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The blokes guide to going vegan

The blokes guide to going vegan

The blokes guide to going vegan

Veganism is on the rise and research commissioned by the vegan society in 2016 showed that the number of vegans in the UK has increased by 360% over the last 10 years as a record number of people are choosing to avoid food derived from animals. Over 500,000 people aged 15 or over (more than one per cent of the population) have adopted this plant-based way of eating, making this one of the fasted growing lifestyle movements according to the Vegan Society.  Most vegans live in urban areas, with a quarter residing in London. A Mintel survey carried out in 2017 found that 11% of Britons had tried to follow a vegan diet at some point (1), whilst a previous report found that 33% of Brits had tried eating less meat to be healthier (2).

Vegan men

It wasn’t that long ago that Formula One superhero Lewis Hamilton said he was planning to go vegan full-time in an attempt to function at his healthiest and avoid damaging the planet.  “I stopped eating red meat two years ago”, he told the BBC.  Continuing, he said, “I think it’s the right direction and by letting people who are following me know, maybe that will encourage a couple of people to do the same thing”.  Other male vegan sports people include the footballers, Jermain Defoe and Dean Howell, and even heavyweights such as the British boxer David Hayes have made the switch to this plant-based way of eating. Hollywood celebrities have also followed suit with actors and musicians such as Jared Leto, Chris Martin, Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck all reported to follow a vegan way of eating.

It still stands that more women are vegan but 37% are still made up of men (3) and the increase awareness of health and body weight amongst men may equally be driven these days by celebrity influence as it has always been amongst women. Recent research has suggested that even men who don’t like meat, find it upsets their digestion, or have been asked by a doctor to reduce consumption, still find it difficult to choose the vegetarian or vegan option when in public with other men.

Vegans in the UK

The growing trend towards veganism is reflected in the demand for meat-free food, which has increased by over 900% with this way of eating predicted by some sources to be one of the biggest food trends in 2018 (4,5).  Food industry insight provided by Foodable Labs reported that in 2018, fifty one percent of chefs in the US added vegan items to their menus.  The same report suggests that this rise is in part due to the influence of social media food and health bloggers as it showed a 79% increase in photos tagged as being vegan (6).

High street food outlets have recognised the increase and responded by offering more vegan options and certain branches of Pret are now solely offering vegetarian and vegan food. Dietary food labelling (including dairy and eggs) has also made it easier for vegans to choose their food when looking for something to eat on the High Street, although some restaurant options are still limited.

Benefits of veganism

Whilst some people choose to go vegan for ethical reasons (environmental damage from methane gases and deforestation, water scarcity and land degradation), others see this is a great way to improve their health and rightly so.  Research shows that non-meat eaters have healthier lifestyles compared to a typical omnivore diet. Plus, a well-balanced vegan diet is more likely to contain a greater quantity of fibre-rich wholegrain foods and pulses. It’s also been shown that vegans are more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, which means gleaning a greater quantity of certain key vitamins and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease (7).

Studies also show associations between meat-free eating and a lower incidence of obesity (8), heart disease (9), high blood pressure (10), type 2 diabetes (11) and digestive disorders such as constipation (12).  Lifestyle habits do play a key role here and this doesn’t mean that following a vegan diet will definitely prevent you from developing these conditions.

Anecdotally, people who have gone vegan report better energy levels and overall wellness, but this could in part be to do with the fact that vegans have been shown to be healthier in general, more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke (13).

Men going vegan

Going vegan may pose challenges to certain men especially those programmed towards a ‘meat and two veg’ way of eating.  The vegan diet can be quite calorie restrictive, which means careful planning for men trying to maintain their body weight.  Men following a demanding fitness regime will also need to adjust their thinking towards how they source their increased requirement for protein. Certain nutrients are also more important for men’s health such as zinc, which is typically found in meat and seafood but easy to source from plant foods once you know which ones to include in your diet.

