A Vegan Diet – is it Healthier?

A Vegan Diet – is it Healthier?

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We’re in the middle of an explosion in veganism.

According to the vegan society, there were 150,000 vegans in the UK in 2006, a figure which increased to 540,000 in 2016.

A poll in April 2018 (1) suggested this figure had rocketed to 3.5million.

The word ‘vegan’ is now the subject of three times more Google searches than the terms ‘vegetarian’ or even ‘gluten free’.

Vegan alternatives and menus are now commonplace, and food manufacturers are catching on.

It’s easier and easier to eat a plant-based diet. But why now? And is it a healthy way of eating?

The huge rise in veganism, which started out as largely driven by animal welfare concerns, now encompasses a desire for a healthier diet as well as environmental issues.

In one survey by Mintel, almost half of all meat eaters interviewed said they wanted to cut down on meat consumption for health reasons, 29% were looking to reduce meat to manage their weight, and just a quarter cited animal welfare concerns.

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A Plant-Based Diet - Better for the Planet?

Many of us are keen to reduce our carbon footprint and it’s said a shift in eating habits may be even more environmentally beneficial than reducing car use, according to Professor Carolyn Roberts of Gresham College.

If we all gave up eating meat, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by food production would be halved.

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A Vegan Diet – is it Healthier?

The Vegan Society quotes scientists from Oxford Medical School who state if the whole world was vegan, 8 million lives could be saved by 2050 (2).

This would be largely due to the reduction of metabolic disease like obesity and diabetes from an increase in the number of plant foods eaten.

 

Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Other benefits of a vegan diet result from what isn’t eaten.

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Ditching the Dairy

According to the Physician’s Committee of Responsible Medicine, studies have linked dairy consumption with an increased risk of disease, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s also been connected with breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers (3).

Dairy products are high in fat so can contribute to obesity.

Added to this, many people are unable to tolerate dairy because after weaning they lose the ability to produce lactase, the enzyme which digests the protein in milk.

This affects approximately a quarter of us in the UK and because of this, dairy consumption can lead to bloating and IBS.

Whether you retain the ability to digest lactase largely depends on your genetics.

Dairy products from commercial farms usually contain traces of hormones.

Cows are often milked when they are pregnant, so oestrogen is naturally present in their milk.

This can disrupt our own hormone balance and may explain dairy’s connection with hormone-dependent cancers.

If you’re worried you’ll lose out on calcium if you avoid dairy, it’s also plentiful in many vegetables and fruits, as well as beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seaweed.

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Steering Clear of Meat

Meat, particularly processed meat, is associated with a number of health problems.

The World Health Organisation says eating 50g of processed meat a day increases your risk of developing bowel cancer.

This is because of the presence of nitrites used to cure the meat.

One study of half a million people throughout Europe found eating sausages, ham, bacon and other processed meats appears to increase the risk of dying young.

Diets high in processed meats were linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer (4).

Even unprocessed meat has its downsides.

Unless it’s organically reared, the meat will contain traces of antibiotics and hormones in much the same way as dairy.

There’s also evidence to suggest eating too much protein is not a good thing.

High protein diets appear to increase the loss of calcium through the urine, which may impact on bone health.

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Downsides of Vegan Eating

Just because it’s totally plant-based doesn’t automatically mean a vegan diet is always going to win the healthy stakes.

It all depends on the food choices within that vegan diet.

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Does a Vegan Diet Lack Protein?

We hear an oft-repeated cry vegan diets must be too low in protein.

That’s not necessarily true, as there are some great sources of plant-based protein.

Just think about the male silverback gorilla. Weighing in at up to 195kg, he eats a largely vegan diet, obtaining all his muscle from plant foods.

A number of sportspeople follow a vegan diet, including the 2014 Mr Universe. A vegan diet can build muscle as well as a meat-based one.

Excellent alternative forms of vegan protein include quinoa, buckwheat, beans, lentils and legumes.

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Soya, Soya Everywhere….

It’s tempting to replace animal products with ones made out of soya, mainly because they’re so easy to find.

In fact, soya is everywhere - from tofu to edamame, to tempeh, to soy protein powder. It’s added to a huge array of processed foods.

Some people don’t do well on soya because it can interfere with thyroid functioning.

Research on soya and the thyroid is ongoing, but the effect may reduce if soya is fermented to make tempeh or miso, for example.

If you don’t buy organic, you can bet soya is genetically modified.

As with anything, soya is fine as part of a balanced diet. Problems inevitably occur when it’s relied on too heavily as a source of protein.

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No Fish, no Omega 3?

Oily fish are an excellent source of essential fatty acids, particularly those of the Omega 3 series.

Not only that, getting the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats is important.

The type of Omega 3 in plant foods is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

In fish, it’s found in the form of EPA and DHA. Ideally, our bodies convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but sometimes we’re not very good at this process.

So it’s handy to eat fish who’ve carried out the conversion for us.

