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Answering the 3 most common vegan nutrition questions

Both in the UK and across the Western world veganism is rapidly growing in popularity.  The number of people who signed up to take part in ‘veganuary’ between from 2014 to this January is an excellent demonstration of just how quickly dipping a toe in veganism is gaining in popularity:

2014 – 3,300

2015 – 12,800

2016 – 23,000

2017 – 59,500

2018 – 168,500

2019 – 250,000

2020 – 400,000

Even if you’re only trying out veganism for a short time, it’s still important to ensure you are getting a balanced diet. We sat down with Altruvita’s nutrition team to talk about the 3 questions about vegan nutrition that they get asked most often and make sure you have all the answers you need.

Can I get enough protein in my diet if I am a vegan?

Of the eight essential amino acids our body needs, two – lysine and methionine – are given special attention in vegetarian and vegan diets. This is because, compared with foods of animal origin like eggs, milk and cheese, various plants have an imbalance of either lysine or methionine. This includes cereals, such as wheat, oats and rice, and legumes; beans, peas and lentils.  Wheat and rice proteins are comparatively low in lysine but better sources of methionine whereas beans and peas are relatively high in lysine yet in lower methionine. This has naturally led to the idea of cereals and legumes as ‘complementary’ proteins. In practice this means that meals that combine for example rice with beans or hummus with bread will provide a biologically ‘complete’ protein intake.   

As the body does not readily store amino acids try to combine ‘complementary proteins’ at each meal as it has some advantages and seems a sensible way to approach a varied and complete diet. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do this for every single meal you consume, however.

I’ve heard vitamin B12 is important – how do I ensure I’m getting enough B12? 

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in brain and heart health, nerve cells and red blood cell function. The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal sources, with top sources including shellfish, lamb and beef. You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet which can keep you going for several months before they drop, and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory. Vegans need to ensure they are consuming reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or B12 supplements to keep adequate body stores and blood levels. 

Beware! Spirulina and other edible cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algae) contain a poorly bioavailable B12 which isn’t converted to B12 in humans.  We can’t absorb it, so consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.

Can my dog become vegan too?

Dogs, like most canines, are naturally omnivores which means they eat both meat and plant-based foods. Some people who choose a vegan diet want to feed their pet one too. The reasons for feeding your dog a vegan diet might include the welfare of farmed animals being killed to feed our pets, as well as health, animal testing and the impact of meat on the environment. With a balanced variation in plant products, dogs can get all the nutrients they require from plants.

Pet food manufacturers have the option to declare ingredients by using ‘meat and animal derivatives’, which could include animals you don’t find acceptable, such as horses and body parts such as sheep intestines and rabbit ears. Parts of animals which are surplus to human consumption or are not normally consumed by people in the UK are classified as ‘animal by-products’.

There are now a number of vegan approved pet food brands certified by the Vegetarian society. 

Be aware of feeding fruit and vegetables known to be toxic to dogs.

For more vegan nutrition advice, why not take a look at our blog, Weighing up Veganuary?