On my travels today I spotted a piece of – as some might describe – graffiti, but in reality the makings of an animal activist with a spray can in-front of a wall feeling the necessity to state “animals want to live, go vegan, be kind”.
My imagination led me to visualising happy sheep and cows living for the sake of living until they reach a natural causing death during their elderly years. Something quite far removed from the mass farming industry shortening sheep and cows (as well as other animals’ obvs) lives for our protein requirements and taste enjoyment.
Anyhow, that argument is not one which I am here to divulge. Instead, I have become aware of a hugely growing #vegan trend – promoted by many for not just animal rights but also for #wellness.
I should probably at this point mention that I myself dabbled with veganism back in 2010 (I have always said that I’m a trend setter). Needless to say I lasted about a couple of weeks and my diet wasn’t very balanced at that time so I’m afraid I can’t give you an amazing testimonial of how I felt during those poignant weeks… I was more successful, however at pescatarianism (meat-free but fish yee) lasting around 7 years. February 2015 I had my first meat dish and I’m afraid for those animal activist’s meat now features in my diet fairly regularly.
So, from a nutritional expert’s point of view I’m going to break down the health implications of veganism and whether the #wellness tag next to #vegan is justified… or not.
plants, plants, plants and more plants
The vegan diet, also dubbed as ‘plant based’ is wholly made up of natural earthy plants – fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts. Basically, if it comes from a seed you can eat it, if it comes from an egg you can’t. Eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt are also off bounds so confectionary items chocolate, cakes, biscuits etc that require these ingredients are also off the grid. Unless, of course, you spend time making something with alternative ingredients or search far and wide for a café/health shop selling something resembling a sweet treat which is vegan friendly. Basically, it’s no wonder many would argue they feel ‘so much better’ after going vegan – because the all too easy vending machine at work is a no go. Or, the ‘bake-off’ get together you go to doesn’t include vegan friendly cakes. Any reduction in refined sugar and processed ingredients is obviously going to make you feel better.
However, is veganism necessary for #wellness?
This euphoric feeling of long lasting energy and alertness, which we all seem to be striving for, doesn’t have to come as a result of a stringent vegan regime. In fact, I’d argue that energy is harder to achieve on a vegan diet. Iron, the nutrient which carries oxygen around the body and therefore contributes to ‘energy’ is most abundant in meat. For example, an average portion of minced beef contains 3.8mg of iron. To get the same amount of iron from spinach you would need to eat 240g of boiled spinach – basically more than a typical bag all to yourself. I don’t even think pop-eye would eat that much spinach in one day?
Along with nutrition, fitness also comes under the #wellness umbrella – of which strong bones and responsive muscles are needed to keep your regime durable. If I was to tell you that lowering your intake of calcium may reduce your ability to #traindirty would you be so keen? Calcium is a vital nutrient for strong bones and flexing muscles… A typical yoghurt pot provides 200mg calcium, to get this amount of calcium from broccoli you would have to eat around 500g – which is approximately 1 and a half whole broccoli heads. I mean, I love broccoli but not that much.
My final example – protein. Hailed as the must-have nutrient of #wellness, protein is the powerhouse of calories in this trend. Fill up on protein, less of the carbs etc. The vegan diet, however, makes this a bit more difficult… Our need for protein is actually quite often ‘hypersensitised’ as anything more than our bodies need is done away with in our urine. That being said, it is vitally important to get enough protein in our diets to keep our immune system healthy, aid in muscle repair and a whole manner of other bodily systems too complicated for this blog post… Another comparison… An average chicken breast contains around 40g of protein – an average portion of lentils contains only 10g of protein. And just to really scare you… 20g of carbohydrate.
Before vegan activists get really angry, which is not my intention. You have my full support if the reason for you being vegan is a genuine dislike for killing animals for the sake of us eating them. I would say, however, that you have to work a bit harder to make sure you get all the nutrients in your diet to live a healthy and fruitful life… A few pointers:
Iron – most of your fruit and vegetables contain small amounts of iron. I know you’re not going to eat a whole bag and a bit of spinach but having it regularly in your diet along with other iron containing foods; peas, kidney beans, chick peas, tofu – will help you meet your requirements. Also a top tip, avoid drinking tea or coffee 1 or 2 hours before and after a meal as this may reduce how much iron your body absorbs.
Calcium – again not impossible to get your requirements on a vegan diet, just a bit more difficult. Among other foods, kale is your best friend when it comes to calcium. Quick recommendation – the Good Life Eatery on Sloane Av in London makes an incredible Good Life Salad with tons of kale (you will see it on my Instagram @rachelclarenutrition) – go get that, all the time.
Protein – your sources of protein include soya, tofu, beans and pulses, seeds (chia’s are great) and GRAINS – quinoa, wholemeal pasta, oats, etc. So if you’re gluten-free also, getting enough protein and having a variety in your diet will be a tad more difficult.
So, I hope that those who are vegan for animal rights, including the person who led my imagination to elderly sheep, feel that their views are respected – I wouldn’t want anything else. If, however, people are considering to go vegan more for health reasons I hope this might make you think twice. You don’t have to go down this road and actually achieving health and wellness on a vegan regime is a harder battle than eating generally well.
If you are vegan and want to go through things in more detail to make sure you’re getting enough of the right nutrients, then I’m offering 50% off consultations until the end of September for vegans only! That’s how much I want you to feel appreciated by me.
Healthy lives are fruitful lives.