Five top veggies to top up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

It’s January and for many people, that means it’s Veganuary. For some of us, it may just be a continuation of our vegan diet but, for others, it could be the start of a new regime.  

Whether you’re giving it a go for the first time or have been enjoying the wonders of a vegan diet for a while, it’s always good to be reminded of some of the most important vegetables to include in your diet and their great health benefits.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top five veggies.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often one of the mainstay vegetables of a vegan diet as they are a fabulously nutritious and versatile vegetable.  Sweet potatoes are often misunderstood and categorised as ‘another type of potato’ but they are from different plant families.  Whilst both types of potatoes have plenty of health benefits, sweet potatoes are better for balancing blood sugar levels as they are lower on the glycaemic index.

A bowl of roasted sweet potato wedges

However, where sweet potatoes really score is in their high beta-carotene content.  This is turned into immune-supportive vitamin A, as needed, by the body, and is especially helpful at this time of year.  Try them roasted, in their jackets, in curries, stews and soups: there are plenty of easy ways to incorporate them into a vegan diet.

Broccoli

As a member of the amazing cruciferous vegetable family, broccoli’s health benefits are far-reaching.  When it comes to nutrient content broccoli delivers high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron, beta-carotene and potassium and also a range of powerful antioxidants.

Broccoli florets on a plate

Antioxidants soak up free radicals and help protect us from disease and there are many different types.  However, broccoli contains an especially health-giving compound called indole, which has been found to protect DNA from damage, very important for prevention of serious degenerative diseases.  What’s more, it’s so easy to include in the diet. Think of it as a side or use it in stir-fries. Try it roasted with a little soy sauce or simply lightly steamed. It can be included in an array of veggie-based dishes.

Red Peppers

Often called sweet peppers (as they are ripened for longer than green peppers) or bell peppers, they contain three times as much immune-boosting vitamin C as oranges.  Plus, as with other red and brightly coloured vegetables, they are high in beta-carotene, so your immune system is really going to benefit.

Red peppers

Red peppers are incredibly versatile and can be simply grilled or stuffed with savoury rice or other grains. They are great in stir fries, chopped in salads, or grilled, skinned and pureed to be made into a delicious fat-free sauce as a perfect topping to wholemeal pasta.

Kale

Often referred to as curly kale for obvious reasons, it’s another green vegetable with superfood status. Interestingly, there are many different varieties of kale and some are not curly but smooth-leaved!

Kale dish with sesame seeds and ginger

Just like broccoli and brussels sprouts, kale is packed with indoles, but it is the richest source of calcium of all vegetables, so is great for building strong bones and teeth.  Calcium is also a calming mineral so is much needed during these stressful times. A great January vegetable, kale helps cleanse the liver and break down and eliminate ‘old’ hormones therefore helping create feelings of balance and peace.  Kale does have a slightly bitter taste so is often best served lightly grilled with some soya sauce to balance the flavours.

Spinach

Another super-healthy green vegetable, spinach is probably best eaten raw in salads as a substitute for lettuce.  It’s also very tasty in wraps with falafel or avocado and hummus. Spinach can of course be included in cooking or as a vegetable side, but you just need to use a fair number of leaves as it wilts down to very small amounts.  However, it’s delicious when served with garlic.

A bwol of fresh spinach leaves

Spinach doesn’t actually have the highest iron levels (contrary to popular myth) but it certainly scores brilliantly with its carotenoid content.  This includes both beta carotene and lutein which is excellent for eyesight.  Indeed, all carotenoids have powerful antioxidant effects so are very protective of overall health.

So, make your Veganuary the healthiest and tastiest ever – enjoy!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock

 

Veganuary: how to ramp up your vegan diet

The word 'vegan' spelt out using plant-based foods

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bush, you’ll be very aware that it’s Veganuary; in other words, Vegan January! Eating a plant-based diet provides many health benefits but it is important to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Whether you’re going vegan for the month of January, are flexibly vegan or have always eaten that way, then now is a great time to ensure your diet is delivering all the essential nutrients.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at how to get your vegan diet in great shape.

Protein is king

Protein is an essential macro nutrient. It’s needed for maintaining healthy bones, joint and muscles, and plays a key role in the immune system. It is also essential for hormone production.  Without enough protein, the body literally starts to break down.

Protein from animal sources contains all the essential amino acids the body can’t make. Some vegetable sources don’t contain all these amino acids, or they’re low in some of them.  However, the great news is that soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, and quinoa are complete protein sources. Rice and beans can also be combined to deliver the full quota. The body doesn’t need to have all nine essential aminos at every meal but there should be an overall balance ideally.

A pile of different beans and pulses

Make sure you’re eating some protein at every meal – there are loads of great choices.  Any type of bean, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, soy, hemp and chia seeds are all healthy, low fat options.Don’t over promise yourself

Some fats are essential

Whilst it’s important not to overdo foods high in saturated fats such as butter and meat (good to remember if you’re a ‘flexi’ vegan), the body needs the essential omega-3s and 6s.  These are essential for many body functions including a healthy heart, skin, brain, muscles, eyes and hormones.  Omega 6 fats are often easier to obtain because they’re found in a variety of vegetable oils (including soy), nuts and seeds.

A bowl of walnuts

However, it’s the omega-3s that are frequently deficient in so many western diets, partly because the best source is from oily fish which many people don’t like and obviously vegans don’t eat.  However, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of omega-3s so make sure they’re on the menu every day in some way.

Supplement with vitamin B12

This vitamin is the only one that can’t be found in any vegetable sources so ideally needs to be supplemented if you’re vegan.  Many soy products and cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 so do keep a watchful eye on labels.

Vitamin B12 is essential for preventing pernicious anaemia which isn’t dissimilar to iron-deficient anaemia.  The bottom line is that if you’re deficient in B12, energy levels will be noticeably low, and your nervous system and brain won’t function at their best.

Keep a watch on iron intake

Unlike vitamin B12, iron is found in many vegetable sources including nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fortified grain products.  Whilst the most usable source of iron is from meat, vegetable sources are much better absorbed when eaten alongside some vitamin C.  For example, half a glass of orange juice with your morning fortified cereal is a great way of boosting iron levels.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The only way of knowing for sure if iron levels are low is to get the doctor to perform a serum ferritin blood test.  It’s always worth having this checked if you’re feeling unusually tired or you find you’re out of breath even doing light exercise.  Otherwise, include the above vegan sources of iron as much as possible in your diet.

Load up on orange and red vegetables

Why? Because these colourful fruits and vegetables have the highest amounts of beta-carotene which is turned into immune-boosting vitamin A as needed by the body.  Just like vitamin B12, vitamin A is only found in animal sources. However, this doesn’t generally present any problems because the body produces what it needs if enough beta-carotene is being consumed.

A range of orange vegetables

Many colourful fruits and vegetables contain pro-vitamin A beta carotene. However, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mango, apricots and carrots are the best choices.

There are many health benefits to following a vegan diet.  You can make it even healthier by taking care of these watchpoints.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts