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Veganism and plant-based diets

Whether you are looking to try Veganuary or already following a plant based diet, read our guide to optimising your health and nutrition when only eating plants.

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Reviewed by Dr Sam Rodgers

27th December 2019

Contents

What is veganism?

Chapter 1

What is veganism?

Vegan vs plant-based

Chapter 2

Vegan vs plant-based

Vegans and nutrition #1

Chapter 3

Vegans and nutrition #1

Vegans and nutrition #2

Chapter 4

Vegans and nutrition #2

Veganism for athletes

Chapter 5

Veganism for athletes

Monitoring your health

Chapter 6

Monitoring your health

Top tips for getting started

Chapter 7

Top tips for getting started

Vegan written on blackboard with selection of vegetables and wraps.

Chapter 1

What is veganism?

Find out about the origins of veganism and let us answer that age-old question - what do vegans eat?

Veganism seems to have exploded into the mainstream in recent years, with even the likes of Greggs and Dominos embracing the movement. However, plant-based living has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Historically, plant-based lifestyles were largely followed by religious groups. Hindus, Buddhists and Jains have all long promoted plant-based diets for ethical reasons, and veganism was even seen in the ancient Egyptian and Greek societies.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that a group of people concerned for animal welfare coined the term "vegan". They set up the Vegan Society and in 1944 outlined a definition of veganism as - "a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose". This covers many different aspects of life, most well-known is following a diet excluding all animal foods such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey.

Vegans also avoid animal-derived materials such as leather and wool, products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment like zoos and circuses. Although the concept of veganism is nothing new, it is only within the last few years that it has really taken off in popularity. In the UK alone the number of vegans has quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. In 2019 there were 600,000 vegans, compared to just 150,000 in 2014 [1].

What do vegans eat?

Vegans can eat any foods that do not contain animal products - i.e. plants and foods derived from plants. Some of the foods vegans consume are:

  • Legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Foods made from grains such as bread, rice and pasta
  • Starches such as potatoes and sweet potato
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Tofu, tempeh and seitan
  • Meat replacements such as Quorn
  • Herbs and spices
  • Oils such as olive oil
  • Margarine
  • Nut butters such as peanut butter
  • Plant milks such as almond, oat and soy
  • Plant yoghurts and cheeses (usually made from soy, coconut or rice milk)
  • Condiments such as tomato sauce and barbecue sauce
Glass jars with Superfoods nuts and cereals stacked on top of each other
 young woman using her cellphone while cooking with her boyfriend at home at home

Chapter 2

Vegan vs plant-based

What’s the difference, and how could a vegan diet affect your health? See what we found when we looked at the health data of the Medichecks vegans.

Whilst veganism seeks to avoid animal products in all aspects of life, a "plant-based diet" refers solely to a way of eating which consists of whole, plant foods including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits with little or no animal products and processed food. Most people who follow a plant-based diet do so for health reasons.

Why do people choose to follow a vegan lifestyle?

There a multiple reasons people may choose to adopt this way of living.

Environmental

One of the main reasons veganism has become so popular in the last few years is as a result of growing concerns for the environment. A 2018 Greenpeace report stated that global meat and dairy production and consumption must be cut in half by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change. If left unchecked, agriculture is projected to produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of which will come from meat and dairy [2]. A 2019 United Nations report also urged people to reduce their meat and dairy consumption to help tackle climate change [3].

Ethical

Another common reason people choose veganism is for ethical reasons. In the UK, over 8 billion animals are killed each year for human consumption, the majority of which come from factory farms where animals are kept in tight spaces indoors [4]. With the growing field of animal science, we are learning more and more each year about the capabilities animals have to think and feel. Many people are therefore choosing to avoid the use of animals for ethical considerations.

Health

More recently, the potential health benefits of veganism have started to be published. Here are some of the ways veganism could have a positive impact on health.

Diabetes

A 2019 study by Harvard scientists with over 300,000 participants found that eating a vegan diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by almost a quarter (23%) [5].

