Whether it be for ethical or health reasons, more people are opting to shun steak and stilton in favour of a vegan diet. Such a switch can be healthier, especially if their previous meals were heavy on meat and dairy.
You could not have missed the eye-catching PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) billboards, featuring movie star Joaquin Phoenix, that promoted the message, “End speciesism. Live Vegan”.
Phoenix is among a number of Hollywood celebrities and sports personalities who have embraced veganism. A 2020 survey of locals revealed that 7% of respondents identified as vegetarian or vegan. While that’s not a particular large number, Singapore is becoming a haven for vegans. It was ranked the second-most vegan-friendly Asian city by PETA Asia, and the sixth-ranked vegan city in the world by Happy Cow. This growing interest in veganism might spur you to ditch your meat-and-dairy eating ways but, before that happens, you may wish to consider the pros and cons of doing so.
Research has shown that, when done right, veganism — which eschews all animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products and honey — has numerous health benefits. It can promote weight loss, reduce risks of heart disease, and lower the chances of getting certain types of cancer. It also helps manage diabetes by bringing down blood glucose (A1C) levels.
However, adopting a strict vegan diet also has its drawbacks.
For their diet to be healthy, adherents of veganism have to make sure that they get adequate amounts of vital nutrients. While these may have been plentiful when they consumed meat, dairy, seafood, eggs and poultry, they may be deficient in these while on a restricted diet. This means vegans will have to find new ways to include them in their meals.
VITAMIN B12Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s blood and nerve cells healthy; it also helps make DNA, the genetic material in all the cells. In addition, it prevent megaloblastic anaemia. It can be challenging for vegans to avail themselves of B12, as it’s typically found in fish, meat, poultry, milk, eggs and dairy rather than in plants. To get their fill of B12, vegans need to stock up on fortified cereals, fortified rice, and soy drinks. Alternatively, they could take a supplement. The recommended daily amount for adults is 2.4mcg, but optimal dosage of vitamin B12 varies by age, lifestyle and dietary needs hence if you are unsure, do seek your doctor’s advice.
ESSENTIAL FATSVegan diets are generally low in saturated fat, but this could mean followers are missing out on potent forms of heart-friendly omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA. We typically get these from fish and seafood, although sea vegetables such as kelp and certain micro-algae can make a useful contribution to one’s count of these fatty acids. It’s also a good idea to include nuts, seeds and their oils, especially walnut, flaxseed and rapeseed.
CALCIUMThe vegan diet has also been associated with fractures and lower bone density. This may be linked to reduced calcium intake and the likelihood of B12 deficiency. Calcium deficiency can have negative implications for bone mass, especially in children. Adding calcium-set tofu and calcium-fortified foods to most vegan meals can help fulfil daily requirements. Vitamin D — induced by sunlight and found in oily fish — is also needed for calcium absorption. Plant foods that encourage good absorbability of this vitamin include broccoli, kale, brussels sprout, watercress, cauliflower and bok choy.
ZINCZinc is an essential mineral that supports many critical functions in the body. It’s important for vegans to be aware of their intake, as zinc is limited in, and poorly absorbed from, plant-based foods. Vegans can meet their daily intake requirements for zinc by consuming legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
PROTEINMost people think vegans would be lacking in protein since it tends to be associated with meat and seafood. While acquiring protein is harder on a vegan diet, research shows that most vegans are able to meet this particular requirement. As long as followers have a balanced diet and avoid subsisting on junk food or only on fruit, they are unlikely to be at risk of a deficiency in this nutrient.
It can feel overwhelming to go from devouring animal products at every meal to only consuming plants, fruits and whole grains. Those seeking to embark on this way of eating may wish to consult a registered dietitian to ensure their nutritional needs are met.