A vegan diet: how healthy is it?

Vegane Ernährung: Wie gesund ist das? Vegane Ernährung: Wie gesund ist das?

We asked a nutrition expert: vegan doesn’t automatically mean healthy. For a balanced diet, special attention should be paid to certain minerals and vitamins.

Veganism: just a trend?

Greta Thunberg’s activism, headlines like «plantations replace rainforests», or warnings about greenhouse gas emissions shake people into action and make them rethink their life­style. In the kitchen too: more and more people today are choosing to go vegan. Although only 3% of the Swiss population are vegan – mostly young urbanites – the trend is steadily rising.

What does vegan mean?

Vegans don’t use animal products. This means not eating foods like eggs, meat, milk and honey, nor buying items like leather goods, woollen sweaters and cosmetics tested on animals. It's more than just a diet, it's a conscious ethical choice and lifestyle.

No matter whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, only a fresh and balanced diet is healthy in the long run.
Benefits for the environment

Studies show positive effects

Fewer greenhouse gases
Strictly avoiding animal pro­ducts can reduce green­house gas emissions by 49%.
Freed-up agricultural land
Animal husbandry uses 80% of agricultural land, but pro­vi­des only 18% of the calories we need as a world population.
Soy cultivation
The practice of soy cultivation is controversial. 80% of soy cultivation is used for live­stock yet only 2% for human consumption at present.

Do vegans live more healthily?

On average, vegans live healthier lives, don't smoke, drink less alcohol and exercise more than the standard omnivore. Their diet also has health effects: thanks to a healthy weight, lower cholesterol and blood pres­sure levels, their cardiovascular risk decreases. Some studies even show a lower risk of developing cancer.

But it must be noted: by leaving out animal foods, the risk of deficiency symptoms increases. New vegans in particular must ensure they eat a balanced diet, which does not consist of vegan convenience foods. No matter whether vegan, vege­ta­ri­an or omnivore, only a fresh and balanced diet is healthy in the long run.

A vegan diet: minerals that mustn't be omitted

Anyone thinking of becoming a full-time vegan should first read up on the subject and, in the best case, talk to a nutritionist. When following a vegan diet, it is important to ensure that you get a sufficient supply of trace elements and minerals.

  • Vitamin B12: the greatest risk for a deficiency in a vegan diet is vitamin B12. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, such as fish, meat, eggs or milk. Pure vegans should take appropriate supplements or fortified foods to prevent a deficiency.
  • Calcium: most people automatically meet their calcium needs with dairy products. This is not the case with vegans, which is why they have to turn to plant-based sources. Green veg­eta­bles, such as broccoli and all kinds of cabbage, are full of it. Nuts, tofu and other soy prod­ucts are also perfect sources of calcium, as are fortified milk alternatives.
  • Iron: in general, an iron deficiency isn't a purely vegan phenomenon. In other words, it applies to everyone to eat good sources such as tofu, dried fruits and nuts. Combining plant-based iron with vitamin C improves its absorption in the body.
  • Protein: since protein is found in both plant and animal foods, vegans have nothing to worry about. They just need to vary the sources. Good sources of protein are legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans) cereals and pseudocereals (buckwheat, quinoa). Meat and fish are considered to be complete sources of protein, while vegetable sources are usually incomplete. This is why it's important to alternate. A mix of everything provides all 9 essential amino acids, as are found in meat.

Plant-based alternatives

Going vegan means replacing conventional products with new. Nowadays supermarkets offer plenty of choice.

  • Cow’s milk can be replaced with cereal or nut milk: e.g. almond, spelt, soy or oat milk. Soy is probably the most neutral, but the most sustainable is oat milk.
  • Yoghurt, quark etc. is replaced with soy yoghurt or coconut yoghurt.
  • Nut butter, oat cream or soy cream makes sauces deliciously creamy.
  • What can be used to substitute eggs and butter? Vegan baking

Does a vegan diet suit everyone?

Specialists have so far advised against a permanent vegan lifestyle for people with high nutrient requirements. This includes infants, young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

But since the diet is based around an abundance of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, tofu and soy, it is certainly worth a try now and again, especially with a view to sus­tain­abili­ty. Herbs and spices add vibrancy to your cooking and enrich the taste buds. An absolute vegan highlight is this recipe for creamy Carbonara.

Farfalle alla «Carbonara»

Creamy Carbonara the vegan way! We show you how.

Rezept Farfalle alla „Carbonara“
An absolute vegan highlight is this recipe for creamy Carbonara.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 cauliflower (approx. 500g), in florets
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 150g whole wheat farfalle
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. cashew butter
  • 2 tbsp. oats
  • 4 tbsp. smoked almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180° C. Marinate the cauliflower with olive oil and salt and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
  2. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, following the package instructions.
  3. To make the sauce: heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic. Add the cashew butter, 200ml of pasta water and the oats. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. To finish, mix the pasta, roasted cauliflower and smoked almonds with the sauce in the pan. Garnish with parsley and enjoy.

Sources:

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