First and foremost...
Am I pro or anti Vegan diets?
I answered that on this recent discussion as an expert speaker on BBC Asian Network.
I wanted to delve a little deeper into the vegan diets and the experiences I have had with clients who are looking to optimise their health and body shape through veganism. Firstly, as I stated on the BBC show, I am neither anti or pro vegan.
I am very much pro education!
People can be extremely unhealthy on a vegan diet, just as they can be on a vegetarian, carnivore or water diet! So education will always reign supreme in my eyes, because the more you know, the better informed decisions you can make!
To make the education easier, I am going to break down a few areas of concern that have arisen in the last 3 months working with vegan clients and assessing their dietary habits before we began the coaching process.
1. Low Protein Intake
This is not to say you cannot achieve adequate protein on a vegan diet!
The clients that did come to see me were originally consuming on 38% on average of the goals they went on to be set. To make the maths easier... if their ideal intake was 100g of protein per day, they were only realistically getting 38g!
The way we worked on this was to provide a comprehensive vegan friendly protein cheat sheet to help them choose items to prepare alongside vegan friendly recipes which provide a minimum of 30g protein per meal.
1. Quality of Protein Intake
It is still common to hear people talk about protein goals as the be all and end all for body composition. I personally feel it holds great significance, but when we are looking at vegan and vegetarian populations, there are some aspects that need to take greater significance.
I am of course referring to the quality of protein intake and more specifically to the Essential Vs Nonessential Amino Acids required...
Have I lost you?
Most animal based sources of protein contain the essential amino acids that our body cannot produce itself, whereas non animal based sources do not always contain these essential amino acids which are required in our diet.
So education on the right quantity and blend of foods is key if you are looking to optimise your health and body composition.
Unfortunately the guys that turned vegan recently were highly restrictive in their approach and there is a number of reasons for this.
Not having the time to research recipes.
Being unsure of whether certain foods were appropriate for them as vegans.
Getting into the habits of eating the same foods over and over as it was "easier" to prep.
Eating ready made meals from supermarkets to make life easier.
The 4 reasons outlined above, essentially left most of these guys living off Quorn products, alternative meats and highly processed meals.
The fact is, there is more to think about when it comes nutritional intake and such a drastic change in dietary approaches.
The first task I set these guys was to determine protein sources that they enjoyed eating and to use the recipes to cook them from.
After this habit was established we compared the number of foods consumed over the course of a week before coaching vs during coaching and it went from 15 different foods per week to a whopping 45!
A recent study suggested improvements on the gut microbiome occurred when people increased food variety and consumed upwards of 30 different types of food per week!
Needless to say improved energy levels, better digestion, faster recovery and increased performance were just a few of the boxes ticked from these changes!
A seemingly large word for such minute pieces of the spectrum to better health!
Whilst most people are very quick to focus on the macronutrient intake of protein, carbs and fats when trying to change their body composition, when it comes to optimal health and performance, the micronutrients matter.
You will probably know these better as vitamins and minerals and they have a direct role in things like energy pathways and immune function in your body and when you aren't taking these things into consideration any dietary approach devoid of variation and quality food intake over the long term, can lead to profound health implications!
I ask my clients to use Cronometer a nutrition tracking app (when they are ready) to understand their micronutrient intake better.
Vegan diets can often lead to low intake of omega 3, vitamin b12, choline and heme iron.
But hold on, isn't heme iron bad?
A recent documentary claimed that "heme iron" is toxic and its increased in the body through meat consumption...
However, this is completely fabricated as heme iron is actually an essential part of energy pathways and is key in the process of ATP (our bodies usable energy source) generation, HEME is also synthesised in mammalian cells... so beware of the fear mongers!
What makes for good TV doesn't always make for good health!
Omega 3 intake can be achieved through nuts, seeds and oils, but I would also support with an Algae Oil here.
B12 intake can be achieved through fortified milks and cereals, nutritional yeast and potentially supported by a quality multivitamin.
Iron is available in the form of non heme iron from fruits, grains and nuts. I would be cognisant of optimising uptake of iron in these instances by ensuring you are consuming enough Vitamin C, this can come from the usual citrus fruits, peppers and leafy veggies that are common in most diets.
Choline is important for brain health and liver function and whilst the body will produce some of what it needs, it is not enough to cope with whole body demands. It is high in meat products, but can also be found in nuts, beans and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
So there you have it!
4 incredibly important considerations for your vegan nutritional intake! Take your nutritional and health advice from credible sources going forwards and avoid the pitfalls that come with desperation and a willingness to see success.