Supplements every Vegan needs

Monday, 18 November 2019

Beth Cragg Veganism Cover

it's not always plain sailing being a Vegan

The nutritional short falls of a vegan diet

This post follows on from last, so make sure you have read this one first! Now I delve deeper into the nutritional short falls of a vegan diet and what foods you can include to make sure you avoid deficiency and stay healthy.

Omega 3

Omega 3 is a type of fatty acid that can’t be made in the human body and can only be obtained from the diet. Omega 3 consumption is important for cardiovascular health as they drive the production of important hormones that regulate processes such as blood vessel tone. Additionally, omega 3 can help protect against chronic disease through its anti-inflammatory properties, and also plays an important role in eye and brain function.

Vegans tend to have lower blood concentrations of omega 3 due to their lack of consumption of fish. Hmmm...Great for the fish… but not so good for the vegans.

So how do we fix this?

Since fish provides us with the most efficient form of omega 3, it can be difficult for vegans to obtain similar amounts in a plant based diet. However there are certain foods that contain small amounts and should therefore be incorporated into the diet. These include flaxseeds, walnuts, rapeseed oil, chia seeds and seaweed (kelp), including nori paper used for sushi. Seaweed is also high in Iodine, a nutrient which is also at risk of being deficient in vegans! It’s especially important to make sure you have enough omega 3 if you are pregnant or lactating and it therefore may be beneficial to start using DHA-rich micro-algae supplements.

iron rich salad

Iron

There are two types of iron that are found in the diet, the haem form and the non-haem form. The haem form is more efficiently absorbed in the body and is obtained from meat sources, whereas the non-haem form is derived from plant sources and is less efficiently absorbed. However, absorption can be encouraged by eating certain foods and avoiding others… Although the risk of iron deficiency anemia has been shown to be similar for vegans compared with omnivores and other vegetarians, it’s still important to be mindful of iron in the diet, as it plays an important role in transporting oxygen around the body

So how do I increase iron absorption from plant based food?

Firstly, make sure you get to know the foods that are rich in iron (naturally occurring or fortified):

Fortified cereals Baked beans Wholegrain bread Fruits Green leafy vegetables

Then, the trick is to pair iron intake with vitamin C, which is easy to do….

Add citrus fruits, berries or fruit juice to breakfast cereals Add pepper to a bean chilli Add broccoli to a tofu stir-fry

Protein

As much as protein companies and vegan cookbooks like to boast high protein vegan recipes… the likelihood is that it doesn’t contain a complete protein and is therefore a less efficient form of protein for the body. I have made a whole blog post about protein previously so take a look to understand this a bit more - (link to last post). The highest quality of protein is derived from lean meats, eggs and dairy as these all contain large quantities of high quality complete proteins - important for repair, recovery and growth of our muscles and cells. Complete vegan protein sources do exist in the form of soy (including tofu or edamame), some quorn products, quinoa and chia seeds. However other plant based protein sources do not contain the complete profile of amino acids and therefore need to be combined with others to complement this

Protein Combinations

So what needs to be matched with what?

To work this out, we simply split our plant based protein sources into two groups:

Group 1 - Nuts, seeds, Grains and cereals (including Rice, Pasta, Bread, Crackers, Bulgar wheat, Couscous, Oats) which all have inadequate amounts of the amino acids lysine and isoleucine.

Group 2 - Legumes (including all beans, peas, peanuts, lentils) which thankfully have adequate quantities of these missing amino acids. Therefore they should be combined to provide a complete protein source. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to occur at the same meal, as long as you consume a variety of these throughout the day!

Vitamin B12

Compared to vegetarians and omnivores, vegans typically have lower blood volumes of vitamin B-12 and therefore a higher prevalence of Vitamin B-12 deficiency. I'll let you guess why ...yep that's one… B12 is only found in animal products (and some fortified products like some brands of almond/soy milk). B12 is a really important vitamin used to help the rapid division of cells in our body to produce new cells, particularly the division of cells in the bone marrow to form blood cells. It’s also important for protecting the nerve fibers and promoting their normal growth. Deficiency of B12 can lead to some pretty nasty consequences, including both anaemia and eventually nerve damage. So it’s important to protect against this!

How do I do this?

Considering no unfortified plant foods will contain any significant amount of B12, it can be hard to obtain from a vegan diet. Therefore, to avoid B-12 deficiency, vegans should regularly consume vitamin B-12–fortified foods including milk alternatives such as soy or almond milk, some breakfast cereals and some form of meat analogues (but check the labels). Additionally, you can buy B-12–fortified nutritional yeast to add to food or B-12 supplements.

Calcium

Calcium is really important for a variety of functions in the body, including bone growth/strength, muscle contraction (including skeletal muscles and heart muscle), for nerve function and normal clotting of blood. One of the highest sources of calcium is from dairy products and therefore vegans can be at risk from low calcium intake. Having said that, calcium can be derived from green leafy veg and fortified milk alternatives and these should be included in the vegan diet. However, there are some vegetables that contain higher levels of inhibitors that interfere with calcium absorption, including spinach and rhubarb. Therefore, vegans should try and focus on including vegetables that contain low levels of these inhibitors such as kale, broccoli and bok choy .

So there it is… a complete vegan starter kit! It seems that a well planned vegan diet can offer positive health effects but it is important to address all the missing nutrients and plan meals that provide everything you need!

Now go… spread the word to all the vegans you know!