Frequently Asked Questions
As a vegan I get asked all kinds of questions relateing to my diet, what I can and cannot eat, where do I get my protein, iron, calcium, energy etc from.
As a Nutritionist I am able to answer alot of these, so i have compiled a few of my favourites to help unravel the mystery of Nutrition....
What is a plant-based/Vegan diet?
A plant-based diet means that all food a person eats comes from plants. Another term for those who eat a plant-based diet is ‘vegan’. A plant-based diet is generally made up of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits & vegetables. People choose to eat a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons including health, environmental sustainability as well as ethical reasons related to animal welfare.
What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet?
Research has shown that people who eat only plant-based foods are at lower risk of developing heart disease, cancer and other health related problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Compared to the more typical Western diet, plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher in ‘good’ fats and fibre, all of which support good health.
Can I get all necessary nutrients eating a plant-based diet?
The most common concerns around consuming a plant-based diet are whether they include enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D and Vitamin B12.
Where do you get your protein?
Protein is found in all whole plant foods, and it has never been demonstrated that we require more than what is found naturally in a varied whole-food plant-based diet that is sufficient in calories.
Such a diet will contain at least 8-12% of calories from protein. Note that athletes may require more protein, but this is generally achieved by consuming more food, so one will get more protein without changing the protein ratio.
If one would like to consume still more protein on a plant-based diet, even though it has not been shown to be necessary or beneficial, one may choose to consume more legumes, which generally contain a higher percentage of calories from protein compared to other plant foods.
It is easy to get adequate protein with a plant-based diet through eating beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, grains and vegetables. Most Australians consume more than enough protein, so decreasing protein-rich foods is usually not a concern.
It is rare that someone that is not starving and malnourished, could be deficient in protein – if you are eating an adequate about of food, it is extremely rare that you would become protein deficient.
Where do you get your iron?
Iron is found in nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, green peas, quinoa and dark leafy greens. Adding vitamin C-rich foods to meals (such as citrus, mango, tomatoes, greens, or peppers) improves iron absorption from plant foods.
Where do you get calcium?
Calcium can be found in dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds – tahini is a great source). However, because the compounds found in some plant foods can make it harder for your body to absorb the calcium, it is important to consume a wide variety of calcium-rich plant foods.
Where do you get Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is obtained from two sources: food and sunlight exposure. Fatty fish and egg yolks are the most common natural sources. There are very few foods that contain natural Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is also produced in the body through exposure to sunlight. Factors that limit the body’s ability to make enough Vitamin D from the sun, include sunscreen, clothing, darker skin pigmentation, pollution, aging and extra body fat. As a result, for most people, adding a vitamin D supplement is a good idea.
Where do you get Vitamin B12?
People who eat no animal products at all must supplement their diets with vitamin B12 or fortified food products such as microalgae, seaweeds and nutritional yeast, as plants do not contain active B12.
Is it safe for children to follow a plant based diet?
Yes! Choosing a variety of organic, whole plant foods as the basis for your child’s meals, you are providing a significant health advantage when compared to the standard Australian diet (SAD diet).
If you are new to the plant-based lifestyle please consult a Nutritionist or Dietician for help transitioning to this way of eating and ensuring your children are getting a variety of whole food plant based foods and adequate nutrients for growth.
Do I need to take a B12 supplement?
If you follow a whole-food, plant-based diet, you do indeed need to be aware of your vitamin B12 intake. This vitamin is created from microorganisms in the soil, which animals consume, thereby making it part of their bodies and providing it to people who consume their flesh. However, it is very easy to find vitamin B12 in non-animal-based sources.
Nutritional yeast and fortified plant-based milks contain ample vitamin B12 or you can take a supplement or chew some B12-fortified gum. We require 5-10 micrograms per day. This simple consideration will allow you to prevent deficiency, which does not typically show up in blood tests until it is too late.
What can I use instead of dairy milk and yogurt?
My top pick for milk would be almond milk – if you have never tried home-made I recommend you make some and try it! You will never go back to store bought! So much more tasty and nourishing! If you don’t like almond try rice, oat or soy milk. Coconut yoghurt is a great alternative to dairy varieties.
But I love cheese! How can I give it up?
You are not alone. A lot of people love cheese – and I was one of those people for many years! Start by gradually using less and become accustomed to cheese being a flavour enhancer rather than the main component of a dish.
There are some delicious plant-based cheeses you try. My favourite is cashew cheese which I make into a sauce / dip – type consistency and drizzle over Mexican dishes such as nachos; Italian dishes such as pasta, lasagne & pizza; just about anything that you want a bit of ‘cheesy’ flavour with!
Also I love a good nut parmesan – this is my favourite when made with brazil nuts. There are many different varieties of nut cheese so you never have to feel like you are missing out!
What do I do if my family supports my change, but is not willing to change their eating habits?
Ask if they are willing to try eating plant-based for one month, or suggest that they try a new plant-based main course once a week – enter Meat Free Mondays! Introduce new foods along with familiar foods you know they love. For example, serve grilled Portobello mushroom burgers with sliced avocado in place of a cheeseburger. You may not get your family to completely adopt your new eating style, but remember that every person is on their own personal journey.
Juicing or Blending?
This is probably THE most commonly asked question!
I don’t believe one is better than the other – both are equally as important as the other in a nourishing, plant-based diet. Juicing enables nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream nearly instantly – juicing also provides a huge amount of vitamins and minerals – much more than blending – due to a lot more fruit or vegetables being used to make one serve.
Juices are great for those with compromised immune systems and those with digestive ailments, due to the body not needing to digest the food to assimilate the nutrients. Juicing is what I would call a liquid multi-vitamin!
Blending is more of a meal replacement and is much more filling. Blending blends up the whole fruit and veggies and the fibre is kept and therefore is much more filling.
If you are nutrient deficient I would recommend including fresh vegetable juices – particularly green juices with leafy green veggies (think spinach, kale, silver beet, beet greens). Greens are the most nutrient dense food in the world and when you juice them you are able to nourish your body with more vitamins and minerals than you ever could with a single meal.