There’s absolutely no reason why anyone can’t glean everything they need on a vegan diet. The issue of nutrient sufficiency has nothing to do with the food and is more a case of people understanding what foods they should be including in their diet and how to incorporate them. Following a vegan diet does take a little more thought and planning, especially when you first start out, but once you begin to understand what this diet looks like in terms of food, then it’s no different to any other way of eating and the same basic principles of healthy eating apply.

What to expect and how to start

Firstly, you may find yourself feeling hungrier once you switch to a vegan diet, so you may need to be prepared to include a couple of snacks during the day and think about including certain more nutrient dense foods.  Switching to eating solely plants means you may be eating a larger volume of food but fewer calories so choosing the right foods to supply you with enough energy is key.

It’s essential to include foods such as nut butters, avocados, oils, nuts and seeds to your diet to maintain adequate energy levels. Try and make your meals up of a protein (see below), grain, and healthy fats (nut, seed, oil, tahini, avocado, nut or seed). Explore dressings and sauces to accompany your meals. If you do get hungry then fill the gap with dips (bean or veggie based), nuts, seeds, soya yoghurt with toppings, smoothies (try adding oats for extra protein) or breads (topped with nut butter, avocado or banana).

Secondly, there’s likely to be a greater burden on cooking and preparing meals so work out your go-to meals to make things a little easier.  This might be a tofu or vegan Quorn stir-fry or one pot dishes such as a bean-based chilli that can be batch cooked and frozen for future meals.

Thirdly, you may experience bloating and gas when you make the switch to eating more beans, pulses and other high fibre foods. This will pass as your body adapts to this way of eating.

You may want to ease yourself in gently to veganism by starting with eliminating animal flesh then after a few weeks cutting out eggs and dairy.

Nutrients you may want to focus on as you begin vegan eating

A balanced diet is bedrock to good nutrition but if you’re used to eating animal foods as the main component of your diet then you may want to consider how you source certain nutrients in your diet.

Protein

There’s a current obsession with protein and whilst the richest sources are found in animal foods, there’s no reason you can’t get everything you need from plants. The trick is to include a source of vegan protein with every meal.  The richest sources are tofu, beans, lentils, pulses and vegan Quorn but other sources include quinoa, nuts, nut butters and seeds.  You will also glean a little protein from foods such as breads, pasta and rice.  The idea of pairing proteins is outdated so just mix and match them across the day to get a good intake of all the amino acids that make up this macronutrient.

Zinc

Zinc is an important part of many enzymes and has a role to play in immunity, processing carbohydrates, fats and proteins from foods and wound healing. The recommended daily intake for zinc is set higher for men as it plays a key role in maintaining prostate health, testosterone levels and overall reproductive health.

There’s a suggestion that vegans may fall short of this mineral in their diet but there are plenty of plant foods containing zinc. There’s also the issue of absorption, which is thought to be less from plant sources so just being mindful to include plenty of zinc-rich foods in your diet such as spinach, nuts, seeds, cocoa powder, mushrooms, beans, breads and cereal products will do the trick.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is mostly found in foods of animal origin so vegans should try to include fortified products such as plant milks and breakfast cereals in the diet. Yeast extract is one of the few vegan-friendly natural sources of vitamin B12. Contrary to popular belief, spirulina and other algae products are not reliable sources of this vitamin

Iron

Low intakes of iron can lead to tiredness, fatigue and low mood as this mineral is required to make red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. The type of iron found in meat is more easily absorbed by the body than plant-based sources, but you can increase the uptake by partnering them with a source of vitamin C such as serving fruit juice with your breakfast cereals or combining red peppers with pulses, beans and lentils. Avoiding tea with meals can also help maximise the absorption of iron from your food. Good sources include pulses, nuts, seeds, fortified breakfast cereals, tofu, tempeh, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, molasses and dried spices.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for the good health of your bones and is also required for proper muscle and nerve function. Although dairy is often (falsely) thought to be one of the only sources of this mineral, you can glean more than enough from foods such as tofu, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini and fortified plant-milks. Try eating two or three servings of calcium-rich foods on a daily basis.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be made in the body. The two most important are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexeanoic acid (DHA), which are predominantly found in oily fish.  Another type of Omega 3 called alphalinolenic acid (ALA) can be found in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, quinoa, walnuts and chia seed oil.  This Omega 3 fatty acid is converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is poor, so you may want to consider supplementing your diet with a vegan Omega 3 supplement (sourced from algae).

