Dietary Concerns When Going Vegan

dietary concerns owl

Before jumping into this topic, we just want to caveat that we are not medical professionals or certified dieticians. However, here at Animal Liberation, we have done a lot of research, and if you add up all our plant-based years on earth, collectively we have over 50 years of experience in eating vegan food. In this article, we want to address some of the main concerns we hear when people talk about veganism, and give you some tips to make your transition away from animal products a healthy and enjoyable experience.

Where to start

“I need to eat meat because I do a lot of training”

“Soy is bad – especially for men”

“You can’t get B12 on a vegan diet”

“I tried to go vege but I was tired all the time”

“You need milk for healthy bones”

“Babies and children need to get all their nutrients – raising them vegan is risky and unfair”

These are some of the most common things people flag as concerns when discussing veganism. To get comfortable with the idea of removing animal-products from your diet, begin by getting an understanding of your body’s needs and the different sources of nutrition. Firstly, you could ask your GP for a blood test so that you can find out if there is anything you need to keep an eye on (for example, if you are low in iron or potassium, or any other deficiencies which can occur regardless of whether or not you eat meat). Don’t be embarrassed to ask the question – it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your health and find out if you need to be more conscious of adding, or removing, things from your diet.

Secondly, familiarise yourself with the different nutrients found in different foods. Download free info-graphics from Simple Happy Kitchen and pop them on your fridge – these cute and handy little posters will open up a whole new world of Protein, Iron, and Calcium sources, many of which you probably already eat without knowing it.

vegan protein

“I need to eat meat because I do a lot of training”

Protein; this seems to be the main point of concern. It’s 2020 people, and we have three words for you – The Game Changers. Watch it on Netflix, and not to give away any spoilers, but meat isn’t the only source of protein, and there are several successful vegan athletes who are living proof (Venus Williams, Patrik Baboumian, Novak Djokovic, and Nate Diaz, to name a few). Pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, tofu, tempeh, lentils, and oats, all contain protein, and a quick Google of high protein vegan meals will give you hundreds of recipes to choose from. Your local grocery store also very likely has a plethora of plant-based meat alternatives, and for an extra dose, protein powders such as Vital Pea Protein exist, and are delicious.

“Soy is bad – especially for men”

Soy gets a bad wrap, as there is a lot of confusion surrounding its impact on human hormones. Somewhere along the way, someone said that soy intake was linked to “man-boobs”, and for whatever reason, that idea has stuck around. To summarise a lot of reading, you would have to consume A LOT of soy products for it to affect you. It is a great source of iron, calcium, and protein, and just like most things, moderation is key and the less processed the product, the better. Soy only seems to be a concern if there are pre-existing thyroid issues, in which case seeking professional dietary advice is definitely recommended. An article on the pros and cons of soy can be found here, and if you have any preconceptions about soy, it is definitely worth a read.

“You can’t get B12 on a vegan diet”

Both B12 and Selenium are crucial for cognitive function. It is relatively unknown that B12 is tricky to get with a modern diet regardless of whether or not one eats animal-products, so vegans, vegetarians, and non-vegans should all care about their B12 levels. Thankfully, ensuring you get enough is as simple as taking a supplement regularly, and looking for B12 fortified foods such as alternative milks, cereals, nutritional yeast, and meat substitutes. In case you think that this sounds unnatural, animals are also injected with B12. For Selenium, Brazil nuts are one of the best sources, and roughly 4 a day can keep you in check. Try chucking a few into the blender when you’re whipping up a smoothie, adding Brazil nuts to your oats/cereal, or munching on them as a snack with other nuts and seeds.

“I tried to go veggie but I was tired all the time”

Tiredness and low iron levels go hand in hand, and often people think that by removing meat from their diet means they aren’t getting enough iron. People tend to use vegetarianism as a stepping-stone to veganism, but interestingly, dairy has been found to interfere with iron absorption. If you are transitioning away from meat but are still consuming dairy, this is something to be aware of. Iron is in a range of foods, from soy, beans and peas, to spinach and beetroot. Find out how much iron you should be consuming for your body, and refer to the Simple Happy Kitchen Iron Sources chart to make sure you’re hitting your targets, and switch out dairy with alternatives.

“You need milk for healthy bones”

This is a big one to tackle, seeing as the dairy industry did a wonderful job convincing everyone that we have the same requirements as baby cows – as frustrating as it is, kudos to big dairy’s marketing team. Calcium is found in more than cow’s milk – tofu, soybeans, spinach, sesame seeds, tahini, chia seeds, and broccoli, all contain calcium. Alternative milk options are also exploding, so check the ingredients and RDI section on the back of the cartons to choose one high in calcium – just one serve of Vitasoy Unsweetened Oat-milk, as an example, has 38% of your required daily intake. When you think about it, baby mammals suckle from their mother, and we seem to be the only animal that “suckles” into adulthood, and from another species. And speaking of babies, this brings us to the next point of concern…

“Babies and children need to get all their nutrients – raising them vegan is risky and unfair”

Despite some very peculiar comments we’ve seen online, rest assured that human babies drinking human mother’s milk is considered vegan (I can’t believe this has even been contested). However, outside of breast milk and formula, people are understandably worried about children getting all the goodness they need. With the right knowledge and ensuring that all nutritional needs are being met, children can flourish on a healthy and balanced plant-based diet. When it comes to veganism being “forced” onto kids, in reality, all parents are making decisions for their children based on what they think is best. For plenty of parents, increased awareness about the health benefits of meat and dairy reduction or elimination has sparked curiosity about raising a vegan child, but there is still a fair bit of hesitation surrounding the topic due to a lack of education. BBC Good Food has an excellent article Is a Vegan Diet Healthy for Kids? written by a dietician, with further information on raising a vegan child.

Have more questions or concerns?

If you have a concern that we didn’t cover, feel free to pop it in the comments below and we will try to address it in an upcoming post. For professional advice, a list of medical advisors and dieticians can be found here.

We hope you enjoy learning about all the different, less-spoken-about nutrient sources, and keep your eyes peeled for our next article on Shopping for Plant-Based Groceries – we’ll make finding things that are animal-free, fuss-free!

By Ari Feldman