Heart disease

Another 2019 study of more than 12,000 people found that those who ate mostly plant-based foods were 32% less likely to die from heart disease - the number one leading cause of death in the UK [6].

Weight loss

Eating a vegan diet may also help people who are overweight reduce body fat without having to restrict calories [7]. A 2015 study also showed that those following a vegan diet lost comparatively more weight than those following omnivorous and vegetarian ones [8].

Longer life

It has been suggested that, as veganism can reduce the risk of some of the leading causes of death such as heart disease and obesity, it could lead to people living longer. A 2016 study from Oxford argues that the mass-adoption of a vegan diet could cut around 8.1 million deaths a year [9].

Medichecks Vegans

We have also looked at key health markers in our own customers and found that vegans on average have healthier results for diabetes, cholesterol, inflammation and liver function markers.

  • The average level of HbA1c (a diabetes marker) is 5% lower in vegans
  • Vegans have higher levels of healthy HDL cholesterol and almost 14% lower non-HDL cholesterol
  • Inflammation markers for risk of heart disease and strokes (CRP-hs) are slightly lower in our vegan population
  • White blood cells that increase with allergies (eosinophils) are significantly lower in vegans (-17.6% compared to non-vegans) 
  • Liver inflammation enzymes (alanine transferase and gamma GT) are over 30% lower in vegans

Although it seems that there are potential health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, studies into the long-term health effects are relatively new and more research is needed to understand fully the health outcomes of this way of eating. And whilst there may be some health benefits, there are also important health considerations which vegans need to be aware of.

Blended green smoothie with ingredients on wooden table

Chapter 3

Vegans and nutrition #1

Can you get all the nutrients you need from a plant-based diet? Read on to learn the main things to look out for when you're only eating plants. 

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, vegans need to be careful to ensure they are meeting their daily requirements through diet. While vegans can get almost all the necessary nutrients from a well-balanced diet, there are some which may take a bit more planning to ensure recommended daily intakes are met. Here are the main nutrients vegans should be aware of.

B12

Vitamin B12 is one of the only vitamins vegans cannot get naturally from plant foods, making it one of the most important nutrients for vegans to be aware of. Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 actually comes from a type of bacteria (anaerobic microorganisms) which can be found in certain soils, as well as in the gastrointestinal tract of animals. According to our analysis of Medichecks’ customers the mean active vitamin B12 level in vegans is 7% lower than in non-vegans.

Why do we need B12?

B12 is an important water-soluble vitamin which is crucial for the production of red blood cells and DNA, and the proper functioning of the nervous system. Farm animals will absorb B12 from the bacteria in their guts, or they may get additional B12 through fortification of their feed. Most plant foods, however, do not contain adequate amounts of B12 which may be down to the overproduction of soil, stripping it of the B12 producing bacteria.

Where do we get B12 from?

Meat eaters should be able to take enough B12 from the animal products they consume, whereas vegans will need to take a B12 supplement to get the required amount of B12. Food sources of B12 include:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Fortified foods such as nutritional yeast

How much B12 do we need?

Adults aged 19 to 64 need about 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12. If you eat meat, fish or dairy foods, you should be able to get enough vitamin B12 from your diet alone.

B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of vitamin B12 causes the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that cannot function properly. This can lead to serious health problems if not treated with supplementation. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include:

  • Weakness or lightheadedness
  • Tiredness
  • Heart palpitations or shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • A smooth tongue
  • Constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite or gas
  • Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
  • Vision loss
  • Depression, memory loss, or behavioural changes

Supplements

B12 deficiency can be treated with oral supplements in the form of sprays and tablets. In more serious cases, a doctor may administer B12 injections.

Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that helps to transport oxygen throughout the body.

Why do we need iron?

Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs around the body. It is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.

Where do we get iron from?

