How to be healthy on a vegan diet, according to a dietitian

Thinking of going vegan or looking to eat more plant-based? Dietitian and nutritionist Marika Day reveals what you need to consider before making the transition.

It’s days as a fringe movement are long past, with everything from vegan-friendly “meats” to desserts appearing on supermarket shelves, and plant-based meals now a permanent fixture on many restaurant menus.

Indeed, according to Roy Morgan research, almost 2.5 million Australians are vegetarian, while Vegan Australia stats show that 20 per cent of those take it a step further by excluding all animal products (dairy, eggs and any animal-derived ingredients). However, if you want to adopt the diet full-time, dietitian and AIA Vitality ambassador Marika Day says there are a few things to consider first.

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Where veganism goes wrong

“A vegan diet can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how you eat,” Day tells Body+Soul. “You can consume a nutrient dense vegan diet or you can consume a heavily processed vegan diet,” she adds.

To qualify as a healthy vegan diet – and reap its attendant health benefits – your shopping list needs to include fresh fruits and veg, wholefoods, legumes, lentils and healthy fats, says Day. It’s also worth looking for vegan alternatives of staple products like milk, as well as stocks and gravies that don’t rely on meat for flavour.

Hitting your nutritional targets

Because a vegan diet cuts out major food groups, it’s common for vegans to experience nutrient deficiencies. “The most common nutrients at risk of deficiency are vitamin B12, iron, calcium, omega-3s and zinc,” explains Day.

To ensure your diet is ticking all the boxes, Day recommends eating a variety of foods instead of sticking to the same meals. “Foods like legumes, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds are a great starting place,” she tells Body+Soul. “People following a vegan diet will often need to consume fortified foods like calcium-fortified milks, and it’s also recommended to take a vitamin B12 supplement.”

Your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease can be lowered by a whopping 32 per cent by eating a mostly plant-based diet. But if you’re not thriving on a vegan diet, or need help planning your meals -chat to a dietitian.

Marika Day is a nutritionist, dietitian and founder of Gut Started. Her areas of expertise include gastrointestinal disorders, gut health and women’s health. Follow her on Instagram to stay updated.

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