We hear a lot about being Flexitarian, Vegetarian and Vegan currently as it’s very topical, but what are the benefits and considerations and what does Ayurveda have to say about it?
Facts and Figures
It was estimated by The Vegan Society that in 2019 there were 600,000 vegans in the UK, which is 1.16% of the population. This number is likely to have grown with Veganuary 2020. It is estimated there are double the amount of Vegetarians in the UK. According to Yougov 14% of the population are Flexitarians (people who are Semi-Vegetarian).
Benefits of a More Plant-Based Diet
A well-planned plant-based diet often means that on a daily basis:
- High fibre intake
- Broad range of vitamins and minerals
- Sometimes even more protein than non-vegetarians too (which seems ironic)
This combination of fibre and easily digestible protein supports intestinal health, which then supports the rest of the health particularly the cardiovascular system.
There have been many recent studies demonstrating the carbon efficiencies of eating less meat and fish. However, this is a field full of complexities and depending on substitutions made environmental load can be increased sometimes too.
Considerations of a wholly plant based diet
Consideration needs to be given to meal planning in a wholly plant based diet in order to ensure a full range of nutrients are provided. Ayurveda teaches us that we are holistic beings and that means that not only what we eat but what we think about what we are eating is important. Our entire mental, emotional and physical bodies combined together will influence what we convert and what we absorb from foods we consume. However, if we become fixated and stressed over what we are eating all the time, this is not conducive to a great state of health. So, although we need to give consideration it would be great if we can retain some inner equanimity over this process.
Key nutrients that need extra focus when following a Vegan diet
Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the digestive system of animals as they digest their food and they supply us with it when we consume either meat or dairy. There are no plant-based Vitamin B12 options, supplementation is the only option. Oral liquid supplements taken under the tongue are good.
Iron is available from plant-based sources such as beetroot, leafy green vegetables and nettles for example. Consuming Vitamin C at the same time enhances the absorption of Non-haem Iron sources (Haem Iron comes from Animals and Non-haem from plants). However, on a vegan path there needs to be consistency with meal planning to ensure enough is obtained. Without meal planning and additional Vitamin B12 supplementation there is a risk of anaemia or Pandu as it is known in Ayurveda amongst other conditions.
Vitamin A is vital for good sight development, maintenance of sight, neurological function and immunity. There is some research to suggest some people genetically cannot convert the β-carotene (Pro-vitamin A) available in plants into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is readily available in meat, fish and dairy and doesn’t require conversion. Moringa, a plant used in Ayurveda is very high in β-carotene.
Vegan sources of calcium are fortified plant-based milks and certain vegetables such as broccoli. Again, for reliable intake supplementation is often required. Our bodies are made of around 1kg of calcium and we need roughly 700mg of calcium per day. As with a lot of vitamins and minerals it is not just a question of consuming the raw nutrient but our body has to be in a position to be able to uptake it. Certain foods make this easier than others and Vitamin D is essential for absorption.
Veganism in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, Vegetarianism is more common than Veganism. This is owing to the strong connection that Ayurveda has with milk and ghee both coming from well loved and cared for cows. Cows are traditionally very sacred in India. During my internship at Arya Vaidya Chikitsalayam hospital in the busy and densely populated city of Coimbature, India, there was a beautiful cow that used to hang out on the roadside outside the hospital grounds. She would always take priority over any traffic or pedestrian needs; she came always came first.
Ghee, which is clarified butter contains butyric acid, which helps to promote good gut health and reduces inflammation in the GI tract amongst many other things. Many Ayurvedic medicinal preparations contain ghee as it has a special Anupan or carrier effect. This means ghee can serve as a messenger, catalyst or moderator of herbs. Ghee is also more or less lactose free. Ayurveda provides great detail about the properties and medicinal uses of all types of meat and fish. At the heart of Ayurveda it remains non-judgmental over a person’s right to choose what they wish to eat or not eat. Click here to find out how to make ghee from butter.
Today, owing to the way in which food is mass produced there are many moral, ethical and health related concerns directed at what to eat. Our mental state of contentment wholly influences our digestive state of contentment. So, it is important for us to be as relaxed as we can be about what we are choosing to eat. We need to give consideration to any elements we are not consuming and consider supplementing.