12 nutritionist's tips for a healthy Veganuary
With the best intentions in the world, it can be hard to get a vegan diet "right" in terms of nutrition. In this post, our in-house nutritionist, Hannah, looks at some of the key nutrients to focus on in a plant-based diet and gives us tips on how to make veganuary as healthy, balanced and delicious as possible. This is a great read for anyone already following a vegan diet, anyone participating in veganuary, anyone just interested in health, and nutrition or even those who are keen to incorporate more plants and plant-based meals, and do it in a way that feels good, in every sense.
1. Eat an abundance of seasonal vegetables and fruits (in that order!)
One of the main benefits of a plant-based diet is the fact that you will be eating more plants, almost without trying, which means you will be eating more fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. This of course depends on you actually eating plants and not just loading up on vegan junk food and processed items, which leads me to my next point...
2. Eat real food
With vegan diets gaining popularity over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of vegan junk food. While these foods may (temporarily) satisfy your cravings, particularly for those animal-based processed foods you may be missing, they are, almost entirely devoid of nutrients and filled with ingredients that the body quite simply does not know what to do with. Regardless of whether or not you are following a vegan diet, frequent intake of these types of food products and the ingredients they contain, such as trans fats, has been linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, mood disorders and many other conditions. You may feel like you are addicted to them, but I promise you, once you start to focus on real food and experience how good it makes you feel, they will start to lose their appeal. If it's a time thing, there are other options. There are so many recipes online for quick and easy yet delicious meals, and we even have our own plant-based, nutrient-dense, protein-packed, one-pot menu (our version of "fast food" where we have weighed out all the ingredients for you). Browse our range of Recipe Kits here.
3. Eat protein with every meal and snack
Protein is required by every structure and function in the body and it is essential to include it with every main meal and snack. While only a few plant-based protein sources are considered "complete" as they do not contain all of the 9 essential amino acids, it is possible to meet protein requirements and ensure your body gets all the amino acids it needs by combining different sources of plant-based protein throughout the day.
Sources of complete plant-based proteins:
- Soybeans and products such as tempeh and tofu
- Hemp seeds and products
- Microalgae such as spirulina and chlorella
While whole grains, legumes, most nuts and seeds are not considered complete proteins on their own, they all provide different amino acids. Therefore, including a wide variety of plant-based protein sources throughout the day means your body will be able to put them together.
Some examples of plant-based protein sources (combine 2 of any of the 3 groups below to make a complete protein):
- Brown rice
- Wholegrain pasta
Nuts & Seeds
- Sunflower, sesame, hemp & pumpkin seeds
- Nut butter such as peanut and almond
- Seed butter such as tahini
- Chickpeas, including chickpea pasta
- Lentils, including lentil pasta
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
Aim to include at least 2 different plant-based protein sources with every meal. Sprinkling nuts and seeds is a quick and easy way of doing this.
4. Eat healthy fats
In case anyone still needs to hear this... fats do not make you fat! They are essential for every single cell of the body to function optimally and are particularly important in hormone, heart and brain health. They're also required for healthy glowing skin and stable moods. While many plant sources are rich in healthy fats, people don't eat enough of them. Aim for a thumb-sized serving with every meal. Sources include nuts and seeds, good quality oils, nut and seed butter and avocado. Eating a source of healthy fats alongside fruits and vegetables is also known to enhance the absorption of certain fat-soluble nutrients.
5. Add nuts and seeds to every meal
Nuts and seeds are a quick and easy way to boost the nutritional profile of meals and snacks, and they're delicious. This is especially important on a vegan or plant-based diet as they provide a hit of protein, healthy fats and other nutrients that may be more difficult to reach through plants alone.
6. Keep it varied
Including a wide variety of whole foods will provide your body with the nutrients and energy it requires for optimal physical and mental health. Aim for 30 plant points a week. A plant point is earned from each different variety of plant that is consumed across a week, which includes not only fruits and vegetables but also seeds and nuts, legumes and pulses, wholegrains and even herbs and spices.
7. Always combine carbohydrates with fibre, protein or healthy fats
Not only will this increase the nutrient density of your meals and snacks but avoiding "naked carbs" (as the glucose goddess puts it) will help keep your blood sugar more stable. This is not just a consideration for people with diabetes but something we should all be mindful of for optimal physical and mental health.
8. Snack smart and plan ahead
Include 1-2 protein-rich snacks per day to keep your blood sugar stable and boost your nutrient intake. Nuts and seeds, homemade protein balls, and even nutrient-dense soups and smoothies are my go-to's and what I recommend to clients. Store-bought snacks are often filled with ingredients such as refined sugars, preservatives and other nasties that we should be limiting as far as possible. Homemade snacks also involve no single-use packaging, so they're a win, win!
9. Supplementation may be necessary
While it is possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, supplementation may be necessary for some people to make up for any deficiencies which may occur as a result of nutritional gaps in the diet, underlying health conditions and other idiosyncratic factors such as suboptimal absorption. If you are feeling tired all the time, find it hard to focus or notice anything different in your mind or body, it may be your body's way of letting you know that something isn't quite right.
10. Focus on key nutrients
Plant-based food sources
Lentils (try our dahl recipe in a jar), green leafy vegetables, dried apricots, tomato pasta, molasses
Brazil nuts, whole grains, molasses, cashews, organic onion, garlic and broccoli
Seaweed, especially dried kelp
Tofu, tahini, sesame seeds, dark green leafy vegetables
Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Flax seeds and oil, hemp seeds and oil, soybeans, walnuts
*Supplementation is advised for people in the UK throughout the autumn and winter months.
*Supplementation may be beneficial for those following a vegan diet as it can be difficult to meet requirements unless you are eating fortified foods daily.
*Please seek advice from a health practitioner before introducing supplements or making changes to your diet, and if you experience any changes
Some final reminders...
11. Listen to your body
It's important to tap into your body and pay attention to how you are feeling in terms of physical and mental health. If you are feeling tired, flat, anxious, or just a little bit "off", or if you notice any other unusual symptoms, it is most likely your body's way of letting you know that something is out of balance. In this case, it may be a good idea to speak to your GP and a natural health practitioner or nutritionist to get to the root cause of what's going on. This applies to everyone, regardless of whether or not you are vegan, however, if you have recently made changes to your diet (for example, going vegan), it is more relevant as you may need extra support to ensure your body is getting everything it needs.
12. Be kind to yourself (and others)
It's important to remember that diet is a very personal choice and everyone is on their own journey when it comes to their health and the food they choose to eat. There are many (valid) reasons a person may have chosen not to follow a vegan diet, from underlying health conditions to budget and personal beliefs. At the same time as having compassion for others, remember to have compassion for yourself if you "slip-up" throughout veganuary (and beyond, if you decide to adopt veganism on a longer basis), or if you find that it doesn't work for you. There are many other ways you can support your health and reduce your impact on our beautiful planet. Use the tips I've mentioned in this article as a guide, but I encourage you to keep learning, keep researching, remain open and stay curious about what works for you and your body, and what aligns with your soul and the moral beliefs you carry.
(1) Chronic diseases are first associated with the degradation and artificialisation of food matrices rather than with food composition: calorie quality matters more than calorie quantity