Updated: May 2, 2021
So you thought that becoming vegan was easy. You just stop eating anything animal based. Well then you may be in for a nasty shock soon.
To become a “healthy” vegan you need to take a close look at the nutrition in the food you are eating. Why? You just removed a whole category of food that was supplying a massive quantity of important nutrients to your body. You can cope for a while but your health will begin to gradually deteriorate otherwise.
What to do? Let’s take a look at the nutrients.
Protein. This is the master building material for your body. It builds hair, muscles, skin, connective tissue, blood, almost everything. Plant foods can provide protein, however except for some specific foods, the level is often very low and the type of protein is often not very bio-available to you. Children's growth can slow or even stop if they don’t get enough protein. When planning meals you must calculate your daily protein needs at more than 0.8 grams for every 1 kilogram of body weight. For a 60 kg woman this is 60 x 0.8 = 48 grams of protein. If you are building muscle, pregnant or over 60 then increase this up to double the level. Your body can not store protein, so if you haven’t provided, it will usually take it from your muscles. Few plants supplying protein have the full range of essential amino acids required by your body. Without the full complement, even the amino acids supplied cannot be used. To overcome this, when planning meals, you must, match food with complementary amino acid profiles in order to ensure you are providing all 9 essential amino acids.
Carbohydrates. Many people who cut the animal foods, just replace these with more carbs. They become a “carbotarian”. Carbs supply energy, but too much energy forces your body to store the excess as body fat. Many carbs particularly processed whole grain foods like pasta, cookies, bread, and bagels and vegetable oils, have very low nutritional value, despite their high energy level. If your body is looking for nutrition it will keep you feeling hungry way after you have consumed your daily calories. These carbs will also create a massive sugar spike, forcing your body to release lots of insulin to get the sugar out of your blood and down to the normal level of about 1 teaspoon full. I recently saw a vegan snacking on a banana wrapped in a slice of bread, disaster, almost 10 teaspoons of sugar in one hit. The result is immediate fat gain.
Fat. Despite what you may think, eating fat does not make you fat. It is excess carbohydrates that are converted to fat and pumped into your fat cells that make you fat. You need lots of “good” fat in your diet. Your brain is nearly 60% fat, your nerves are sheathed in fat, many hormones are constructed from fat, many vitamins are only fat soluble (A, D, E, K) human babies are born fat and use this fat to nourish their brain development. Without sufficient fat you get sick very quickly. One reason for this, fat is a major component of your immune system. It is now realised that low LDL cholesterol can be an indication of an immune system under stress. You will need to plan what you eat to make sure you are getting enough fat. Avocado, coconut and olive oils are excellent but industrial seed oils (vegetable oils) are very unhealthy and should be completely avoided because they overload the body with omega-6 and are very unstable. Did you know that breast milk is 48% saturated fat. Saturated fat is good for you.
Anti-nutrients. Many plant foods contain anti-nutrients, with the ability to lock out key vitamins and minerals from your diet by preventing your body from being able to absorb these. Carbs use up large amounts of magnesium to be digested. Phytic acid which is common in seeds such as wheat, prevents the absorption of minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, and zinc by binding to them before your body can absorb them. Oxalate found in spinach and soy inhibit the absorption of calcium. Protease inhibitors in Soy inhibit the action of enzymes pepsin and trypsin which prevents them from breaking down protein for absorption. Vitamins B12, B6, B1, B2, niacin, and zinc are common deficiencies on a vegan diet.
There are a number of ways to reduce the impact of anti-nutrients, such as soaking, fermenting, cooking, sprouting with different methods working for different anti-nutrients. For example, Phytates (Phytic acid) in nuts, grains and seeds is heat resistant so sprouting works best to reduce this. If you eat a lot of corn then you must learn about the process of soaking and then cooking in an alkaline solution to make niacin available. To get the full value of any nutrient from a vegan diet, you must know all about this and apply it to each type of food you are eating.
The bottom line here is that to be a healthy vegan, you must plan your nutrition, what foods to eat and how to prepare them. If you thought it would help you lose fat, then you may be wrong. Due to the insulin spike from carbs plus other factors, many vegetarians gain fat while losing muscle mass. Vegan statistics often present well when compared with the general population, but of course these are heavily influenced by thousands of people who through lack of knowledge, interest or bad advice, eat a terrible diet full of sugar, junk processed food, low nutrition carbohydrates and industrial seed oils. At least a vegan thinks about their food.
George Elder, Author, "Take Back Your Health", Amazon $3.99.