Veganism; Sustainable for the world but is it sustainable for good health? – Part II
Welcome back to our blog on veganism, this is part two and if you have not read Part 1 it is suggested reading and available on our website. We are highlighting some nutrients how to avoid any pitfalls with this increasingly common and popular lifestyle choice. In particular we focus on important nutrients to consider if you already follow or are considering a vegan diet, and how to practically address these.. In part two we talk about omega 3, probiotics and iodine.
Omega-3 fatty acids
A couple of fats are classed as essential because our bodies cannot make them. The essential omega-3 fat is composed of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is converted by the body into DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The main dietary source is fish and seafood
Including good sources of ALA in your daily diet, such as chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts, and using vegetable (rapeseed) oil as your main cooking oil will all help. To meet the ALA recommendations of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), you would need to eat about a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground linseed, two tablespoons of hemp seeds or six walnut halves daily. Although some plant-based foods do contain omega 3 it may not be the best sources for your body to run efficiently therefore you may want to consider good quality supplements from microalgae that contain EPA. Do please however discuss supplementation before embarking on it with Sian or Andrew.
Keeping your gut healthy is becoming more and more prominent for maintaining good health. Probiotics are the good bacteria that line your gut and fight against bad bacteria. We have an excellent blog on this topic if you want to find out more.
Prebiotics feed the probiotics – fibre from pulses and vegetables are great sources of prebiotics so a vegan that is eating lots of these should be getting enough. However, there is no advantage to consuming good quantities of prebiotics if there are no probiotics for them to feed on in the first place. Probiotics are found in yoghurt, some fermented vegetables and a product called kefir. Obviously dairy yoghurt is out of the question for a vegan, but the alternative yoghurts should have a beneficial amount of the good bacteria. If yogurt isn’t your thing, then try to include some of fermented veg like sauerkraut, kimchi or fermented soya products – miso and tempeh, to get those essential probiotics. Or you can try a drink that includes the exotic ingredient kefir, for example, Kombucha that can easily be made at home but is becoming increasingly available on the high street, for example Leon restaurants.
Iodine is used by the thyroid to produce the thyroid hormones. A deficiency in iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, which can lead to weight gain, fatigue and muscle weakness. In UK the recommended dose is 140 micrograms. Most of the common dietary sources of iodine come from animal sources, such as dairy, cod and eggs. However, there are some very good sources that are also plant based, for example, kidney, pinto, lima beans. If none of these items appear in your diet, then please consider a supplement. Again, please do discuss any supplementation with Sian or Andrew beforehand.
Worried you might be deficient in important vitamins or minerals on a vegan diet?
A vegan diet can give you a well balance diet in terms of nutrients. Most nutrients will be obtained in sufficient amounts and if you try to follow the above tips then you will avoid deficiencies in the riskier ones. Please also refer to The Vegan Society website for further information.
Most people on a vegan diet are completely healthy and their well-being is supported by the often-moral decision to avoid animal products. However, if you are vegan and worried about your levels of important minerals and vitamins and particularly if you have a deficiency identified by your GP, it would be very sensible to book in with Sian to assess your dietary intake and who will if necessary, recommend supplements which are readily available to replace any nutrients missing in your diet.
Irrespective of whether you are already a vegan or are thinking becoming one. Having a plant-based diet or vegan dish once or twice a week is likely to reduce animal/saturated fat intake. This could help with weight management and also could help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels to aid diabetes management. Plus increasing your fibre intake as well which will support your gut microbiome.
If you want more advice or a blood test to check your nutrients, then details of how to contact Sian Shepherd or Andrew Millar can be found here:
This blog was written by a student dietitian Frankie Ebdon, with support from Sian Shepherd (Specialist Gastroenterology Dietitian) and Dr Andrew Millar (Consultant Gastroenterologist).