What does it mean to be vegan?

plant-based vegan veganism Jan 21, 2021

To be vegan means following a plant-based diet. However, there are some extra complexities that come with this lifestyle, that we need to consider. 

From a nutrition perspective, we can follow a vegan diet and live a perfectly healthy lifestyle. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and can transition from an omnivore diet to a vegan diet quite easily. However, before making this change, it is essential to ask ourselves a critical question. What is the motive for becoming vegan?

Is it for ethical reasons? Or is it for health reasons?

If it’s for ethical reasons, then there's nothing wrong with becoming vegan. If it's for health reasons, then you need to question the motive behind this. There is no extra benefit transitioning to a fully vegan diet. Sure, you may eat more vegetables, but that is the same number of vegetables you could be eating as part of an omnivore diet. 
You also need to be more aware of what you’re eating, and if you’re having adequate amounts of particular micronutrients. This specifically relates to B12, which we will discuss in a moment. 


Let’s get the facts straight regarding various forms of vegetarianism—all diets centre around following a plant-based lifestyle. 

  • Vegan: Follows a strictly plant-based diet. Depending on the vegan’s strictness, some people choose to avoid honey.
  • Lacto vegetarian: Plant-based diet, except for dairy products.
  • Ovo vegetarian: Plant-based diet, except for eggs.
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: Plant-based diet, except for dairy products and eggs.
  • Pescatarian: Plant-based diet, except for fish.
  • Flexitarian: Plant-based diet and occasionally eats meat, poultry and fish.


Thoughts on ‘Game Changers’

Ah, yes. Let’s address this topical documentary. This Netflix documentary took the world by storm and quickly stole the centre stage on social media. Now, there’s a couple of issues with this documentary. Firstly, the “evidence” they used was very much cherry picked, meaning that it only favoured the argument for veganism.

Secondly, some of the science is sketchy. 
For instance, the documentary claimed that chicken and fish are inflammatory. This is incorrect. Many foods, both plant-based and animal, can contribute to inflammation. Generally, inflammation is associated with the additions of sugar or processed ingredients to the meat or plant-based foods. 


Vitamin B12

What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is required for cell regeneration in the body. Cell regeneration occurs all of the time, so our vitamin B12 stores must be adequate. Vitamin B12 primarily comes from animal sources, and our internal stores can last between 3-5 years.

Who is at risk of a B12 deficiency?

  • Vegans.
  • Restrictive vegetarians.
  • Those with inflammatory bowel conditions, who struggle with the absorption of crucial nutrients.
  • Those who are elderly, or who reside in nursing homes. As we get older, our digestive tract becomes less effective, making it more difficult to absorb B12.

What can a deficiency in B12 deficiency lead to?

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Hair loss.
  • Poor-coordination: B12 is responsible for nerve fibre insulation. If nerves do not have insulation, they are not firing correctly. People start to lose their ability to contract their muscles, which results in poor coordination. 


Sources of B12

  • Animal products: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. Animal products are the preferred source of B12.
  • Certain algae and seaweed products. However, these sources are not as well absorbed by the body, compared to animal products. 
  • Supplements.



 If you’re considering becoming vegan or vegetarian, consider these recommendations.

  1. Get a baseline blood test done. 
  2. Monitor blood results annually (minimum).
  3. Consider B12 supplementation, either through a capsule or injection. Discuss this with your treating doctor.
  4. If you are a parent and want your children to follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, monitor their intake closely. We want to make sure children have enough calcium, iron and protein for optimal growth and development.
  5. Learn how to read food labels, specifically the ingredients list. Some ingredients contain animal products, like gelatine or casein.


Plant-based lifestyle and blue zones

There are six blue zones globally with high concentrations of people living to 100, for instance, Okinawa in Japan and Loma Linda in California. There is virtually no or low rates of chronic disease in these areas. Out of the six locations, one of them follows a plant-based, vegetarian lifestyle. However, the other five locations eat mostly plant-based foods too. In terms of this example, being vegetarian is not based on an ethical choice; it’s more about food accessibility. However, it does suggest a relationship between a high intake of vegetables and a reduced risk of chronic disease.


In conclusion, you do not need to follow a vegan lifestyle to be the healthiest version of yourself. Eat more plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables. However, if you are looking to become vegan, it is best to talk with a qualified dietitian regarding transitional steps. A dietitian will be your best resource for providing evidence-based recommendations and strategies to optimise your intake, whilst also obtaining a full nutrient profile of vitamins and minerals. Book a consult with the friendly team at CQ Nutrition and learn the strategies to best support a vegan lifestyle. 


Here is a link to book in with one of our expert dietitians at any of our locations https://www.cqnutrition.com.au/booking/ 

Want an online consultation? Book in on my calendar and in comments write online: https://bit.ly/AnnieROK 

Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac & GCertDiabSt



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