More and more people are going vegan or switching to a more plant based diet than ever before.
If you are considering ditching meat, you need to make sure your diet provides all the key nutrients you need to keep your body energised and healthy.
Nutritionist and author of GO LEAN VEGAN provides some top tips on vegan eating.
Whatever diet you choose to eat, your body runs off what you feed it.
So, if you are looking to boost your energy levels and improve your overall health and vitality, you need to nourish your body with the best possible foods.
FOCUS ON UNPROCESSED FOODS
Focusing on a nutrient dense diet that limits processed foods and replaces them with nutrient-rich ones instead is important for everyone, not just vegans.
- Ditch the fake foods and highly processed foods, which are often low in key nutrients, and switch to whole foods instead, where possible.
- Choose in-season fruits and vegetables for maximum nutrition and flavour.
- Unprocessed whole foods are typically lower in sugar and higher in fibre, helping to balance blood sugar levels and fuel your energy levels throughout the day.
WATCH THE CAFFEINE
While there is nothing wrong with the odd cup of coffee or tea, don’t rely on your daily fix to keep you going through the day.
While it may pick you up in the short term it is not long lasting and can disrupt blood sugar levels, leaving you with a slump later on.
Green tea is a great alternative.
Similar to coffee, green tea contains caffeine, which can increase energy levels. However, green tea also contains a compound called L-theanine. L-theanine can moderate the effects of caffeine, such as anxiety and the jitters, and produces a smoother boost of energy.
Research has shown that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine in green tea can increase focus, alertness, and mental concentration.
GET YOUR PROTEIN
Protein is made up of amino acids and there are nine essential amino acids that have to come from food since we can’t make them ourselves.
Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively.
In contrast, most plant protein sources, such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are considered to be incomplete, as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. For example, beans are low in the amino acid methionine.
However, there are a few plant foods that are considered complete proteins – these include soy, spirulina, quinoa, and amaranth.
So, to ensure you obtain all the essential amino acids your body needs, try and consume a variety of plant foods daily.
Protein rich food will provide you with a steady and sustained source of energy because it does not cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin when it is digested.
TOP UP YOUR ENERGY NUTRIENTS
Studies show that vegans are at a higher risk of having inadequate levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium, and zinc in their blood.
Iron and zinc aren’t absorbed as well from plant foods as they are from animal products.
This is partly due to the presence of phytates, which binds to minerals making them less absorbable.
Here’s a few tips to help with your intake of vitamins and minerals:
- Fermented foods (like tempeh) increase mineral availability, which makes them a great choice to include in your diet, if possible.
- Add vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, red peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, berries) to every meal to enhance absorption of iron.
- Cook in an iron pan especially when you are cooking with more acidic foods like tomatoes as this can improve your intake of iron.
- Soaking and toasting nuts and seeds, beans, and grains can reduce the effects of phytates and aid the absorption of minerals.
- If you are taking supplements, avoid taking calcium and iron supplements together as they can interfere with absorption.
- Useful zinc rich foods for vegans include tahini, dark chocolate and raw cacao, soybeans, tempeh, tofu, pumpkin seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, canned beans, and quinoa.
- Iron rich foods include leafy greens, sea vegetables (e.g. dulse, nori, wakame), prunes, lentils, beans, soybeans, cashews, dark chocolate, almonds.
Another important nutrient that many vegans lack is B12. Vitamin B12 works together with folic acid to produce red blood cells and help iron work more effectively in the body. Optimal levels of red blood cells and iron in the blood can reduce fatigue and increase energy. Vitamin B12 is also important for protein metabolism and a healthy nervous system.
Vegans need to consume B12-fortified foods and / or take a vitamin B12 supplement to get enough vitamin B12 in their system. Examples of B12-fortified foods include plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Iodine is an important mineral for metabolism and supports optimal thyroid function. Sea vegetables are one of the best iodine rich plant foods, so try and include these 1-2 times during the week. One of the easiest ways to do this is to soak a handful and add to soups and stews or toss into salads.
DON’T SKIMP ON FATS
Essential fatty acids (EFAs), and particularly Omega-3 fats, can be low if you’re not including oily fish as part of your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is a common cause of fatigue.
To ensure you don’t miss out, include a daily serving of Omega-3 rich foods like flax 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.
Pulsin’s Hemp Protein Powder is rich in Omega 3, as well as being gluten free, high in fibre, and containing other essential vitamins and minerals.
Fats are not only essential for our cell health, brain health, hormone function, skin health etc but can also help to satisfy our appetite, making them useful for weight loss.
Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, olives, nuts and seeds.
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.
Instead, focus on slow releasing carbs – for example, choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes, try red rice, wild rice, quinoa, teff or starchy vegetables like carrots, beetroot and parsnips.
Thanks to their fibre content, such foods have a lower glycemic index, which means they could help regulate blood sugar levels and help you maintain steady energy levels throughout the day.
Many of these foods also provide plenty of B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese, which all help in the breakdown of nutrients to produce energy.
WATCH YOUR EATING PATTERNS
If you’re always feeling tired and sluggish, it might be worth taking a look at your eating patterns.
Erratic meal patterns and regularly skipping meals could not only mean you miss out on key nutrients but can also cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can leave you feeling tired.
Don’t drastically reduce the amount of food you are eating either, even if you are trying to lose weight. Extreme dietary restrictions can result in a lack of both calories and essential nutrients, such as iron, which can negatively affect your energy levels.
Remember to drink water throughout the day. Water represents up to 60% of your body weight and is involved in many cellular functions, including energy production. Not drinking enough water may leave you feeling sluggish and tired.