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Does being vegan always mean being healthy?

Does being vegan always mean being healthy?

Does vegan always mean healthy MAIN

More and more people these days are opting to go vegan and embracing largely plant-based diets.

Even those of us who still love our meat and dairy are more regularly turning to alternatives – while many of us take part in Veganuary even if we aren’t ready to take the plunge permanently.

We all have our own personal reasons for doing so - whether it’s ethical concerns about animal welfare, a desire to do your bit for the planet, or simply an attempt to eat more healthily.

But it’s worth remembering that just because something is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.

What do we mean? Well, here’s an example...

Let’s say at breakfast you have a bowl of frosted cereal (there are lots of grrrrreat brands) which you top with unfortified sweetened oat milk. Then, at lunch, you have a microwave vegetable curry, and for tea some meat-free sausages with chips and baked beans. Yum! Maybe you even treat yourself to a couple of biscuits and pack of crisps as snacks throughout the day – you know, just to keep you going.

None of the above derives from animals; so far, so good. But the bad news is those choices include a high volume of processed foods that are higher in salt and sugars and contain lots of unnecessary stuff our bodies don’t need. Many of these foods are unnaturally sweetened, and the overall diet lacks a range of vitamins and minerals that could be provided by a better variety of plant-based foods.

Being vegan is about much more than simply removing animal products. It also embraces the principle of environmental sustainability, reduced packaging and transportation costs.

And with more of us becoming more aware of where our food comes from and more conscious of our carbon footprints, it’s no surprise to see the term ‘vegan-friendly’ being widely used as a marketing tool by canny companies preying on our consciences.

Even packets of biscuits are now advertised as vegan when in reality they have always been animal-free, and time and again you’ll find the ‘v-word’ used in an attempt to make foods seem more environmentally-friendly and more healthy – when often they aren’t.

But none of that detracts from the fact that a vegan diet can be a healthy one if done right.

Switching to more plant-based foods can support weight loss and lower your BMI, largely due to the reduction in fat and sugar content. It can also increase your intake of that vital but all too often overlooked dietary requirement – fibre.

Fibre is essential to maintain a healthy gut, which in turn is linked to lower risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease or IBS, as well as increased brain function and better mental health. Eating more fibre also helps you feel less bloated and have more sustained energy through the day. Yet adults in the UK eat far less fibre than is recommended – about 20g on average when we should be aiming for 30g. 

You’ll find fibre not just in fruit and vegetables but in grains like oats, rice and wheat, and also in lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. If the food came out of the ground, it’s likely to be higher in fibre.

Protein is where a lot of vegans come unstuck, so make sure to balance your diet with good sources of protein like tofu, pulses and nuts – and remember, the less processed the better. Topping up with dairy-free protein yoghurts or shakes? Just make sure to keep an eye on the amount of sugar in there!

Finally, when choosing alternatives to animal products like oat or soya milks, always look for unsweetened fortified versions for added vitamins and minerals that you might otherwise get from meat or dairy - like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin B12.

Have you been trying Veganuary and are considering going vegan full-time? You’ll find lots of helpful information on the NHS website (external link).

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Posted on Thursday 18th January 2024

© Wigan Council