Vegetarians and vegans used to be considered a rare, hippie sort of people and were often made fun of. Now it is definitely in fashion to be a vego of some kind, and for good reason too I might add, with an abundance of amazing nutrients that literally rebuild your body, it is more important now to be a body made of plants, than anything else. However, if you are embarking on a vegetable based diet then ask yourself, are you doing it right; or are you surviving off chips and cheese; or are you so heavily restricted that you’re surviving off raw kale and $17 dollar superfood smoothies on payday? It isn’t enough to say “I won’t eat meat” and leave it at that. If you are cutting any animal product out of your diet, are you aware of what you need to eat and the amounts required, to ensure you are getting the correct amounts of vitamins or minerals for your body? Especially important if you want to plan to make or are in the process of making a baby.
Regardless of the reason why you’re vegan or vegetarian, you have to be aware of some of the limitations this way of life can impose day to day; and if you want to ensure you maintain a healthy, vibrant and energetic lifestyle then it is best to have a quick once over with a qualified professional. In the meantime, below are some tips for both vegetarian and vegan eaters. Many of these cross over and can also apply to plant-based eaters in general.
Important tips for vegetarians
- Your iron is important to you and vital for oxygen transport along with energy production within a cell; yet it is harder to absorb from your plant based diet, so you need to be aware of the simple steps that will enhance absorption, and those foods and fluids that will block absorption. Tea and coffee for instance shouldn’t be consumed within 30 minutes of your meals as these block iron absorption in your gut.
- You must eat a wide and varied amount of plant based foods to ensure quality and quantity of important vitamins and minerals – you cannot live off junk food, just because it might be vegetarian.
- If you have no objection to some animal products but just don’t like meat itself, then consider adding bone broths or soups to your diet. You do not have to restrict healthy food that you might enjoy, just because it doesn’t fit in the usual constraints of vegetarianism.
- Learn to cook with well prepared lentils, vegetables, and nuts so you don’t have to bulk your food out with refined carbohydrates.
- Avoid “meat-like” pre-packaged products. If you’re a vegetarian then except that you are giving up sausages of any kind – some of those soy-sausages or meat-free pattie alternatives are so far from actual food, they’re dangerous.
- Learn to shop smarter and head away from the supermarkets. Fresh food markets need to be your staple shopping location for quality plant-based foods.
Important tips for vegans
- B12 is of importance to you and only available from animal products so you’ll need to look for fortified products like almond milk and nutritional yeast, or talk to your nutritionist or naturopath about a quality supplement.
- Being aware of foods to combine and foods to avoid combining, will ensure adequate calcium, iron, iodine and zinc levels are absorbed through your diet.
- Make sure you are preparing nuts, seeds, and grains correctly to lower your intake of phytates, which block many important nutrients form being absorbed in your digestive tract. You can have the healthiest diet on your plate, but what is the point, if you’re not absorbing it in your gut?
- Get annual blood tests as a simple way to measure some key nutrients like B12, iron, and lipid profile so you can see if your own ‘normal’ drops or rises at any stage so you can treat it early.
- Get adequate vitamin D – this may mean a supplement, but a good 15 minute dose of sunshine in the middle of the day, on as much exposed skin as you can without your neighbours judging you is usually enough.
- Learn to cook, and cook well. This may mean some cooking classes or some you tube videos; even more important if you’re going raw.
- Go at your own pace – you do not have to be 100% vegan immediately; you may prefer to base your diet on predominantly vegan meals with the occasional non-vegan healthy treat. It’s your body and therefore your rules.
- If you are looking at getting pregnant or are pregnant then you will need certain supplements for that little one so get a quality nutritionist as soon as you can to ensure each trimester of growth is well planned and taken care of.
The most important tip of all
It is important to listen to your body and make informed decisions for yourself, but if you’re moody, dizzy, have guilty feelings about your food, have low energy, are losing or gaining weight when you shouldn’t or are getting sicker more often than normal then something is not right. Seek some professional help to see what isn’t working, and how to treat it.
If you’d like to make the beautiful winter recipe I wrote for PHD this month: Roasted vegetable and creamy kale soup then simply click the link and share with your friends.
It is important to note that I have spent a few years throughout my adult life in varying degrees of this dietary spectrum label so I’m well aware first hand of some of the hurdles that a vegan or vegetarian diet can present. While I don’t agree with always giving yourself a label, sometimes it is easier; so if I were to have a label, I would like to be known as a sustainable eater. It’s an entire article in itself what that means for my diet but in a nutshell, I won’t touch an animal product that wasn’t produced in the most humane and animal loving environment, with a company that is trying to limit their footprint – not add to it. It means the major dairy and meat production companies are out, only free range/organic meats are purchased and if it’s too expensive that week, then it’s quality plants to replace it.