Vegan diet for Indians: A nutritionist explains benefits and side-effects of veganism, essential tips and more
While the Indian vegetarian diet is seasonal and not that taxing on the pocket, a vegan diet can be very expensive.
Over the last few years, veganism has gained immense popularity across the globe. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and many other organisations have underlined the ethical benefits of adopting a vegan diet, and that’s a huge factor for many people adopting a vegan diet. Veganism means the complete absence of all animal and animal-based foods in your diet, which is beneficial for animal welfare.
Adopting a vegan diet also has immense health benefits, as many studies and books published over the last decade indicate. “A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs,” explains Akanksha Mishra, a Nutrition and Wellness Expert associated with myUpchar. “When you are following it correctly, it can be highly nutritious, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and help weight loss. Research suggests that this diet can also improve your heart health, protect against cancer and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Making the shift is not that easy though
Despite all of these benefits, making a shift to veganism is not that easy. This is not only true for those who have been non-vegetarians all their life, but also Indian vegetarians. “The traditional diet of Indian vegetarians is not just plant-based, but also includes many animal products from the simple ghee applied on chapatis to paneer and yoghurt,” Mishra explains. “The use of cow’s milk and other milk products is so intricately woven into the lives and rituals of Indian vegetarians that making the shift to veganism can be very difficult for most.”
What’s more, while the Indian vegetarian diet is seasonal and not that taxing on the pocket, a vegan diet can be very expensive. “You might think picking or making soy or almond milk over cow’s milk and tofu over paneer is an easy switch but these products can be quite expensive and not all that easily available in India,” Mishra says. Sure, vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are easily and abundantly available, but can your vegan diet be wholesome and nutritious enough? This opens up the other can of worms for those looking to adopt a vegan diet.
Nutritional deficiencies you need to look out for
“Plants aren’t the only sources of nutrition, and there are some nutrients that a vegan diet lacks,” Mishra says. As a 2016 book, Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? points out, the vegan diet has been suspected to lead to deficiencies of a number of essential nutrients including high biological protein, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, fatty acids, zinc, iodine and iron. Vegans can counter some of these deficiencies by adding more lentils, soy, whole grains, veggies like cabbage, and even sea vegetables like seaweed but vitamin B12, fatty acids, iodine and iron may be more difficult to find in vegan foods.
“You need to plan your meals carefully to avoid these nutritional deficiencies,” Mishra says while explaining how to manage them. “To avoid vitamin B12 deficiency, add nutritional yeast in your food preparation; for iron take beans or legumes and dark green leafy vegetables and use an iron utensil. You can add a glass of lemon water whenever you are taking iron-rich food for better absorption. For calcium, take ragi (finger millet), orange, green leafy vegetables, and sesame seeds. Eating vitamin D-fortified foods and spending time in the sun can boost vitamin D levels. Nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, almonds, and pistachio are rich in zinc, so eat a handful or two of these to fulfil your requirements. Walnut and flaxseed are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, so add these in your daily diet too.”
Tips for a better vegan Indian lifestyle
Clearly, there’s a lot you need to evaluate and plan before going vegan for life. The following are some tips that may make the transition easier for you:
- Don’t expect the transition to be sudden. It will take time, patience and caution, so adjust your expectations about weight loss or other benefits accordingly.
- Consult a doctor and a nutritionist before making the shift so that you can discuss dietary supplements to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
- Explore your local market to understand where and how you can get the most nutritious plant-based foods. Don’t shy away from trying out new foods like seaweed, nutritional yeast and fermented plant foods. Try buying organic foods to avoid pesticides in plant-based foods.
- Focus on home-cooked meals and making your vegan recipes tasty, because compromising on taste buds is one way to ensure that you won’t be able to sustain your diet for long. Try traditional Indian vegan recipes as well as those from around the world.
- While eating out, call ahead or have a proper conversation with the chef or manager about avoiding foods like ghee, cream, cheese and others unless they are plant-based.
For more information, read our article on a Vegan diet.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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