The two forms of dietary iron are heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found only in meat, poultry, seafood, and fish. Non-heme iron, by contrast, is found in plant foods like grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Heme iron is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, so it is important that those on a plant-based diet consume lots of vegetables high in iron. Plant foods high in iron include:

  • Green vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli
  • Lentils and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals
  • Dried fruit

Vitamin C actually helps to enhance iron absorption. It captures non-heme iron and stores it in a form that is more easily absorbed by your body. So drinking orange juice with your meal or squeezing some fresh lemon on your greens can increase your body's absorption.

How much iron do we need?

The amount of iron we need is:

  • 8.7mg a day for men over 18
  • 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50
  • 8.7mg a day for women over 50

Women who have a heavy monthly period are at higher risk of iron deficiency and may need to take iron supplements.

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency anaemia occurs when the body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron. This leads to abnormally low levels of red blood cells. Without healthy red blood cells, your body can't get enough oxygen which can affect everything from brain function to the immune system. Symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Pale skin

Supplements

If your iron levels are low and you can’t improve them through diet alone, an iron supplement might be necessary. Unlike some vitamins, when it comes to iron, more is definitely not better as taking in too much iron can result in side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. That’s why it is important to monitor your iron levels regularly with a blood test to ensure your body is absorbing the optimal amount.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, known as “the sunshine vitamin”, is created in our bodies by the action of sunlight on our skin. It is crucial for regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

Where do we get vitamin D from?

The main way we get vitamin D is from direct sunlight on our skin. In order to get an adequate amount 15-20 minutes of midday sun exposure is recommended. However in the UK, between October and early March, we don't get enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods although it is difficult for our body to absorb enough from food alone. Food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods such as fat spreads, breakfast cereals & tofu
  • Some mushrooms (e.g. portobello, Maitake, button & shiitake)

How much vitamin D do we need?

Children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the UK, affecting meat-eaters as well as vegans and vegetarians. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Getting sick or getting infections often
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Bone pain and loss
  • Depression
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle pain

If left untreated, a lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and a bone condition called osteomalacia in adults.

Supplements

A vegan diet in of itself will not necessarily impact vitamin D levels in the body, as most vitamin D comes from the sun not the food we eat. However vegans and meat-eaters alike need to ensure they are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D, particularly through the winter months. The best way to do this is through a supplement in the form of a tablet or spray.

Omega 3 and 6

We all need some fat in our diets. Fat is important for giving us energy and supporting cell growth. It also helps protect our organs, provides insulation and helps us to absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones.

In particular there are two fats which are classed as essential because our bodies cannot make them. These are the omega-3 fats or alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and omega-6 fats or linoleic acid (LA). Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential for our immune system, brain, nerves and eyes.

Where do we get omega-6 and omega-3 fats from?

Omega-3 fats are found in:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and trout
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Fortified foods like some eggs, margarines, juices and yogurts

Omega-6 fats are found in:

  • Soybeans
  • Corn
  • Safflower and sunflower oils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meat, poultry, fish and eggs

How much of these fats do we need?

Omega 3 fatty acids have gained a reputation as being important for reducing inflammation in the body as well as for improving cognitive performance. Although inflammation helps the immune system to fight infection, chronic inflammation in the body can lead to the development of disease, including heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Some evidence has suggested, when it comes to omega-3 and omega-6, balance is everything. However, the evidence for this is mixed and not properly understood [X] with studies even showing the benefit of omega 6 fatty acids for heart health [Y].

Omega 6:3 ratio and inflammation – the vegan paradox?

The Medichecks numbers show that our vegans have a high omega 6:3 ratio. Our 2019 study showed that Medichecks vegans have an average omega 6:3 ratio of 15.4:1 compared with 9.5:1 for people who do not eat a vegan or vegetarian diet. That’s a whopping 62% higher and is the biggest disparity between the biomarkers which we expect to be influenced by diet.

The ideal ratio of omega 6:3 is thought to be 3:1 or less illustrating that modern diets, with their emphasis on processed foods and omega 6 fats, make it difficult for anyone to reach the “ideal” ratio, but even harder for the vegan population to do so. And yet, when we look at other markers for inflammation like white blood cell count and CRP-hs, they are consistently lower in our vegans than in our non-vegan customers, potentially lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

It’s too early to be able to explain this paradox: perhaps the ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids is not as important for inflammation as some commentators believe; or there are other pro-inflammation factors involved in eating meat and dairy that the vegans miss out on.

