Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Grass Eating Vegan – Could There Be More?

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There are only so many ways that you can eat lettuce, tomatoes and lettuce.  OOPS! Have I already mentioned lettuce?  Lettuce, yes, I think I have mentioned lettuce.  Vegan diets.  Lettuce.  Hmm.  So what’s left? 

Vegan diets may call out your name, but before you jump onto the grass eating wagon, weigh up your benefits and ask yourself, have you planned your diet?

 Essential fats

By depriving yourself of fish, you could also be losing your main source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  These essential fats protect your heart from coronary heart disease and have also been linked with benefits in epilepsy, allergy sensitivity in young children, pneumonia, chronic pulmonary disorders, prostate cancer and more. 

Want to age well?  Then eat your fish to reduce your risk of dementia.  Some studies report improvement in mild Alzheimer’s but not all.

With these implications in mind, should you be worried? 

A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition claimed that restricting meat, poultry and fish improved mood in 39 subjects after 2 weeks.  At least you won’t feel bad about giving up fish, but for how long?

Fear not; supplementing your diet with nuts, particularly walnuts may push you forward to the heart healthy group.  They have a unique profile of polyunsaturated fatty acids that may improve your cholesterol profile and so your cardiovascular risk.  A spoonful of walnut oil may be all that is necessary to get your ratio of ‘good’ fats just right.


To avoid the risk of nursing a fractured bone after a fall, pay careful attention to your calcium intake.  Cutting out dairy can reduce your intake of calcium, but milk is not the only source. 

Did you know that tofu, calcium fortified soy, rice, pea and nut milks can be an excellent source of calcium? 

Soy beans, broccoli, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens and okra are also alternative sources.  Don’t forget hummus on pitta bread is another clever way of sneaking in some extra calcium.

Don’t forget to catch the last rays of sun for the much needed vitamin D to help absorb all that lovely calcium you plan to eat!


Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables will also help improve your cholesterol profile by reducing total and LDL cholesterol.  Eating 50-100g of nuts at least 5 times a week will also have a heart loving effect in adults with high or normal cholesterol levels.


The obvious question: iron.  Yes, you may be prone to developing iron deficiency anaemia on a vegan diet.  But meat is not the only source of iron.  Iron is found in a wide variety of plant foods.  It’s true that non-haem iron in plant sources are not as easily absorbed as haem iron in meat, but pair your meal with a glass of fruit juice or vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables, and you’ll be well on your way to pumping some iron.

Plant sources of iron include soy beans, lentils, spinach, quinoa, tofu, iron fortified breakfast cereals, chick peas, beans, some nuts and sesame seeds. 

Make smart choices by also adding vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables to your meal and avoid tannins in tea for at least an hour before or after you’ve eaten.

Vitamin B12

By excluding all animal products, you will need to supplement your diet with either a vitamin preparation or fortified foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, fortified soy milk, nutritional yeast and supplements.


Proof your diet free from phytates, which when eaten in large amounts can reduce your body’s ability to absorb zinc effectively.  Zinc is important as it helps your body utilise carbs, protein and fats, as well as strengthen your immune function and wound healing.

Watch out for unrefined grains and cereals which will increase your intake of phytic acid. 
Soaking beans and cooking helps reduce the amount of phytic acid in the final food.  Speak to a dietitian who can assess your diet on an individual basis and advice accordingly.

The Purple Verdict

The final word on vegan diets is that when planned carefully, can reward you with lower saturated fat intake, increased intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals from fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Your overall risks of cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases may therefore be improved as a result of lower BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose profiles.

So I’ll gladly take it back - there’s clearly a lot more going on than just lettuce on a vegan diet!  Just be smart and plan, plan, plan your vegan diet & always seek professional advice from a registered dietitian if in doubt.

Please leave your comments below, I read all your comments & love hearing from you!


  1. As ever, packed with so much advice! xx

    1. Thank you very much Melissa for your ongoing support. We look forward to seeing vegan recipes on 'Love My Grub' :)

  2. Awesome! lots of infos! Thanks and Vive les walnuts!

    1. Really glad that you found this useful. Please give me a shout if there's any other queries re- vegetarian / vegan diets. Thank you very much for commenting.