How to have a heart healthy Veganuary and enter a free prize draw

How to have a heart healthy Veganuary and enter a free prize draw

Eating vegan is tipping into the main stream in the UK with the numbers increasing four times between 2016 and 2019, and there are now believed to be 600,000 vegans. A recent Veganuary campaign survey found the top reason for trying a vegan diet is health (38%) followed by animal welfare and the environment (37% and 18% respectively).

If you are going to give Veganuary a go this year you might like to know that there is very good evidence that a well-planned vegan diet is healthy especially when it comes to heart health and weight management, however there are a few things to bear in mind. Here are our top three tips to a healthy Veganuary.  

Tip 1. Focus on protein

We need protein in our diet for good bone and muscle health, and for a healthy immune system. It was once thought that dietary proteins from plants were considered ‘incomplete’ or lower quality than animal proteins but this myth has since been debunked. Well planned plant-based diets can provide enough good quality protein in amounts that meet our daily needs.

Plants-based foods that are good sources of protein include: beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu products, soya products, seeds and nuts and nut butters such as peanut butter. To ensure that you are getting enough of this important macronutrient include at least one of these foods in each meal and snack throughout Veganuary.

Most other whole plant-based foods, including grains, such as wheat, rice, barley and oats, contain some protein and this helps towards your total daily protein intake. Eating a really good variety of all plant whole foods, including vegetables, beans, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds also helps to make sure the body gets the correct balance of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Variety is definitely the spice of life when planning a healthy vegan diet.

The current UK recommendations for protein are 0.75g/day for every kg of body weight. So, a person who weighs 65kg would need around 50g of protein each day. The plant-based meal examples below show how the protein content of well-planned meals and a snack can satisfy your daily requirement:

Oats soaked in soya milk, with a handful of mixed nuts and two tablespoons of summer fruits  13g protein*
Pre-prepared bean soup and wholemeal bread roll 18g protein*
A portion of humous and two oat cakes 5g protein*
Large portion of lentil and vegetable spaghetti bolognaise with wholemeal pasta  26g protein*
  61g protein

By contrast the following selection of vegan meals and a snack do not meet the daily protein requirement:

A bowl of cornflakes with soya milk and a teaspoon of sugar 5g protein*
Pre-prepared vegetable soup and white bread roll 6g protein*
Apple and a serving of crisps  3g protein*
Preprepared spiced vegan curry 9g protein*
  23g protein

* Nutritional analysis using Nutritics Software.

It’s all in the planning; include good sources of protein in every meal and ensure you are getting a really good variety of plant-based foods in your diet.

Getting enough protein is particularly important in older adults as current research suggests that more protein is needed to avoid muscle wastage later in life.

Tip 2. Get cooking from scratch

When you are starting out on your vegan adventure it’s tempting to swap your current favourites such as burgers and sausages with plant-based equivalents. This might be a helpful first step into veganism but unfortunately these meat substitute processed foods can be high in calories, fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar and are not heart healthy or conducive to weight loss. In fact, research shows that there is no health advantage to eating poor quality vegan foods compared to a standard western diet, and adding processed foods reduces the protective effect a vegan diet offers.

The health benefits of a vegan diet are likely to be due to eating a wide variety of whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, and focusing on a diet of minimally processed and unrefined foods. So, get the most out of your Veganuary by learning to cook a handful of plant-based meals from basic ingredients. It might be a new way of cooking for you but it has the advantage of allowing you to be in control of the ingredients in your food. Explore novel plant-based foods and experiment with different herbs and spices to add new flavours into your dishes.

Here are some delicious vegan recipe ideas to get you started, all using fresh whole food ingredients:

·       California walnut and apple bircher pots

·       Red super soup

·       Mung dahl with spinach

·       Red chilli and bean soup

·       Spicy pasta

With over 600,000 new vegan products launched this year and many more to come, they might be difficult to avoid, and let’s face it they are very convenient, so if you are choosing between the many new offerings use front of pack labelling to find the healthiest option in terms of salt, sugar and saturated fat content.

Tip 3. Know your micronutrients

While a vegan diet provides a good supply of many nutrients, there are some that are harder to get in sufficient quantities which can potentially have health implications.

Animal foods are good sources of nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc and omega-3 fats, iodine, selenium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. When cutting these out from the diet it is very important to choose a wide variety of plant foods to help you get enough of these key nutrients. Incorporating fortified products into your diet will help, for example soya milk and other dairy alternatives, and breakfast cereals are often fortified with calcium and vitamin B12. If you do not get enough of these nutrients from a plant-based diet then it’s worth considering supplements especially for vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine.

It is definitely worthwhile doing some research and finding out about the best plant sources of these essential nutrients as part of your Veganuary journey. For more detailed information on which foods are good sources of these micronutrients go to our dedicated page.

Whatever your reason for signing up to Veganuary, we hope you embrace your new way of eating. More tips on heart healthy plant-based eating can be found here

The draw for Vegan Savvy has now closed 

Happy Veganuary!

Cathy Court, Registered Nutritionist (ANutr)