If you’re a vegan and you’d still like reduce your ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids you can include good sources of omega-3 in your diet, such as chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts and avoid excessive consumption of omega-6 oils found in many processed and fried foods.

You may also consider supplementing with a vegan source of omega-3 oils such as flaxseed oil. The FAO and EFSA suggest a long-chain omega-3 fat (EPA and DHA) intake of 250 milligrams per day for adults.

One of the best sources of omega-3 fats is actually in algae as this is what the fish eat to get their omega-3. Algae can be found in most health food shops and as it is usually grown in filtered water tanks, it contains none of the pollutants that may be in traditional fish oils. Algae oil already contains EPA and DHA so is already in the form the body can use.

(X) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0952327818300747

(Y) https://www.cochrane.org/CD011094/VASC_omega-6-fats-prevent-and-treat-heart-and-circulatory-diseases

Almond milk in glass bottle surround by whole almonds

Chapter 4

Vegans and nutrition #2

Learn about how much protein we really need (and where to get it on a vegan diet) and read our 5 top tips for being a healthy vegan.

Calcium

Calcium is important for keeping bones and teeth strong, as well as being involved in the nervous system, blood clotting and muscle control. There is a common misconception that we need to consume dairy products in order to get enough calcium - the recommended 700 milligrams of calcium per day can easily be met on a plant-based diet.

Good plant sources of calcium include kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds. You can also get calcium from fortified foods such as plant milks, yoghurts and bread.

Iodine

Your body uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control how fast your cells work. In the UK, the recommended iodine intake for adults is 140 micrograms per day. Every vegan needs a reliable source of iodine in their diet.

Iodine is found in fish and seafood. It can also be found in plant foods, such as cereals and grains, but the levels vary depending on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants are grown. Seaweed, most commonly eaten in Japanese cuisine such as sushi and wakame, also contains iodine however levels can vary.

A non-seaweed supplement is arguably the most reliable way of meeting your body’s need for iodine. However not in large amounts - too much iodine can be dangerous as it can interfere with thyroid function. The NHS recommends taking 0.5mg or less a day of iodine supplements as this is unlikely to cause any harm.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace mineral. The body does not produce or store excess zinc so it must be consumed regularly as part of our diet. Only very small amounts are required in the body.

Zinc is involved in the major metabolic pathways involved with protein, lipid, carbohydrate and energy metabolism. The mineral is also necessary for a healthy immune system, wound healing, DNA synthesis, taste, smell and is crucial for cell division and growth.

For adults in the UK, recommended daily zinc intakes are 7mg (milligrams) for women and 9.5mg for men. It is possible to get all the zinc you need from eating a varied vegan diet and good sources of zinc include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread and quinoa.

Selenium

Selenium is part of many important enzymes, which are substances that speed up reactions in our bodies. In the UK, recommended daily intakes of selenium for adults are 69 micrograms for women and 75 for men. It is important to avoid eating too much selenium as it can be toxic and cause a condition called selenosis.

The amount of selenium in plant foods varies depending on how much is in the soil the plant is grown in. One of the best sources of selenium is brazil nuts. The selenium content in these nuts can vary, but tends to be high, and usually eating just a couple a day should be enough to meet your body’s needs. Alternatively, a supplement can be used to guarantee a reliable selenium intake.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A, also known as retinol, has several important functions. It supports the immune system to work properly, helps with vision and keeps the skin healthy. The amount of vitamin A adults aged 19 to 64 need is 0.7mg a day for men and 0.6mg a day for women.

Vitamin A is found mostly in animal products such as cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk, yoghurt and liver. The good news for vegans, though, is that our bodies are able to turn the antioxidant beta-carotene from plant foods into vitamin A.

