By Olivia Ebeling, Real Naturo writer and healthy globe-trotting adventurer. Founder of Tribe Magazine
Deciphering fact from fiction; a plant based diet
Back in January, many of us set out to better ourselves and focus on the goals we want to achieve over the next 12 months. After weeks of festive celebrations, indulgent meals and a few too many tipples, come January we feel ready to hit the reset button and start afresh. And for a lot of people, the most popular resolutions include improving their wellness and overhauling their diet.
Those who already know a little more about nutrition and enjoy eating healthily might contemplate taking the next step by going vegan. Since 2014, UK charity Veganuary (https://veganuary.com) is there to encourage and inform the public on how following a plant-based diet can help the planet, reduce the suffering of animals and improve personal health. Challenging people to give up meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and animal by-products such as gelatine for the first four weeks of the year, the website offers all the information, advice and recipes you need to get started.
Research has shown that health is now the second biggest motivator why more and more people are thinking about adopting a vegan lifestyle. The benefits are multiple and include lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as a lower risk of obesity and other life-threatening conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes and some forms of cancer. According to a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a high intake of dairy products (with the average daily dairy consumption of Brits considered as such) increases the risk of prostate cancer, for example (1). A vegan diet, which is generally lower in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and has a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, is therefore significantly more likely to aid longevity and wellbeing. Vegans also avoid exposure to antibiotics used in modern animal farming and bacterial infections from nasties such as salmonella, e.coli and campylobacter.
However, for all its health benefits, the plant-based lifestyle has its own concerns attached to it. Some of the most common worries of those contemplating a vegan meal plan include missing out on important nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin B12. Others might be unfamiliar with the variety of vegan products on offer and fret where to source them, or anticipate they might get bored of such a restrictive diet.
The NHS has a comprehensive section about veganism on its website (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Vegetarianhealth/Pages/Vegetarianhealthqanda.aspx#benefits) and states that ‘with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegetarian and vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy without the need for supplements’.
Furthermore, several medical studies(2) have shown that algae and chlorella are great natural substitutes for increasing vitamin B12 levels. These can easily be incorporated into your daily diet in a daily smoothie or a soup over the chillier months. The Real Naturo Naturopaths recommend an annual course of sublingual B 12 if you have any digestive or absorption issues.
Another commonly asked question is whether the lack of dairy will affect a vegan’s bone health, but, again, there is scientific proof (3) that leafy greens and beans are excellent sources of calcium, and that incorporating them into your diet means you consume all the nutrients you need. The same goes for protein: vegetables like broccoli and spinach, pulses like lentils and black beans, grains such as brown rice and quinoa and nuts like pistachios and almonds are all great providers.
As for the prejudice that a vegan diet only allows you to nibble on carrots and seeds, your mind will be blown when you discover the versatility and abundance of plant-based recipes. From African to French, Italian to Mexican cuisines, virtually all cookery styles can be adapted to avoid animal products.
For example, if you’re a hip foodie who has been lapping up the recent culinary obsession with all things pulled pork, you should try this vegan alternative:
Beet and Quinoa Burgers
- 3/4 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/2 large red onion, finely diced
- 1 cup finely chopped mushrooms (shitake, baby bella or white button)
- Sea salt & Black Pepper
- 1 glass jar of black beans, well rinsed and drained
- 1 cup finely grated raw beet
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/2 cup raw walnuts, crushed or ground into a loose meal
Coriander and lemon guacamole:
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 handful of finely chopped fresh coriander
1 large tomato finely chopped
- Heat a large pan over medium-low heat and add some coconut oil or brown rice oil. Once hot add the onion and sauté.
- Once onions are soft turn the heat up to medium and add mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper, cook until mushrooms are browned.
- Remove from heat and add black beans and coriander. Mash with a fork.
- Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the quinoa, beets, spices and stir. For even more flavor, add a tablespoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce.
- Lastly, add the walnut meal a little at a time until the mixture is able enough to form into patties. Set in the fridge to chill while your oven preheats to 180 degrees.
- Coat a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Form mixture into roughly 8-9 patties. The thicker you make them, the longer they’ll take to cook through, but the “juicier” and heartier they’ll be! Thinner patties will cook faster.
- Arrange burgers on a baking sheet and brush or spray the tops with coconut oil. Bake at 180 for a total of 30-45 minutes, gently flipping at the halfway mark. Cook longer to dry them out even more and achieve more crisp, but it’s not necessary.
- Serve on small whole meal buns, mix guacamole ingredients together and use as a spread on the burger bun. Add mixed greens and enjoy.
For more vegan recipes check out Real Naturo recipe resources page.
- Aune, Chan, Navarro et al (2014). Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Issue 101, p87-117.
- Baroni L, Canestrari F et al (2009). Effect of a Klamath algae product (“AFA-B12”) on blood levels of vitamin B12 and homocysteine in vegan subjects: a pilot study. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, Issue 79, p117-23.
- Merchant RE, Phillips TW, Udani J (2015). Nutritional Supplementation with Chlorella pyrenoidosa Lowers Serum Methylmalonic Acid in Vegans and Vegetarians with a Suspected Vitamin B₁₂ Deficiency. Journal of Medicinal Food, Issue 18, p1357-62
- Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen PL, Le TT, Doan TA, Tran NT, Le TA, Nguyen TV (2009). Veganism, bone mineral density, and body composition: a study in Buddhist nuns. Osteoporosis International, Issue 12, p2087-93.