Going vegan or switching to a more plant based diet is so popular right now. In fact a host of celebrities including Beyonce, Stella McCartney and Ellie Goulding have said goodbye to meat and dairy. But if you are looking to ditch the meat make sure your diet is healthy.
Here are some top tips to make a plant based diet work for you
Ensure Protein Power - It can be difficult to obtain enough protein and the right balance of the essential amino acids on a vegan diet. Aim to include 3 servings of legumes (beans, peanuts, soyfoods) daily plus a variety of vegetables and slow releasing grains. A serving is around 1 cup of cooked beans or pulses. You don't have to worry about combining different protein sources in a meal - your body is able to pool the amino acids we need as we eat them, and we use them when needed. If you are particularly active try adding plant protein powders to dishes, snacks and smoothies.
Don't skimp on Fats. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) particularly Omega-3 fats can be low if you're not eating oily fish. To ensure you don't miss out include a daily serving of Omega-3 rich foods like flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds or walnuts. Another option is to use omega 3 rich oils which can be drizzled over vegetables and salads or added to dips and spreads. Fats are not only essential for our cell health, brain health, hormone function, skin health etc but can help satisfy our appetite making the useful for weight loss. Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, olives, nuts and seeds.
You may need to supplement. A vegan diet just like other diets can be low in certain nutrients. In particular vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, iron and calcium Supplements/fortified foods are the only way to get sufficient vitamin B12.. If you don't get adequate sun exposure to make vitamin D and are not including sea vegetables which are rich in iodine it is likely you will also need supplements of these nutrients, too.
Get Calcium Savvy. Leafy green vegetables, especially kale, collards and turnip greens but not spinach (calcium is unabsorbable due to oxalate content) are very good sources of calcium. Include 2-3 cupfuls daily. Other plant-based sources of calcium include tahini, tempeh, soybeans, calcium-set tofu, corn tortillas and fortified non-dairy milks.
Iron Boosters. Haeme iron, found in the flesh of animals, is better absorbed than non-haeme, plant-based iron. So you will need to include plenty of plant foods such as legumes, whole grains, leafy vegetables which are good sources of iron. Increase the absorption by eating vitamin C containing foods at the same meal (such as citrus fruits, red peppers, berries etc).
Opt for slow carbs. With vegan diets there can be a temptation to fill up on starches like pasta, rice and breads but these will play havoc with blood sugar levels and may contribute to weight gain. Focus on slower releasing carbs - for example choose sweet potatoes over white, try red rice, quinoa, teff or starchy vegetables like carrots, beetroot and parsnips.
Here's one of the recipes from my book
Chocolate Orange Pots
This is a delicious, creamy rich recipe. Using the orange naturally sweetens this recipe without the need for syrups. If you want to boost the protein content, swap one of the tablespoons of cocoa powder with chocolate protein powder.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 2 minutes
100g sugar-free and dairy-free dark chocolate
1 tbsp. unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp. cocoa powder (or 1 tbsp. cocoa powder and 1 tbsp. chocolate protein powder)
1 large orange, peeled and pips removed
250g silken tofu, drained
Grated orange zest, to decorate (optional)
1. Place the chocolate and almond milk in a pan and gently melt over a low heat, stirring to combine.
2. Put the melted chocolate into a food processor or blender with all the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. Spoon into four ramekins and decorate with a little orange zest, if wished.
3. This can be frozen for up to 1 month or will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Per serving: 228 kcal; 12.6g protein; 15.4g fat; 7.2g saturated fat; 11.4g carbohydrates; 4.5g sugars
Christine is an award winning Nutritionist, Chef and Author with over 18 years of experience in the health and food industry. A regular in the media Christine is also a writer for many national magazines and websites. She is author of numerous health and recipe books including her latest book Go Lean Vegan published by Yellow Kite (July 2016). She works with food, health and supplement companies and has a busy nutrition clinic in Harley Street and Berkshire.