Store cupboard essentials for all vegans

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Oils (extra virgin olive, rapeseed, sesame, chia)
  • Soy (tofu, miso, tempeh)
  • Fortified plant milks
  • Yeast extract
  • Dried spices
  • Cocoa powder
  • Quinoa
  • Canned beans, pulses and lentils
  • Tahini
  • Avocado
  • Hummus
  • Dried fruit
  • Wholegrains (oats, barley, brown rice, spelt)
  • Wholemeal pasta and breads
  • Vegan Quorn
  • Yeast extract
  • Fortified cereals

There’s no reason why anyone can’t get everything they need from a vegan diet.  Certain nutrients such as zinc are particularly important for men and they may also need to consider their overall energy and protein intake if they are trying to gain or maintain body weight alongside a heavy training regime.  They key is planning and understanding how to create quick and easy vegan meals to reduce the burden of cooking.  Supplements such as a multivitamin and mineral or omega 3 may be worth investing in as you begin the transition to vegan eating to insure you are getting everything your body needs.

 

  1. https://store.mintel.com/uk-meat-free-foods-market-report
  2. https://store.mintel.com/healthy-lifestyles-uk-october-2016
  3. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/migrations/en-uk/files/Assets/Docs/Polls/vegan-society-poll-2016-topline.pdf
  4. https://www.just-eat.ie/blog/plant-based-diet-2018/
  5. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/
  6. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/vegan-dishes-chefs-restaurant-menus-added-2018-veganism-trend-us-a8511526.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707634
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26138004
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636393
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466938/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21983060
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10466166
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23583444

 

The benefits of gut health go beyond digestion

The benefits of gut health go beyond digestion

The important role of the gut

Diet, exercise and sleep are key to good health and the prevention of disease.  The health of your gut is inextricably linked to the quality of your diet, which impacts on digestion. Besides this, research is beginning to identify how your gut may also be linked to immunity, sleep, mental health (stress, depression) and obesity, all of which can affect your health in a multitude of ways (1).

The initiative, ‘Love Your Gut Week’, starts on the 17thSeptember (2018) and highlights the importance of our digestive system to good health.

What is the microbiome?

The term ‘microbiome’ refers to the collection of around 100 trillion microbes that live in and on our body, most of which are found in the gut.  An army of microbes (including bacteria) colonise the body even before we’re born to form a protective barrier that defends against foreign invaders harmful to our health.

Your microbiome is unique like a fingerprint

Your microbiome is unique like a fingerprint reacting to the world both around and within you.  The microbes you cultivate make up the unique diversity of your microbiome. The bacteria in your gut help maintain the efficiency of your digestive system.  These bacteria also help to synthesise vitamin D, K, B12, folic acid and thiamine as well as assisting in the digestion of polyphenol compounds shown to protect the body against disease.  Gut bacteria also produce short chain fatty acids that supply energy to the cells of your colon and have been shown to play a key role in the maintenance of health and prevention of disease (2).

What can impact on the ‘health’ of your microbiome?

 Diet and lifestyle choices can impact on the diversity of bacteria found in your gut.  The ‘typical’ Western diet is characterised by an overconsumption of foods high in ‘added sugars’ and ‘bad’ fats. The impact of overeating and a lack of exercise has led to an overweight nation although the complexities of weight management are not as simple as calories in and calories out.

