Plant nutrition explained simply

How does vegan work?

Vegan - what is that actually?

The word vegan probably originated in the middle of the 20th century as a contraction of the English term "vegetarian". Anyone who eats neither meat nor fish is called vegetarian, and anyone who does without all animal products is vegan. Then there is exclusively vegetarian food. Read here what a vegan diet can look like, that a balanced vegan diet requires attention and effort and why regular blood tests are useful.

Nutrition for vegans - how does it work?

If you want to eat a vegan diet, avoid meat and fish, milk and dairy products, eggs and honey. In order to nevertheless take in all the necessary nutrients, it is important to pay a certain amount of attention to the diet. This is fun anyway, because if you eat consciously, you can enjoy more. On the menu are cereals and pulses, vegetables and fruit, nuts and oils. These foods provide plenty of carbohydrates, fibre and healthy fats, plus many vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances. A lot of plant foods also contain high-quality protein. Clever combinations can provide the body with an ideal supply.

At breakfast it is easy to be vegan. Porridge or cereal porridge taste great with a herbal drink or cashew cream. Those who prefer plant drinks can make sure that they are enriched with calcium. Incidentally, European law does not allow the products to be called "milk", for example, but allows them to be called drinks. Meanwhile, there are also many (organic) products that do not require additives and the like. Combined products made from oats and almonds or rice and coconut bring new flavours. Those who make sure that many ingredients come from local cultivation are also doing something good for the environment. Oat drink made from local oats is particularly easy to find.

There are no limits to your imagination in the warm kitchen as well as with salads and cold main courses: oven vegetables, curry or Asian wok vegetables are vegan anyway. If you miss the parmesan on the pasta, you can go for yeast flakes. Salads and raw vegetables are also very easily prepared vegan. Sprouts, nuts and seeds as toppings give great taste impulses and provide an extra portion of nutrients. A dressing of fine vinegar and cold-pressed vegetable oil provides the body with energy and unsaturated fatty acids. Salads made from lentils, chickpeas, beans or cereals are a great addition to the diet.As a dip or spread, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices are especially suitable. They are also easy to make yourself, with little effort and guarantee a wonderful taste experience.

How to succeed in a balanced food choice

Experts agree that plant foods should be the basis of our diet. This is good for our health and the health of the planet. In order to eat exclusively plant-based and healthy food, it is important to pay special attention to some nutrients: These include protein, certain fatty acids, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium and especially vitamin B12. We have already dealt with the basics of a healthy diet here in this blog. Now we will look at the specific aspects of a vegan diet to make sure you get enough of all the nutrients you need.

  • A clever combination of vegetable protein sources can supply the body with all the building blocks. Why this is important is explained in the article Metabolism - Structure and breakdown in fine tune. Valuable combinations in vegan cooking are cereals and pulses, especially beans and corn together provide all the protein building blocks that humans need. Whole grain rice and lentil vegetables or a stew with white beans and potatoes is also recommended. One legume with a very high protein value is the soya bean. It is used to make products such as tofu or tempeh, which are a high-quality source of protein in the vegan diet. Overall, pulses play a major role in a balanced vegan diet. They taste great as seedlings on salads, in curries, as a hearty salad or as a spread and, in addition to carbohydrates, fibre and vitamin B, they provide particularly high-quality vegetable protein.

  • High-quality vegetable oils provide energy and unsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example. Use rapeseed and walnut oil to prepare delicious meals. It makes sense to use cold-pressed oils in the cold kitchen and refined rapeseed or thistle oil in the warm kitchen. These oils are also stable when heated. A high-quality olive oil is suitable for salads as well as for gentle steaming.

  • The calcium supply in the vegan diet comes from green vegetables such as kale or broccoli, nuts and tofu. Calcium-rich mineral water can also make an important contribution. Water is considered rich in calcium if it provides more than 150 mg/L of calcium. You will find this information on the label. As mentioned above, fortified plant drinks can also be helpful.

