There might have been a time when vegans were few and far between, and some might have considered them as tree-hugging, lentil-loving hippies. But that time has well and truly passed. Over the past couple of years, the popularity of veganism has skyrocketed. Last year, The Vegan Society and Vegan Life magazine revealed that at least 542,000 Brits are following the diet.
Tinseltown is also onboard with the likes on Beyonce, Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio all advocating the plant-based diet. The latter has invested in Beyond Burger, a meatless burger made of plant protein.
First things first, what constitutes a vegan diet? Veganism rules out all animal-derived produce, including meat, fish, dairy and some would argue honey. Those following a vegan diet for ethical and environmental reasons also extend this approach beyond the kitchen to household and beauty products, opting for brands and formulas that don’t contain animal-derived ingredients and weren’t tested on animals.
With most things in life, there are pros and cons of going vegan, and it has become quite a contentious subject. We’ve outlined the good and the bad, and offered some suggestions to overcome the latter.
What are the pros of being a vegan?
Veganism is believed to be a healthier option as it’s low in saturated fats, which have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and various cancers. Not only do vegans tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, they generally consume fewer calories, which reduces the risk of obesity. Some might argue that the weight loss incentive has helped to bolster the popularity of veganism in recent years.
There’s also the ethical stance, whereby vegans and vegetarians are vehemently against the killing of animals for human consumption. Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Cow Conspiracy documentary will also be aware of the huge implications that farming animals and their by-products has on the environment. The industry accounts for around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and that figure is predicted to rise up to 80 percent by 2050.
What are the potential pitfalls of being vegan?
Cutting out meat and dairy from your diet can have its downsides. Aside from foregoing cheese and most wines, there are several deficiencies associated with the diet. While these can be overcome with food alternatives and supplements, it does require more thought and effort. Here are the key deficiencies linked with veganism and how to prevent them:
Calcium: Cutting out dairy has been linked to lower cholesterol levels and a reduction in acne, but is it a key source of calcium, which is essential for bone health. Fortified, unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks are good alternatives to milk. Pulses, sesame seeds and white and brown flours will help boost your calcium levels too.
Whether you’re considering going vegan or not, it is worth incorporating a vitamin D supplement, such as DLux 3000 spray, into your routine as vitamin D helps your body to better absorb calcium.
Vitamin B12: This is one of the biggest concerns for vegans as vitamin B12 cannot be found in plant-based produce. Helping to promote healthy digestion, circulation and energy levels, deficiencies in this vital vitamin have been linked to cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, as well as short term health issues including fatigue, headaches and loss of appetite. Fortified foods and Marmite can offer small amounts, but supplementation is the steadfast way to keep your levels up. We recommend Methyl B-12 by Jarrow Formulas.
Iron: It’s essential for your body to produce red blood cells and an iron deficiency can slow this, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish, and eventually weakening your immune system. While dark, leafy green vegetables, nuts and pulses are a good source of iron, you’ll need to eat a lot to absorb the same amount as a piece of red meat. Taking an iron supplement, such as Viridian’s Organic Liquid Iron, will help replenish your levels.
Protein: For most of us, fish and meat are our main source of protein, which is essential for healthy cells, muscles, skin, hair and nails. Grains, beans and pulses are worthy substitutes, but you need to eat higher quantities. For example, the average chicken breast contains around 25 grams of protein, while a cup of broccoli only provides around 6 grams.
Omega 3 fatty acids: For non-vegans, oily fish is the primary source of omega 3 fatty acids, which help keep your heart healthy. Flaxseed, rapeseed and soya oils are good alternatives, but there is evidence to suggest that plant-based omega 3 fatty acids aren’t as competent as the animal-based ones when it comes to looking after your heart.
While there’s no doubt that veganism is becoming more popular, especially with more restaurants and supermarkets offering vegan-friendly alternatives, there are still a lot of people unwilling to change their diet. According to The Vegan Society, 46 percent of Brits say they would never become a vegan, even if it improved their health and impacted on animal welfare.
That said, one in five Brits have cut down on the amount of meat they buy and check if their toiletries are tested on animals, so perhaps we could all be won over by Leonardo di Caprio’s plant-based burgers come 2050…