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Making the Most of a Diet Without Animal Products

By Marcus O’Neill

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Veganism hasn’t exactly hit the mainstream in Cairo just yet, however, with vegan restaurants starting to pop up and supermarkets carrying more vegan-friendly options every day it’s evident that this dietary trend is on the rise.

What exactly is veganism and is it healthy?

Veganism is a form of vegetarianism whereby all animal by-products are eliminated from the diet.  That means no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt or cheese. Instead, followers of vegan diets rely exclusively on plant food sources for nutrition (things like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes).

Eating a vegan diet can be very healthy. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics people following vegetarian diets (including those following vegan diets) tend to have lower cholesterol levels, lower BMIs (body mass index) and a lower risk for developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. This is due to the fact that vegan diets are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in dietary fibre, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C & E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.

When planned properly, vegan diets are safe for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, infancy, childhood and adolescence as well as for athletes and seniors.

Vegan dietary considerations

As one might imagine when you remove animal products from your diet, there is the possibility of missing out on some key nutrients, namely protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. To prevent the chance of developing deficiencies for any of these nutrients it’s a good idea to make sure you’re consuming the following plant-based foods:

Dark Green Vegetables – Spinach, kale, arugula and even broccoli are all good plant-based sources of calcium and iron.

Tofu – This soy-based protein source comes in two forms (soft and firm) and is also rich in vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.

Non-dairy based milks – For years, soy, rice, and almond milks have been great options for people who are lactose intolerant, but vegans can also take advantage of these beverages due to their high calcium and vitamin B12 contents. Try to choose one that is fortified with vitamin D.

Nuts & seeds – Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein. Almonds and tahina are good sources of calcium and iron.  Walnuts also happen to be a good way to get your omega 3’s.

Legumes – Lentils, kidney beans, chick peas, black beans and other legumes should be an integral part of any vegan’s diet.  Not only are they a good source of protein, but they’re also great options for boosting your iron, zinc and calcium intake.

The bottom line is that going vegan can be a very healthy way to eat.  Just make sure that you’re making the most of it by taking the time to plan out your menus to include most (if not all) of the foods listed above.

Marcus O’Neill is a Registered Dietitian from Canada, currently residing in Maadi. He can be reached by email at [email protected], or you can follow him via Twitter (@marcusoneillrd), or his website (www.dietitianabroad.com).

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