ROB’S TIPS FOR GETTING MAXIMUM VALUE OUT OF A VEGAN DIET
Veganism has a reputation for being low in calories. To meet your energy needs as well as supporting any sporting goals, you need to include plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Vegetables, beans and pulses are naturally low in calories, so meals should also include foods such as avocado, oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, tahini and plenty of wholegrain carbs like brown rice, pasta and oats.
Protein is essential for the growth and repair of tissues in the body, which may be a concern for men with sporting goals looking to assist with muscle growth and recovery. The body requires 21 amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, and nine of these must be obtained from the diet (essential amino acids). To ensure your amino acid intake, include a variety of plant proteins with every meal. Plant proteins include nuts, nut butters, seeds, beans, pulses and lentils. Those with a complete set of essential amino acids include quinoa, buckwheat (such as soba noodles), hemp seeds, chia seeds, tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, Quorn (vegan products in the range) and Ezakiel bread (from Jerusalem, made using beans, lentils and grains).
Vitamin B12 is vital for producing healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body and help to release energy from food. Aside from Marmite, there are no plant foods that contain a natural source of B12. The best way to ensure your intake of vitamin B12 is to include fortified foods such as cereals, plant milks and soy products or supplements. Contrary to popular belief, spirulina and other algae products are not reliable sources of this vitamin.
Calcium is required for healthy bones and muscle function. While dairy is a good source of calcium, there are many other ways to obtain it from plant foods such as tofu, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini and fortified plant milks. Include two or three servings of calcium-rich foods on a daily basis.
Zinc is essential for making new cells and enzymes, supporting the immune system and processing carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the body. It is especially important for men’s health as they require more than women to support their reproductive system. The richest sources of zinc are shellfish, meat and dairy, which are, of course, off the menu for vegans. Instead, eat plenty of sourdough bread, oats, dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, seeds and tofu. Seeds are great to keep to hand and can be sprinkled on many foods such as salads and soy or coconut yoghurt as a zinc booster.
Omega 3 fatty acids have many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties. They are ‘essential’ because they need to be obtained from your diet. The most important are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexeanoic acid (DHA), which are found predominantly in oily fish such as salmon. Plants such as dark green leafy vegetables, seeds, seed oils, quinoa and nuts contain alphalinolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts to EPA and DHA. However, the body’s conversion rate is poor, so it can be worth topping up a vegan diet with a supplement such as Healthspan Veg Omega 3.
Rob has written three books, including The Detox Kitchen Bible.