Good sources of beta-carotene can be found in yellow/orange, red and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers. It can also be found in yellow/orange fruit, such as mangoes, apricots and cantaloupe.

Vitamin K

One of the lesser known vitamins, vitamin K is essential for blood-clotting and therefore wound healing. It is also needed to keep bones healthy and strong, and low levels have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and arthritis.

There are two types of vitamin K - K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is found in leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, parsley, romaine and green leaf lettuce. It is also in vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

Vitamin K2 is found in fish, liver, meat and eggs. One of the best sources of K2 is actually in the Japanese fermented soybean products natto and miso. Just as beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in our bodies, bacteria in our gut is able to convert K1 from plants into K2, so it is possible to get adequate amounts of both K1 and K2 on a plant-based diet.

What about protein?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions with regard to a vegan lifestyle. If you eat a varied diet with enough calories, it is easy to meet your daily protein requirements on a plant-based diet.

Proteins are large molecules consisting of amino acids that our cells need to function properly. They not only help regulate cells, tissues, and organs but also make up a significant amount of muscles, skin and bones.

They also work as neurotransmitters and haemoglobin, a carrier of oxygen in the blood, is a protein.

The average protein requirements for adult men is roughly 56g per day, and for women it is 45g per day. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, we are actually consuming significantly more protein than this on average in the UK [10].

Good plant sources of protein include pulses such as beans, chickpeas and lentils, nuts and seeds, tofu and quinoa. To give an example of how easy it is to get enough protein, one cup of cooked porridge with soy milk and a tablespoon of peanut butter would add up to roughly 14 grams of protein at breakfast, which would be almost 30% of your daily requirement.

So whilst it is true that animal foods are generally higher in protein than plant foods, it is entirely possible to meet your daily protein needs on a plant-based diet.

To summarise - 5 quick tips to being a healthy vegan

It may seem like a lot to digest, but incorporating just a few easy lifestyle changes into your daily routine will ensure you are getting everything your body needs to be healthy. Here are 5 quick tips to having a healthy vegan diet:

  1. Make sure you are taking a B12 supplement (and vitamin D in the winter months)
  2. Eat plenty of dark leafy green vegetables, with a squeeze of lemon on top or a glass of orange juice on the side to help with iron absorption
  3. Limit your consumption of vegetable oils and ensure you are eating plenty of flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts for a good omega 6:3 ratio
  4. Consider a low dose iodine supplement if you don’t eat seaweed
  5. Incorporate brazil nuts into your diet for selenium

Outside of these tips, eating a varied diet with lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds will ensure optimal vegan health.

Colourful chard in a row
Young athletic couple in sports clothing sitting side by side on a park bench, enjoying a healthy vegan meal together.

Chapter 5

Veganism for athletes

Find out why leading athletes are turning to a plant-based diet and learn how veganism can affect your performance and recovery.

Veganism for performance

We’ve gone through the health benefits of a vegan diet, but what about the benefits to performance?

In the last couple of years, more and more athletes have been switching to a plant-based diet, with claims it has helped them improve performance. Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, tennis pro Venus Williams, boxer David Haye and footballer Jermain Defoe are just some of the athletes praising a plant-based diet for helping them optimise performance and recovery - there are even vegan bodybuilders!

So why are more athletes turning to a plant-based diet? Research in this area is very limited, but early studies have suggested that plant-based diets could improve an athlete's cardiovascular health and keep their hearts strong by reversing plaque, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and improving blood flow and viscosity or thickness, helping more blood reach the muscles during performance.

As well as this, a plant-based diet may reduce inflammation, therefore reducing pain and improving recovery. This diet may also lead to an increase in antioxidant intake which helps to neutralise free radicals which can lead to muscle fatigue [11].

However, there are very few studies in the area of plant-based diets for athletes, and it has yet to be proven that this diet alone is enough to improve performance. There could also be potential limitations to this diet when it comes to athletic performance - for example it can be more difficult to fuel the body effectively with plant food. What the athletes mentioned above have shown, though, is that is is certainly possible to perform at an elite level fuelled entirely by plants.

