Enthusiastically starting veganuary will often start well but swiftly falter on the know-how, says nutritional therapist Karen Geary
As we’re slightly later this month, I’m hoping to catch you at the stage where you enthusiastically began your ‘veganuary’ month and now the motivation is waning (or you still want to do it but don’t know how to start!).
With a bit of planning, plant-based diets can provide all the right nutrients. I actually used to be vegan myself, and my most creative time in the kitchen still comes from preparing meals that are plant-heavy.
Balancing your plate
A plant-based meal should always consist of a protein, a healthy fat, a carbohydrate and four to five different types of vegetables of different colours in order to access plenty of fibre and micro-nutrients.
This month, try to widen the variety of fruit and veg you eat in a week. A great goal is 30 different types of plants. Go shopping at the end of the day and try some of the veg that supermarkets sell off at half price. Remember, you can count herbs and spices in the 30!
Without meat, your protein sources include beans, lentils, tofu, chick peas, peanuts, tempeh, seitan, nut butters, quorn, protein powders such as hemp and pea, plus all the nuts and seeds.
You need one portion of these – pick from potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains such as rice, wheat, buckwheat, quinoa or oats. All fruit and veg count, and don’t forget these don’t have to be fresh! Frozen, tinned or dried all work.
Try using flax (a good source of omega 3) or avocado oils as well as olive oil.
- Key nutrients to focus on
- Deficiencies can be common in vegans who don’t consider their nutrition properly. It is important to take extra care around getting the right amount of protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, calcium, selenium and iodine in the diet.
- Iron – find it in beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, dried apricots, dried figs, molasses, quinoa, kale, spinach, broccoli, cashews, chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate. Eat vitamin C food, e.g. citrus, leafy greens, etc., to help with iron absorption.
- Calcium – find it in fortified cereals and dairy alternatives, tofu, leafy greens, tahini, dried fruit, nuts
- Omega 3 is in walnuts, flax, chia, hemp, soya beans
- Zinc from nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, quinoa
- Selenium can be obtained from Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, chia seeds and brown rice. Selenium is essential for iodine uptake.
- Vitamin B12 is in nutritional yeast, fortified cereals and dairy alternatives.
When to supplement
As a vegan, it can be very difficult to get vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iodine from food sources alone. The quality of sources can be highly variable and/or they are not in the correct form needed to be absorbed in sufficient quantities. Supplements are recommended for vegans (and there are plenty suitable for vegans), but it is better to get tested before supplementing in order that the right amount is taken.
But what do I eat?
Please don’t be a junk food vegan! Living on vegan sausage rolls for the month is not what I would call a healthy diet. I once counted the number of ingredients in a well known supermarket vegan pizza – there were 98! And the majority of them I didn’t recognise. Get in the kitchen and keep it simple:
Plain soy or coconut yogurt, some stewed apple, topped with nuts and seeds.
Or scrambled tofu on toast. Add a bit of turmeric so it looks like eggs and stir fry a few tomatoes and peppers in it, or enjoy with a side of avocado or kimchi.
Or some simple porridge topped with nut butter, berries, and maybe some molasses for sweetness.
Lunches and dinners
Minestrone soup is a great option, and you can make a big batch as it will keep in the fridge for days.
Sauté onion, carrots and celery in a little oil until soft. Add veg stock, herbs, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of beans (e.g. butter or cannellini) or chickpeas, some shredded cabbage, a small handful of rice and season. Serve when the rice is cooked through.
Oven traybakes such as sliced sweet potato with cannellini beans cooked in coconut milk spiced up with ginger and chilli, topped with breadcrumbs.
Curries such as red lentil – we’ve shared this lentil dhal before. It’s a tasty one-pot Indian dhal curry that’s ready in just 25 minutes. With red lentils, coconut milk, and simple spices, it’s a protein-packed, creamy and delicious meal.