Being overweight is a risk factor for many diseases and the physiological effects it triggers such as inflammation are now widely recognised as being a contributory factor.  It’s often suggested that a diet overloaded with sugar and ‘bad’ fats encourages the growth of bad bacteria, but these effects don’t seem to be that clear cut. Another more straightforward explanation is that people who eat an unhealthy diet are less likely to eat the foods that support an environment that allows good bacteria to thrive such as vegetables, wholegrains and other high-fibre foods.

Five strategies to support the health of your microbiome

Whilst the overall quality of your diet can impact on the health of your gut, certain foods have been shown to be particularly beneficial in supporting the diversity of bacteria that live there.  Lifestyle factors and the use of medication have also been shown to impact on your microbiome.

1. Don’t underestimate the effects of stress

Stress is fast becoming a common side-effect of our modern lifestyle.  We all experience stress, sometimes on a daily basis, but the effects are usually short lived.  Problems can arise when stress becomes chronic, not only impacting on mental health but triggering inflammation within the body (3).  Stress can also increase the demand for certain nutrients such as the B vitamins and magnesium as well as influencing food choices that can result in a failure of the diet to provide everything the body needs.

Feeling ‘butterflies’ in your stomach or nausea are common symptoms of stress and illustrate how the brain is closely linked to the gut.  Sadness, happiness and anger are a few examples of the emotions that can affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is sensitive to such emotions.  In some cases, psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and bowel symptoms that characterise conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (4).  Psychosocial factors such as stress can influence the actual physiology of the gut, affecting movement and contractions of the GI tract, increasing inflammation and even making you more perceptible to infection (5).

The link between the gut and brain is referred to as the gut-brain axis and the association with gut bacteria is a new area of research.  Studies are beginning to unveil the potential impact this relationship between the gut and brain has on the microbiome.  Mental health is just one area of research and stress has been shown to alter the diversity of gut bacteria (6). These changes also appear to be amplified when stress is more severe or prolonged. In this regard, the concept of psychobiotics is being developed and refined to find ways of targeting the microbiota to help with mental health outcomes

Don’t dismiss the impact stress has on the body.  Addressing your mental health is just as important as the food you eat, exercise you take and sleep you get, all of which are intertwined.  Try exploring techniques such as meditation that has been proven to help with stress. There are many apps available that can help to teach you this practice.

2. Eat prebiotic foods in your diet

Certain fibres in foods are indigestible and commonly referred to as prebiotics.  Gut bacteria feed of these fibres, helping them to flourish and process by which they break them down (fermentation), produces short chain fatty acids.

The different types are prebiotic foods include:

  • Onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and bananas contain inulin and fructooligosaccharides that act as prebiotics.
  • Oats and barley contain beta-glucans that act as prebiotics.
  • Starchy foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes form resistant starches (resistant to digestive enzymes) once they’ve been cooked and then cooled. Resistant starches act as prebiotics.

3. Watch your medication

Many people rely on the long-term use of medication to help manage the symptoms of their health condition. Aspirin and ibuprofen are types of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, but these drugs have been shown to reduce levels of good bacteria in the gut (7).

Other medications such as antibiotics are prescribed as a short course to support the body’s ability to fight infection.  These drugs are not a friend of gut bacteria as they can wipe out swathes of both good and bad.  In certain cases, such as severe bacterial infections, they’re required to help the body recover but are of no use in fighting viral infections such as colds or flu.

Using probiotics alongside certain medications such as NSAIDS or after a course of antibiotics can help to re-balance your microbiome.

Another interesting issue surrounding antibiotics is their extensive use in the farming of food animals.  The issue is a topic of debate but eating less meat and choosing better quality meat may not only be better for your health but reduce the transmission of antibiotics through the food chain.

