Very vegan

Veganism is growing in popularity by the day. We take a look at the benefits of following a plant-based diet

The stereotypical image of vegans as tie-dye-wearing hippies who live on nothing but lentils and chick peas is fast becoming a thing of the past. The proliferation of vegan recipe blogs, books and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Beyoncé and Russell Brand has helped to give veganism a complete image overhaul.

“The image of veganism is undergoing the most radical change in its history, becoming mainstream while shedding tired old stereotypes,” says Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of The Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com).

“Sales of vegan products have gone through the roof, with a number of companies expanding massively in the UK and Europe. We estimated in 2006 that the number of vegans in the UK was about 150,000, but now believe it could easily have doubled, such has been the huge upsurge in interest and take up.”

“For many, ‘vegan’ starts with their diet,” says Tim Barford, organiser of the VegfestUK events in Bristol, Brighton, London and Vegfest Scotland (www.vegfest.co.uk).

“Vegans choose not to eat animal products, so they stop eating foods that contain meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey, and eat more plant-based options, like seeds, nuts, beans, pulses and grains as well as fruit and vegetables. But as people get more into the vegan lifestyle, it encompasses other choices such as what you wear, what beauty products you use and what you do for entertainment. The bottom line for vegans is that they choose not to use animal products and they choose not to exploit animals in any way.”

The health benefits

“A vegan diet full of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, pulses and pseudograins can extend your lifespan and reduce your susceptibility to chronic disease,” says Eli Sarre, marketing manager for Essential Trading (www.essential-trading.co.uk) and a qualified nutritional therapist.

“Vegan forms of protein are often packaged in significantly nutrient-dense foods; packed full of minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and other vital nutrients which ensure your diet is providing optimal amounts of high quality nutrition. Eating natural wholefoods opens up a new approach to diet full of abundance and seasonal variety.

“Steering clear of processed foods and switching to whole grains and dietary fibre has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack. Dairy-free diets have numerous benefits; simply swapping a slice of cheese for nut butters will increase the minerals in your daily diet. When making smoothies, avoiding the yoghurt and including nuts and seeds or their butters will offer a protein and mineral boost as well as beneficial fatty acids.”

“Protein is the most common misconception,” adds Jasmijn de Boo. “Many people still don’t realise that many plant-based foods – green veg like broccoli and spinach, plus beans and pulses, grains, nuts and seeds – are all excellent sources of protein. Getting enough in your diet is easy. It has never been easier to be vegan. More and more vegan products are being stocked in mainstream supermarkets, and the number of vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants is expanding at its fastest-ever rate.”

“The only nutrient that isn’t easily available on a vegan diet is vitamin B12,” says Tim Barford. “It’s an important one and vegans are recommended to supplement regularly with a good source of B12 such as fortified yeast extract.”

Top tips

  • “Pulses are incredibly versatile and make tasty dips, stews, soups and salads,” says Eli Sarre. “Pseudograins such as amaranth, quinoa and wild rice are high in protein as well as being gluten-free. All legumes and seeds can be sprouted and added to salads or side salads. Add a topping of pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or crumbled walnuts for an extra texture and increased nutritional value.”
  • “Instead of milk and dairy products use almond milk, coconut milk or coconut yogurt and make your own nut yogurts and vegan mayonnaise,” says nutritionist Christine Bailey (www.christinebailey.co.uk). “You can also make vegan ice creams with nuts or buy them.”
  • “If you are a dessert fan you could experiment with coconut and oat flapjacks,” says Eli. “Try soaking chia seeds in coconut milk for desserts, or even making your own vegan ‘cheesecake’ by blending coconut and nuts with your favourite fruit.”
  • “Iron is important,” says Christine. “So make sure you get plenty of vitamin C to aid absorption, plus iron-rich vegetables like spinach and kale as well as spirulina, tofu, quinoa, lentils, beans, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses and a little dried fruit.”

You can try going vegan yourself with The Vegan Society’s 30-Day Vegan Pledge.

Visit www.vegansociety.com/pledge to receive daily emails with advice, information and great recipes.

Find vegan recipes from Your Healthy Living here...

Read the Your Food articles archive here...

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