But fish also provide mercury, which is not so appetising.

Swordfish contains an average of 0.89mg mercury per kg, bluefin tuna 0.65mg and Spanish mackerel 0.44mg (5).

All sorts of factors can inhibit our body’s conversion of ALA, including eating too much Omega 6.

Omega 6 is generally more plentiful in the diet, being found in sunflower, corn and sesame oils, for example.

Omega 3 is scarcer, but it is found in walnuts, flax seeds and flax oil, pumpkin seeds.

Supplements of EPA and DHA from microalgae are now available which are fine with a vegan diet.

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Where’s the Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in foods of animal origin, and it’s difficult to obtain enough from a vegan diet.

B12 is found in fortified foods, such as some alternative milks, nutritional yeast and yeast extracts.

Some fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and tempeh are made with a particular type of bacteria which produces Vitamin B12.

It’s also contained in sea vegetables like nori and dulse. However, it’s likely you’ll need a supplement if you’re following a strict vegan diet.

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The Fast Food Vegan

According to Mintel, in 2017 the demand for meat-free food in the UK rose to £572 million, up from £539 million in 2015.

Food manufacturers haven’t been slow in reacting. Several UK supermarkets have recently launched vegan ranges.

Just because something is vegan doesn’t automatically make it healthy.

Many of these new vegan fast-food items will have a high salt content for flavour, or they’ll have their beneficial oils removed to increase shelf life.

It’s perfectly possible to be vegan and eat an extremely unhealthy diet if you choose processed, convenience foods full of processed flour and refined sugar.

In this case, it’s not the vegan diet which is at fault, it’s the sugar, refined flour and processed ingredients.

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Healthy Delicious Vegan Cheats

Can’t Live a Day Without Cheese?

Try this creamy garlic plant-based cheese from Minimalist Baker.

  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • 2 medium lemons, juiced
  • 180ml water
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Place cashews in a bowl and cover with cool water.

Cover and leave to soak in the fridge for 12 hours.

Drain thoroughly and add to food processor with minced garlic, garlic powder, lemon zest, lemon juice, water, nutritional yeast, salt and olive oil.

Process until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides of the blender as needed.

Either eat as a creamy saucy cheese or strain in the fridge for 6-12 hours with cheesecloth or clean absorbent towel over a colander.

The ‘cheese’ should hold its shape when released from the cheesecloth.

Can’t get by without cream? Try this super-easy cashew cream

You’ll need 150g Cashews, preferably soaked overnight, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 120ml water, salt to taste.

Simply pop all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

It can be used as it is in sweet or savoury dishes, or add fresh chopped herbs, black pepper or add chilli to pep it up.

 

Missing Scrambled Eggs?

You’ll love this simple tofu scramble, from Simple Vegan Blog.

Ingredients

  • 225g firm tofu
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Use a fork to crumble the tofu into bite-sized pieces. Add some water or oil to a frying pan.

Once it’s heated, add the tofu and the seasoning. Stir until well combined and cook over medium-high heat for 5 to 10 minutes.

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Like the texture of meat?

Try Jackfruit. Hailing from South East Asia, Brazil and Africa, jackfruit is the latest craze in meat substitutes because it has a meat-like texture and appearance. It’s a dead ringer for pulled pork.

Because of its mild flavour, jackfruit will take on other flavours readily.

It contains Vitamins A, C and B2; Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

But what makes it unique as a fruit is its protein content, providing in excess of 3 grams of protein per cup.

 

Teriyaki Bowl with Jackfruit – adapted from The Veglife

  • 1 can Jackfruit drained & left in large chunks
  • 30g Spinach
  • 1 large Carrot cut into large strips
  • 100g cooked brown Basmati Rice
  • For the Teriyaki glaze:
  • Minced Garlic to taste
  • Minced Ginger to taste
  • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
  • 3 tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 90ml Soy Sauce
  • 120ml Rice Wine Vinegar
  • Teaspoon maple syrup
  • Toasted Sesame Seeds

Drain the jackfruit and place the large chunks in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.

Toss occasionally, without breaking it up, until it is slightly golden.

For the glaze, combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Add to the jackfruit and allow to simmer over medium heat until it reduces to a thicker consistency.

Wilt down the spinach slightly in a small pan.

Sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds. Assemble in a bowl and enjoy.

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Is a Vegan Diet Right for Me?

A healthy diet, vegan or otherwise, includes a wide variety of organic, wholegrain, plant-based foods grains, beans and pulses.

There’s no doubt that increasing your intake of plant-based foods is a great step to better health.

However, no diet is one-size fits all – we’re all unique.

At an Amchara retreat, you can explore a vegan, raw food diet or take a further step into juice fasting.

If a retreat is not for you at this time, personalised health consultation can recommend the very best diet for your health goals and circumstances.

At Amchara, we help you Change For Good.

 

Free Personalised Health Consultation with Amchara

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