When followed correctly, a vegan diet can have many health benefits which include reducing the risk of common diseases and helping with weight management and weight loss. Vegan diets are rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats, in fact, research shows that vegan diets encourage heart health, protect against cancer, and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Veganism in the UK has skyrocketed with around 1.5 million people going vegan. And, it’s never been a better time to be vegan in the UK with many food options in the supermarket and in restaurants. Gone are the days of only eating chips with your friends because the Beyond Burger was not a thing! A full 3 per cent of the population is estimated now to be vegan which has seen a 40 per cent rise in recent years.
If you’re jumping on the trend for your health, the planet, for the animals, whatever your reason, here’s how to go vegan and what you need to know.
Our tips on how to go vegan
Many nutrients naturally found in animal sources such as iron, protein, calcium, vitamin B-12, and vitamin D are essential to functioning yet those who eat a vegan diet can be in danger of nutrient deficiencies if they are not clued up on the facts.
At first, going vegan may seem to limit since you may think cheese and milk are in everything! What – I can’t even eat honey? Now, I’ve got to check my bread for dairy too. Even Worcestershire sauce is off the menu (anchovies)…but a vegan diet can be as varied as an omnivorous diet out there. When going vegan, it’s important to focus on the abundance of what you can eat and not what you can’t.
A vegan diet can be packed full of micronutrients, fibre, healthy fats, and tasty proteins. So many people tout the health benefits of veganism in that you’ll be feeling great and glowing in no time. Once you get used to the lifestyle, you’ll be spoiled for choice. But don’t beat yourself up about any mishaps or slip-ups as it’s a lifestyle journey and not a militant creed!
1. Pack in the protein
For those who don’t want to eat protein substitutes all the time such as formed soy burgers, tofu, tempeh, seitan, or Quorn mince (which are perfectly fine sources if that’s what you choose), many whole foods contain protein such as mushrooms, legumes, beans, edamame, amaranth, buckwheat, spirulina, hemp seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, and more.
But, as a vegan, it’s important to understand that proteins are made of sets of amino acid chains (there are twenty amino acids) and food combining is the key to creating complete proteins, especially for food sources that aren’t complete on their own.
The general rule of thumb to remember is to combine a “pulse plus a grain.”
A pulse is sometimes known as a legume and includes all beans, lentils, and peas. There are thousands of legumes out there. To name a few you may have heard of, there are black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, fava beans, soybeans, even Heinz baked beans; red, brown, and green lentils; chickpeas, green peas, black-eyed peas, field peas, peanuts (yes, these are a legume and not a nut), and more.
Grains are the seeds of grass-like plants and are sometimes called cereals. Grains include things like oats, rice, quinoa, corn, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgar, farro, freekeh, millet, spelt, and many others. Some of these grains and legumes are complete protein sources on their own and others aren’t – so you’ll have to do your research.
When you’re deciding on something to cook up, think of ways to combine your legumes and grains to ensure you’re getting complete proteins. Consider foods like beans and rice, lentils (or peas) and couscous, bean soup and crackers (or a bread roll), hummus (chickpeas and tahini) with pita, almonds and peanuts in a grain bowl, spinach salad with sunflower seeds, whole wheat bread and peanut butter, steel-cut oats with pumpkin seeds and peanut butter. The list is endless.
2. Let fruits and veggies be the stars of the show
Let’s face it: the above foods would be pretty boring if you’re just eating the equivalent of mashed beans with cereal every day. When going vegan, to pack in the micronutrients and the flavour, you’ll need to add colourful variety in the form of fruits and veggies.
Leafy greens provide vitamins A, C, and K, and choosing from the colours of the rainbow will ensure you get all the micronutrients you need. Make your plate as colourful as possible.
You can get heart-healthy lycopene from sources like red tomatoes, brain-boosting anthocyanins from blue blueberries, and vitamin A from orange sweet potatoes, for example. And broccoli contains a host of nutrients such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, plus vitamins A, B6, B12, D, E, and K!
And that doesn’t mean you have to ditch our good friend the white potato (often vilified) as white potatoes contain fibre, protein, plus vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and zinc, and vitamin C.
With fruits and veggies, variety and colour are key, and you can get endless flavour combinations.
3. Enjoy some healthy fats
Any diet needs healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, oils, plant-based milk, plant-based butter, avocado, and even cacao nibs (yum).
4. Flavour your food
No one wants a bland meal and just like top chefs always use a sauce, in your vegan cooking, you’ll always want some kind of flavouring or dressing. Whether you flavour your food with fresh herbs and spices, oils and fats (like avocado), or acids (vinegar and citrus juice), keeping the flavours interesting will help you feel satiated and love your new diet.
Why’s vegan protein powder popular?
Of course, eating the perfectly balanced vegan diet requires lots of forethought and planning and that can be exhausting with a busy schedule, which is why protein powders and vegan supplements have seen increased popularity. For those who want to replace a meal or two (but still be sure to eat some fruits and veggies) with a protein shake or to add protein powder to your smoothie bowl or porridge, here are some vegan protein powders that are an easy (and tasty) source of protein to keep your fuller longer and satiated all day.
Our top 5 favourite vegan protein powders
Protein is key to healthy hair, nails, and muscles and often vegans struggle to pack in enough protein. Although protein powders should never completely replace whole foods, they’re a helpful tool to have in your arsenal.
- MYVEGAN™ UK: With My Vegan, you’ll be spoiled for choice as far as flavours go. They also have different choices such as pea and soy protein as well as clear protein. So, you can enjoy a chocolate and sea salt shake or even apple and elderflower protein water, as examples. They have over forty flavours and their protein comes in multiple forms from shakes to crisps to protein bars to sugar-free syrup to protein pancake powder. You won’t get bored with this extensive range of protein options.
- Pulsin: Pulsin has an award-winning range of vegan protein options from shakes to bars to protein powders in several delicious flavours. The best part is these protein options are budget-friendly.
- Sprout Living: Sprout Living include powerful superfoods in their products and make them in a kitchen and not a lab. Their products are organic and don’t contain any additives or artificial flavours. They specialise in protein powders and don’t make other products like bars and pre-made shakes.
- Form Nutrition: Form has a small range but specialises in a protein powder that tastes great even with water. They also have an unflavoured protein that can be added to your favourite meals.
- Vegolife: Vegolife proteins are for those who are active. They have a nutritional blend, protein blend, and superfood blend. Again, their range is limited but what they do have they do well.
Whether you’re vegan all the time or some of the time, it’s great you’re doing your bit to save the planet. It’s important to get the right nutrients on a vegan diet and we hope our protein powder recommendations will help you achieve your nutrient needs. Let us know on social media which is your favourite vegan meal or supplement.