Happy 2020! Now that the decorations are down, the last of the Christmas treats have been finished off and you’ve survived your first full week back to work or school, how’s your January going?
If you’re giving up all animal products and doing Veganuary for the month, by now hopefully you’re in the swing of things and discovering all the wonderful plant-based foods that are now available. I did Veganuary two years ago and I never looked back, keeping up with the plant-based way of eating because everything is just so tasty!
Whilst experimenting with tofish and chips and the odd vegan steak bake is fun, have you thought about the nutrients that you might be missing out on by eschewing meat, fish, dairy and eggs? It’s entirely possible that we can have all our nutritional needs met by solely eating plants, with one exception – vitamin B12. So it’s advised that anyone following a diet that excludes animal products takes a daily B12 supplement. But there are other nutrients to just give a little extra though to.
Here’s my lowdown…
We need vitamin B12 to release the energy from our food. It’s created by the bacteria in the stomachs of animals, hence why B12 is only found in animal-based foods. Without it, we’re likely to experience fatigue, depleted energy levels and brain fog. Not to mention constipation, which makes us feel even more sluggish.
So if you take one supplement, make it a vitamin B12 supplement (that’s suitable for vegans) and make sure you take it each day. You can also top up your levels by eating fortified plant-based foods such as certain cereals, soya products and plant milks.
Iron exists in two forms – haem and non-haem. Haem iron exists in animal products such as meat and non-haem iron exists in plants. Iron helps the blood cells produce haemoglobin which carries oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency can result in fatigue, a lack of energy and a shortness of breath.
Haem iron is easily absorbed by the body, but we need to eat more non-haem iron to get enough. Eating a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and wholegrains will help to ensure you’re getting enough, but a vegan iron supplement is also a good idea.
Most of us know that we need vitamin D for strong teeth and bones, and we might be vaguely aware that it’s called the ‘sunshine vitamin’. But what does this mean? Well, it means that the majority of our vitamin D is made by the body when sunlight hits the skin.
This also means that during the dark, winter months, we’re at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. And that goes for everyone – meat eaters and vegans alike. Some foods such as cow’s milk, egg yolks and oily fish (complete with edible bones) are good sources of vitamin D, but the majority is made by sunlight.
For this reason, the NHS recommends that all us Brits take a vitamin D supplement during the months of October to March when natural light levels are low. Vegans can especially benefit from a daily vitamin D supplement due to avoiding vitamin D-rich foods.
A nutrient that’s often overlooked, we need iodine in tiny amounts each week to ensure good thyroid health. An iodine deficiency can result in muscle weakness, fatigue and constantly feeling cold.
Dairy products and seafood are good sources of iodine. Plant-based foods such as wholegrains and cereals can contain good amounts of iodine, but only if they’re grown in iodine-rich soil (which is usually near the coast where iodine seeps into the soil from seawater). As it’s difficult to know where our crops have been grown, it’s best to take an iodine supplement (often in the form of kelp, or seaweed) if you’re following a vegan diet.
Enjoy, you’re doing a great thing!
Until next month (when who knows, you might be a fully fledged vegan!),
Hannah & The Healthy Life Team