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Thursday, 31 May 2012 13:16

How to sustain a healthy vegan diet

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Nontsikelelo Mpulo: Veganism might be the root of superhuman abilities in Scott Pilgrim vs the World but in reality, adopting a vegan diet can be a daunting prospect, particularly when one is living away from home. However, all it takes is some commitment and resourcefulness.


Registered dietician Mary-Anne Victor outlined the pitfalls that non-meat eaters may encounter with respect to the nutrients required for a healthy balanced lifestyle.

She asserted the importance of incorporating the necessary nutrients into ones vegan diet, as deficiencies could result in damage to the nervous system, anaemia and increased susceptibility to infections.

According to Victor, vegans often do not take in sufficient quantities of vitamin B12, zinc, omega 3, protein and calcium.  She provided examples of ordinary ingredients that may be included in a vegan diet to ensure that these nutrients are consumed in sufficient quantities to promote good health.

“Soy is an important source of vitamin B12, but it may be advisable to use supplements as well to obtain sufficient amounts of this nutrient,” she says.

Victor went on to explain that zinc, which is essential for neurological health and to ward off infections, can be found in wheat germ, Swiss chard, baked potato, kidney beans and lentils.

In addition, Omega 3, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, and is also good for the nervous system, can be found in ground flax seeds and walnuts. And good sources of calcium include soya or rice milk as well as green leafy vegetables.

To avoid developing an iron deficiency, as this could result in anaemia, substitute foods are Swiss chard, kidney beans, spinach, raisins and peanuts.  These foods should be combined with others like oranges, broccoli, bell peppers or cabbage, which are rich in vitamin C, to assist with the absorption of iron.

Armed with this wealth of knowledge about nutritious ingredients, those embarking on a vegan diet can begin to experiment with some dishes. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind.

Meat free options: Spaghetti bolognaise without the minced meat can be just as delicious with the right seasoning, garlic, chillies and basil for example, or rather add tofu to a stir-fry for the necessary dose of protein.

Experiment with different recipes. Incorporate dishes from different cultures for variety.  Try a chickpea and lentil curry or a vegetable tagine. Instead of butter, why not use tahini or humus?

Visit the local health food store. These are a treasure trove of knowledge on substitutes and supplements, as well as recipes. Visit the Mustard Seed at Peppergrove Mall for great recipes for example a red kidney bean and tofu stew, and tofu fruit pudding.

Remember to eat a balanced diet. Combine plenty of whole grains, vegetables and proteins to feel satiated and to make sure you are ingesting all the necessary nutrients.

There are dozens of recipes that can be adapted for the vegan diet.  Resources such as the SA Vegan Society and Vegan SA Directory offer a variety of ideas for vegan-friendly restaurants, shops, products and recipes. Visit or

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