There is a large body of evidence to support the many health benefits of eating a more plant-based diet. These can include improved digestion, lowered blood pressure, higher energy levels, weight loss, clearer skin, stronger hair, and a reduced risk of chronic disease such as Type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
However, for those following a strictly vegan diet for either health or ethical reasons, there is the potential for a nutritional trade-off. Animal food-sources provide a rich source of several vital nutrients; particularly protein, omega-3 fats, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. The good news is that these canbe obtained from a vegan diet. It just takes a bit more planning to ensure you consume a wide variety of nutrient-dense plant foods and some key supplements. Here are eight store cupboard essentials for every healthy vegan.
1. Chia seeds - these little black seeds are one of the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fats - the 'good' fats essential for a healthy brain, heart, glowing and strong hair, skin and nails. They are also rich in protein and the minerals calcium, zinc and magnesium. Chia seeds are hugely versatile- they can be sprinkled over porridge, soups and salads, blended into juices and smoothies, and used as an alternative to eggs in baking.
2. Quinoa - (pronounced keen-wah!) is a source of 'complete' protein, meaning it provides all of the nine essential amino acids your body requires in a healthy balance. It is a protein-rich, gluten free alternative to grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It can be used as an alternative to pasta, rice and cous cous, or as the base of a salad. It is wonderful paired with avocado, steamed broccoli, lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt.
3. Nutritional yeast - found in health food shops or online, these savoury flakes are a vegan kitchen staple. They have a unique cheesy flavour, and can be blended with cashews and water to make cashew "cheese"; used to make gravies and sauces; or tossed with kale and olive oil to make delicious kale chips. Nutritional yeast is so important because it is rich in vitamin B12, a vitamin found largely in animal-based foods.
4. Lentils - high in both iron and B vitamins, and rich in folate (particularly important for women of child-bearing age), lentils can form the basis of many vegan dishes. Combined with spices they make tasty curries and stews, and can be blended to make delicious protein-rich dips.
5. Nori sheets - these seaweed sheets are packed full of iron, magnesium, calcium, iodine and chromium, as well as a fantastic source of vitamins A, B, C and E. A true superfood! They are also another great protein source for vegans. Nori can be chopped up and added to salads, packed with your favourite fillings and used as an alternative to wraps, used to make vegan sushi, or added to miso soup.
6. Veg - Omega-3 supplement - to consume optimal levels of omega-3 fats in the form your body can utilise them most efficiently (DHA and EPA which are found naturally in algae and oily fish), a vegan omega-3 supplement is recommended. Healthspan is launching the product, Veg - Omega 3, which is naturally sourced from marine microflora and supports brain and heart health. It also has several health benefits including lowering levels of depression, blood fat, asthma, and arthritis.
7. Vitamin D drops/ capsules - vitamin D can only be obtained through diet in animal-based foods (and even then only in small amounts), and it is therefore recommended that vegans take vitamin D in a supplement form. The recommended RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin D is 600IU, increasing to 800IU for the over 70s. Try and get out in the sunshine wherever possible too!
8. Pea protein powder - particularly good for vegan athletes to help boost their protein intake, these powders can be blended into pre or post workout smoothies. Always opt for a 100% natural protein powder such as Pulsin Natural Pea Protein, to avoid unnecessary added fillers, sugar and sweeteners.
Naomi is involved in a live Q&A session with Good Morning's Britain's Dr. Hilary Jones on Thursday July 31. To take part in the event and learn more about vegetarian and vegan health and nutrition, sign up here.