Vegan diet means to eat completely without animal foods. No animal products? What else can you eat at all and is that healthy at all? Vegans hear these questions very often. Nevertheless, they are fine, even without animal food and products.
Why live as a vegan?
The motivations of vegans are different. The real and most widespread motivation is the protection of animals. Because a vegan lifestyle is not only characterized by a vegan diet, the general consumption of animal products is largely avoided.
A 100% vegan lifestyle is very difficult to implement in today's society, as many products of animal origin are now or are associated with animals. This includes the intake of medicines, clothing, cosmetics, household detergents and much more.
In the age of factory farming, animal testing and breeding, the animal welfare of animals has a significant role for vegans. Food production uses mainly animal products because they are generally cheaper than ingredients of plant or synthetic origin.
Vegan food is healthy
Health reasons are another driver for many vegans. A healthy balanced diet generally contains a lot of fruits and vegetables, but little meat. For the prevention and treatment of many diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases, the healthy diet is recommended, even assumed.
One of the common diseases is now obesity, a disease that originated in the unhealthy, high-cholesterol and fatty diet. Studies, for example, by Newby et al. and Huang et al., suggest that a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet may reduce the risk of being overweight and counteract sequelae such as type 2 diabetes.
For certain diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatism or to assist in cancer therapy, a diet is recommended that has a low proportion of animal products. Here the trend is strongly in the direction of the vegetarian or vegan diet.
Ingredients of vegan cuisine
The vegan cuisine can be very varied and tasty. The renunciation of products of animal origin does not automatically mean a monotonous restriction. The vegan kitchen replaces many animal foods, without it tastes tasty. For example, milk is replaced by rice, soy or oatmeal.
Eggs can be replaced by egg substitutes - for example a vegetable powder based on soy protein - and banana, applesauce or oil when baking.
The gelatin produced from the connective tissue of pork and beef is meanwhile contained in many foods as gelling agent. As a vegan alternative agar, fruit pectin and locust bean gum are suitable.
Instead of meat, vegans often use the well-known tofu.
Tofu as a substitute for meat
Tofu is a relatively taste-neutral, solidified soybean curd cheese, which has long been a staple of Asian cuisine and is now very popular with vegetarians and vegans in Western countries. Tofu is rich in protein, suitable for main meals and desserts and thus, for example in the form of smoked tofu, an optimal alternative in the vegan cuisine. Meat can also be replaced by avocado, soy or oyster mushrooms.
In addition, there is a large selection of vegan meat substitutes in every supermarket today. As the demand for vegan foods increases, so does the supply. For example, vegan cheese made from soy, silk tofu, nutrient yeast or yeast melt is now available.
The foods vegans avoid include honey. In the vegan diet honey is simply substituted by sugar beet, agave or maple syrup.
In general, vegan substitutes are significantly more expensive than the conventional variant. However, they are not necessary for a balanced diet.
Feeding vegans - what to eat?
The following foods could be on the menu for a healthy vegan diet:
- plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables
- energy-supplying carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, rice and noodles
- strengthening protein sources such as legumes and meat substitutes
- healthy fat sources such as avocado, seeds and linseed oil
- Nutrient suppliers such as fresh herbs, sprouts and seeds
Risks of the vegan diet
Although vegans are often better off on vitamins than others thanks to their fruit and vegetable diet, they often lack vital nutrients. Because some nutrients are mainly contained in animal products. However, those who only feed on plant-based products should take greater care in choosing and putting together their diet.
Nutrients that you should pay close attention to in a vegan diet are:
- Vitamin B12
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Targeted malnutrition targeted
For example, the low intake of calcium, which is often criticized in the vegan diet, which is important for the hormone balance and the nervous system, can be prevented by appropriate nutrition. Regular consumption of kale, broccoli, spinach, hazelnuts, whole grains and sesame seeds is recommended. The simultaneous intake of vitamin D may promote the absorption of calcium.
The need for iron can usually be met by green vegetables, fresh herbs and legumes. Here, iron should ideally be taken in combination with vitamin C and better not in conjunction with coffee or tea.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain and heart activities, are found mainly in walnuts and high-quality oils such as linseed oil. Zinc and selenium, of which especially women often have too little, are mostly contained in nuts. Iodine is added to most salts, so the supply of this trace element is usually unproblematic.
Probably the most well-known deficiency symptom of a vegan diet is the vitamin B12 deficiency. The revitalizing and the nerve growth-promoting vitamin is found mainly in various types of cabbage, lettuce and in seeds and sprouts.
Since vitamin B12 works closely with folic acid in metabolism, you should also pay attention to their intake. Rich in folic acid, for example, is raw vegetables. However, vitamin B12 deficiency is not a purely vegan problem: even many omnivores today have to struggle with nutrient deficiencies.
Check nutrient supply regularly
To check if you are also supplied with all the nutrients as a vegan, you should have a full blood count every one to two years and have it checked by a doctor. A normal blood picture is not enough in this case.
In certain cases, it may be advisable to compensate for a deficiency by nutrient preparations. Appropriate dietary supplements can be found in every well-stocked drugstore market. However, whether these are equivalent to a balanced diet is highly controversial.
Conclusion: When is vegan nutrition healthy?
The vegan diet can - if you pay attention to a balanced nutrient supply - bring quite some health benefits, not to mention: the positive influence on animal and nature.
However, caution should be exercised in populations with high nutritional needs, such as infants, pregnant or breastfeeding women. In these groups, the German Nutrition Society and the Federal Center for Health Education advise against an exclusively vegan diet.