The recent Netflix documentary “The Game Changers” has further heightened the debate on veganism and sport. Packed with record-setting athletes displaying cut physiques and explosive power, the film has a clear message - vegan is best.

It aims to make the case that a vegan diet isn’t only the most advantageous diet for long-term health, but for an athletic edge as well. The documentary follows former fighter UFC James Wilks who, while recovering from an injury, researches nutrition, and travels the world to discuss his findings with elite athletes who follow vegan or plant-based diets.

From Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris and cycling champion Dotsie Bausch to top distance runner Scott Jurek and Arnold Schwarzenegger (a producer of the film), the documentary chronicles several professional athletes who attribute getting faster and stronger, and recovering from injury more quickly, to adopting a plant-based diet — specifically vegan.

Whilst the film has met with some criticism for factual inaccuracies, there is no doubt that it has fuelled an on-going debate and has spurred more athletes into experimenting with a vegan diet.

VEGANISM IN NUMBERS

388%

The growth of vegan meals between 2016 and 2018

42%

Of all vegans made the change in 2018

1 in 3

Brits have stopped or reduced their meat consumption

250,000

People who did Veganuary in 2019, almost doubling from 2018

Women checking a recipe on an screen surrounded by veg

Chapter 6

The importance of monitoring of your health

We explore the role of blood tests in ensuring your diet and nutrition is optimal for health and wellbeing. 

One of the many pitfalls of adopting a new diet or lifestyle is not checking how this is affecting your health on the inside. If you are not monitoring your health regularly it is difficult to know the true impact of your new diet.

3 important reasons to have regular blood tests:

1. See the affect your lifestyle changes are having on your health

It can often be difficult taking up a new way of eating, and it can be easy to lose motivation and slip back into old habits. Seeing the positive impact your lifestyle changes are having on your health through regular blood testing can be a fantastic motivator to keep going and make even more positive changes to your lifestyle.

2. Check you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet

When starting a new diet, knowing the right things to eat to fuel your body correctly can seem like a bit of a minefield. Regular blood testing will help shine a light on any potential gaps in your eating habits and pinpoint areas for improvement. This way you can make small tweaks to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need from your diet in order to feel your best.

3. Monitor the effects of supplementation to ensure optimal levels

When it comes to supplementation, we mostly leave it to guesswork and hope we are getting the right amount. Supplements are not a regulated industry and different products can contain very different levels of vitamins and minerals.

Too much of certain nutrients can actually be bad for our health, and in some cases can even be dangerous. Not only this but we all absorb certain vitamins and minerals differently and some people will take in certain nutrients much more easily than others. This is why it is important to monitor your blood regularly to make sure you are getting just the right amount of any vitamin or mineral you are supplementing.

Which markers should I be looking out for?

If you are following a vegan diet there are some important markers you may need to keep an eye on to ensure you are getting adequate levels. These include:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Ferritin (your body’s iron stores)
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 6:3 ratio

You may also want to check your levels of some important general health markers, including:

  • Cholesterol
  • CRP-hs (inflammation marker)
  • HbA1c (diabetes marker)

How often should I test?

This really depends on your results and can differ from person to person. If you are feeling good and your results come back normal, then there is no reason for you to take another test for a while.

You may wish to do an annual check up to make sure everything is on track. However, if one or more of your blood markers come back outside the normal range, you may want to test again once you have changed your diet or supplementation regime. Medichecks' doctors will usually advise you when is best to retest and for vitamins and minerals and this is generally in 12 weeks' time.

You may need to monitor your vitamin D in the winter months, for example, if your levels have dropped too low. There are also certain nutrients which we find more difficult to absorb, such as iron. If this is the case, more regular monitoring may be useful to make sure levels stay within the normal range.

So you want to give veganism a go but don’t know where to start? Here are our top tips on cutting out animal products.

Food truck

Chapter 7

5 top tips for getting started

If the idea of going plant-based feels overwhelming, read our top tips for making the transition gradually. 