  • One nutrient that needs attention, just like in a vegetarian diet, is iron. Plant foods contain a version of the molecule that is less easily absorbed. Nevertheless, whole grains, green leafy vegetables and legumes are good sources. Nuts and oilseeds also contain iron. To support the absorption of iron, it is a good idea to eat foods containing vitamin C at the same time. For example fruit, juices or vegetables such as peppers. Dishes such as cereal flakes with fresh fruit or leaf salad with lemon dressing are ideal combinations.

  • In order to achieve an adequate supply of zinc, breads made of sourdough and germinated grains or legumes are regularly recommended on the menu. Nuts and oilseeds also supply zinc.

Meat substitute products

An unmanageable number of meat replacement products are commercially available: from "sausages" to "minced meat" to "schnitzel", everything is available. The products often consist of soy protein, but also of wheat or lupine. Almost all of them are highly processed products that are superfluous for a healthy diet. And there is more: they often contain a large number of additives and flavour enhancers. For a balanced diet, it is sufficient to use fresh, high-quality ingredients and combine them skillfully.

Most nutrients can also be taken in with vegetable foods, if we pay a little attention to the composition of our food. We find it important to prefer natural sources for good bioavailability. However, there is one nutrient that the vegan diet cannot provide in sufficient amounts despite all efforts: This is vitamin B12. From a health point of view, it is essential to take a preparation, because it is only found in sufficient quantities in animal products. In addition it is recommended to let control the Vitamin B12 supply regularly medically.

Is vegan healthy?

The previous paragraphs show it - except for vitamin B12, it is possible to have a balanced diet with vegetable foods. The only prerequisite is the willingness to devote yourself to your own food intensively and with sufficient time. If you want to be sure to keep yourself and your body healthy, you should have your blood tested at the beginning of your vegan diet, but also regularly later on, to detect any deficiencies in time. Otherwise a vitamin or mineral deficiency can go undetected for a long time. Because it can take many years before physical effects become apparent.

In certain situations, the human body needs more energy and nutrients. For example during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as a baby, child and teenager. In these times, it is still questionable whether a vegan diet can provide enough nutrients. Intensive research is currently being done on this. One study, for example, found that the birth weight of children was lower in vegan mothers than in mixed diets. Nevertheless, the babies' weight was within the normal range. The VeChi study on toddlers showed that the supply of energy and main nutrients can be ensured in both vegetarian and vegan diets. The results of the study even suggest that vegetarian or vegan children consume less added sugar. A highly beneficial effect!

In a position paper, the world's largest nutritional organisation in the USA, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, considers "well planned vegetarian diets - including vegan diets - to be healthy and nutritionally appropriate". This also applies to pregnancy, breastfeeding, babies, children and adolescents. The emphasis here is certainly on "well planned". The German Society for Nutrition has so far advised against a vegan diet in these situations because of the limited data available.

One thing is certain: a balanced supply of vegan food is associated with a significantly higher effort. In addition, a possible deficiency only becomes noticeable much later. Anyone who still wants to live vegan during pregnancy or breastfeeding or wants to feed their children vegan can get expert advice from a nutrition counselling service. The doors are open to anyone who wants to learn more about a balanced diet based on plant-based foods.

Now what?

Just like taste, the subject of nutrition is very individual. This article cannot give a directive on what is right for each individual. If you want to eat a vegan diet, you should think it through and plan accordingly. Simply following a trend is not a good idea. Be open to information, but don't be overwhelmed by its variety. The easiest way is to start in small steps and try out how your body reacts. Documentation is also useful, as it gives you a good overview, especially of past occurrences. Planning your diet should be emphasised here once again. For us, this includes knowing the quality of the food and, for example, preferring organic farming methods. Get in touch with like-minded people, here you will certainly get valuable and tasty tips for a plant-based life.

We wish you much success!

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