work for another.
If you found this information helpful and want to learn more, or would like more advice that’s tailored to you and your nutritional needs, feel free to book a consultation with me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org