So you want to give veganism a go but don’t know where to start? Here are our top tips on cutting out animal products.

5 top tips on cutting out animal products

The idea of reducing our consumption of a food group that is a big part of our daily diets may sound overwhelming - here’s how to do it gradually.

Start by ordering vegan options when eating out

Drastic diet changes can be daunting, with a common challenge being not knowing what to cook.

Try starting off small by ordering vegan options when eating out in restaurants. Having someone else cook the meal for you eliminates the excuse of not knowing what meals to cook and you can try and test which vegan options you like and don’t like before cooking at home. It will also encourage you to try new foods and flavours outside of your comfort zone and will give you some recipe inspiration for your own kitchen.

Meatless Mondays

Changing behaviour is tough and requires a lot of commitment. Going meat-free for one day a week can help break that commitment down into achievable chunks.

Meatless Monday is more than just a catch phrase, it’s a global movement that encourages people to cut down their meat consumption by replacing meat with plant-based choices each Monday.

It has also been found that healthy thinking and behaviour is synchronised to the week, with Monday being the day people are most open to trying healthy behaviours [12]. As Monday offers the chance to reset goals, studies have shown that people who get back on track on the first day of the week are better able to maintain progress over time [13]. With this approach, your meat-free Monday could be an easy way to transition into making meat-free choices the majority of the time.

Cut your meat servings in half

Meat is often the centrepiece of most dishes whilst foods such as vegetables, potatoes, pasta, rice and salad take a back seat and are consumed in smaller portions.

To cut down, try reducing the size of your meat portions over time and increasing the amount of vegetables on your plate. If you’re used to eating a double cheeseburger, try having a single. If you eat 4 sausages with your weekly sausage and mash, try eating only two. This can help to wean yourself off meat until you feel ready to replace it with plant-based alternatives.

Replace the animal products in your favourite recipes with plant-based alternatives

Reducing your meat intake doesn’t have to mean you miss out on your weekly favourites. You can simply replace the meat in your dishes with meat-free alternatives and still use all the same ingredients you normally would.

As veganism becomes more mainstream, supermarkets are responding by making meat-free alternatives more accessible. Many big supermarkets have free-from aisles which are full of meat and dairy substitutes. Or if you prefer less processed options: lentils, mushrooms, tofu, tempeh and seitan can all provide a satisfying flavour and texture to replace your meat.

Follow vegan social media accounts to find inspiration

Social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest are filled with many accounts that are dedicated to posting vegan recipes. Having some of these accounts come up in your news feed can provide you with that much needed inspiration if you don't know where to start when cooking at home.

Glossary

Veganism

A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Plant-based

A diet consisting mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, and with few or no animal products.

DNA

Short for deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA is the molecule that contains the genetic code of organisms.

Nervous system

The network of nerve cells and fibres which transmits nerve impulses between parts of the body.

Anaerobic microorganisms

Bacteria which don't require oxygen to live.

Gastrointestinal tract

The organ system which takes in food, digests it to extract and absorb energy and nutrients, and expels the remaining waste as faeces.

Osteomalacia

Softening of the bones, typically through a deficiency of vitamin D or calcium.

Anaemia

A condition in which there is a deficiency of red cells or haemoglobin in the blood.

Antioxidant

A substance that removes potentially damaging oxidising agents in the body.

Cardiovascular

Relating to the heart and blood vessels.

Sources

  1. https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/vegan-society-poll
  2. https://www.greenpeace.org/international/press-release/15111/greenpeace-calls-for-decrease-in-meat-and-dairy-production-and-consumption-for-a-healthier-planet/
  3. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/poverty-reduction/creating-a-sustainable-food-future.html
  4. https://www.viva.org.uk/what-we-do/slaughter/slaughter-farmed-animals-uk
  5. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2738784
  6. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6221888/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25592014
  9. https://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.abstract
  10. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=2
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30634559
  12. https://clf.jhsph.edu/sites/default/files/2019-02/healthy-monday-report.pdf
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24504358