CALGARY – Ashley Dempster is still adjusting to her new vegan lifestyle. The Calgary hair stylist decided to switch to a plant-based diet just a few months ago.
“It was a little bit of an accident but what started as an experiment ended up being so easy and delicious and kind of inspiring that I decided to stick with it.”
Vegans differ from vegetarians because they not only avoid eating meat, they also don’t eat any animal products including dairy and eggs.
The global campaign Veganuary is hoping to inspire 50,000 people to try out a vegan lifestyle for the month. Its website invites participants to take a pledge and offers recipes and tips, but Calgary dietitian Jen Rawson says those tempted to trade in turkey for tofu should do their homework.
“There are quite a lot of vitamins and minerals that are important to vegans, most people right away think of protein but that’s one of the easiest ones to get enough of.”
Good sources of protein for vegans includes legumes like chickpeas and lentils, soybean products like tofu and tempeh, nuts and nut butters, but Rawson says vegans may need to supplement other nutrients.
“Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products so you need to find alternative sources. Calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and omega 3 fats can also be challenging for vegans to get enough of.”
Rawson says foods fortified with these nutrients can help vegans meet their nutritional needs but when it comes to vitamins B12 and D, a good supplement is usually necessary.
Iron can also be a challenge for vegans.
“Iron that’s found in plant products isn’t absorbed as well as iron found in meat products so a vegan actually has to take in twice as much iron as someone who eats meat.”
Good sources of iron for vegans include:
- dark leafy greens
Many grocery stores now stock vegan products but Rawson cautions a vegan label doesn’t necessarily mean foods are nutritious. Flavoured tofu or kale chips, for example, can be very high in sodium.
Your best bet? Read labels and be prepared to do a lot of cooking from scratch.