4. Include probiotic foods in your diet

Strains of bacteria that have been shown to have a positive health benefit are referred to as probiotics.  Bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family are some of the most widely researched strains.  One of the most common probiotic foods is live yoghurt, which contains strains such as Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Lactobacillus Casei.  These strains are also found in yoghurt ‘shot’ drinks that have become very popular. When you’re choosing live yoghurt or yoghurt products try opting for those that are low in sugar.

Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir and miso also contain strains of bacteria that can support good gut health. These foods are now widely available in most supermarkets.

5. Take a probiotic supplement

Probiotic supplements offer a way of delivering large doses of specific bacteria to the gut.  Stick to preparations that contain well researched strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in a dose of at least 10 billion bacteria per serving.  To help with their transit to the gut, avoid taking with hot food and drinks or alcohol that can destroy them.

As the research linking gut bacteria to health and disease outcomes evolves, so does the potential role of probiotics supplements.  Their use and efficacy have recently come under scrutiny, but there’s still plenty of good quality research that points towards their beneficial role in health.

Prevention and treatment of diarrhoea

Bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus Rhamnosus and Lactobacillus Casei have been widely researched for their ability to prevent and reduce the severity of diarrhoea.  Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that taking probiotics helped reduce the risk of diarrhoea associated with antibiotic use by 42% (8).  Further research published in the Lancet showed that probiotics helped to reduce the risk of travellers’ diarrhoea by 8% and from all other causes in adults by 26% (9).

Immunity

The cells found in the gut are thought to make up almost 70% of the entire immune system, so it makes sense that it’s inextricably linked to immunity.  Research has shown how probiotic supplements containing certain strains can promote the production of antibodies. The same strains have also been shown to stimulate the activity of immune cells such as natural killer cells and T-lymphocytes that help to regulate immune responses.

Research has shown how probiotic supplements may prove beneficial for upper respiratory tract infections such as colds, coughs and flu. Research published in the British Medical Journal found that children who regularly took probiotics (Lactobacillus GG) had 19% fewer infectious diseases over three months compared with those that didn’t (10).

Obesity

This is new area of research and the question of whether obesity is linked to gut bacteria is not yet answered.  Data suggests that the composition of bacteria in the gut differs between people who are obese and those that are lean (11).  It’s also been shown that the typical Western-style diet rich in fat and refined carbohydrates may even increase the strains of bacteria linked to obesity (12).  Research has provided several potential reasons why the diversity of bacteria in the gut may be linked to obesity.  Certain bacteria are involved in the digestion of carbohydrates and fats (13), whilst others have the potential to increase inflammation in the body (14). Other may impact on the production of hormones that influence appetite (15).

Whilst in its early stage, this research highlights the future potential for probiotic supplements as part of personalised nutrition guidance to help in the fight against obesity.

Essential steps to good gut health

The bacteria in your gut play a role in health that’s essential to life.  New research not only helps to confirm this but is exploring the many benefits that go beyond digestion. Diet and lifestyle can both influence the diversity of bacteria in your gut and this can have a negative impact on your health.  Following a healthy balanced diet will help to maintain the health of your gut and the bacteria that reside in it as will addressing lifestyle factors such as stress. Research into the use of probiotic supplements is ever evolving but they can provide a useful way to help maintain the balance of bacteria in your gut.

Healthy gut plan

  1. Maintain a balanced diet and try to avoid foods high in sugar and ‘bad’ fats.
  2. Eat wide variety of plant-foods such as vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains that are high in fibre and support efficient digestion.
  3. Include prebiotic foods in your diet – onions, garlic, bananas, oats, barley.
  4. Include probiotic foods in your diet – live yoghurt, kimchi, kefir and miso.
  5. Use relaxation techniques to address the issue of stress.
  6. Factor the use of medication into your diet and the effect on gut bacteria.
  7. Take a probiotic supplement that includes strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in a dose of at least 10 billion bacteria.

 

References

  1. https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24388214
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341031/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202343/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740474
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289515300370
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26482265
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22570464
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16728323
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11387176
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27648960
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28199845
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15505215
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23985870
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27616451/