Why It's Time To Rethink Veganism
Our friends over at SLMan spoke to author and registered nutritionist Rob Hobson on going Vegan and his top tips for getting the most value out of a plant based diet.
First of all, let’s get the terminology straight. What is veganism? Is it the same as plant-based eating?
Plant-based eating refers to a diet that consists mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants including veggies, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. This doesn’t mean you are necessarily following a vegan diet, but simply that you are eating mostly plant-based foods. Veganism could be considered the pinnacle of plant-based eating because it categorically excludes all foods of animal origin (meat, fish, eggs, dairy and other ingredients such as honey).
That doesn’t sound so bad, but veganism has traditionally been pretty ripe for mockery… Why?
Yep! Sandals, hippies, tie dye, macramé and tree huggers are all stereotypes that have been associated with veganism. This is a societal thing and these views are likely to have been linked to wider issues and beliefs surrounding veganism such as animal welfare and the environment.
But it seems to be taken a little more seriously now and more people are converting. What’s changed?
In hindsight, followers of this diet in the early days could now be seen as forward thinkers given the current state of our global food production and the issues associated with it. The number of vegans in the UK is still relatively small but it is on the rise. Celebrities have helped raise the profile of veganism – particularly sports pros such as Lewis Hamilton, Jermain Defoe and David Haye, who have used a vegan diet to improve performance. Previously, this is an angle that simply wasn’t considered.
Why might the man in the street want to go vegan?
Stats from last year’s Veganuary campaign show that, for the first time ever, health was the major driver for people taking part. However, they also showed that 87% of the participants were female. For men, to be perfectly honest, I think there are two big reasons why they might try veganism: they have a family who are keen to try this way of eating; or some blokes are enticed by the prospect of improving their health either to hit training goals or reduce disease risk.
Is there something holding men back?
While veganism cannot be defined by sex, men do appear to have a different attitude towards meat. An interesting study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology showed there is a strong meat-masculinity association. Researchers concluded that men associate meat with the concepts of ‘healthy’ and ‘delicious’, and value it more highly than women. It was also suggested that concepts of ‘power’ and ‘strength’ could mediate this meat-masculinity link.
"SOME BLOKES ARE ENTICED BY THE PROSPECT OF IMPROVING THEIR HEALTH EITHER TO HIT TRAINING GOALS OR REDUCE THE RISK OF DISEASE."
And yet there are some fairly well-established health benefits to veganism, right?
A well-balanced vegan diet is more likely to contain a greater quantity of fibre-rich wholegrain foods and pulses, which are hugely beneficial to health. Vegans are also more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, which means gleaning a greater quantity of micronutrients and antioxidants, such as the carotenoids found in orange and dark green vegetables.
Studies have also shown that people who follow a meat-free diet have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes – although lifestyle plays a key role here and this doesn’t mean following a vegan diet will prevent you from developing these conditions.
You’re sounding convincing… How hard is it to go vegan?
Sixty per cent of people who did Veganuary last year found the challenge easier than anticipated. Going vegan is really not that difficult when you know what to cook and the ingredients you can use to modify favourite dishes. For family men, it may be easier if the whole family is involved because there will be a group effort to create meals. Single men who are not accustomed to cooking may find it more of an adjustment because there is a bit more planning and cooking involved in creating vegan meals. Eating out is a lot easier nowadays for vegans as there are many lunch options available on the high street and in restaurants, though this choice may be more limited for people who live outside London.
What’s the best way to go about it?
Planning is key and gathering a repertoire of simple vegan dishes will help. Modifying everyday dishes is pretty simple by swapping meat for ingredients such as vegan Quorn or ready prepared and marinated tofu to use in stir fries, chilli and bolognese sauce. Mushrooms blitzed in a food processor also make a great replacement for beef mince. Some men may turn their nose up at ingredients such as beans, pulses and lentils, but these are key providers of many essential nutrients on a vegan diet (zinc, iron, calcium, protein) so it is worth getting a grip on how to use them.
And how about making your new vegan life as tasty as possible?
The key to tasty vegan food is flavour, so exploring spices, spice mixes, sauces and herbs is essential. Creating a rich ‘umami’ savouriness in dishes is also helpful and can be done by using ingredients such as tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, mushrooms (especially dried, which can be made into a stock), miso and sauces such as soy and sriracha. There are lots of ready meals for vegans, but you shouldn’t rely on these alone as many are still high in salt and sugar. The same is true for lots of the vegan junk-food options now available.
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.