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It is common among people who do not practice veganism to confuse the terms vegan and vegetarian , below I will explain the main differences . In reality, neither vegetarians nor vegans eat meat from any animal, not even fish, and they will have to know how to exchange animal products for those of animal origin in order not to have a deficiency. This is easily possible with a varied diet based on whole vegetables. Next I will tell you which nutrients you should pay more attention to.
1. What are the differences between a vegetarian and a vegan?
Strict vegetarians do not consume any type of animal product, but they are not so aware of other lifestyle habits that can harm animals. Vegans go further and do not consume, wear or buy any product that contains or has exploited any animal.
There are other types of vegetarianism. For example, if they eat eggs, they are called ovo-vegetarians . If they consume animal milk and dairy (whey, cheese, butter...), they are considered lacto-vegetarians . Those that include eggs and dairy products are called lacto-ovo vegetarians.
In this blog we will focus on strict vegetarianism or veganism, focusing on the nutritional part that excludes any animal product.
2. The nutrients that you cannot neglect
When a person becomes vegan it does not mean that their diet is unequivocally more or less healthy. It may be an unbalanced diet. Or it can be so nutritious and energetic that it allows you to be one of the strongest people in the world, like Patrik Baboumian.
While it is true that a vegan, or plant-based, diet is naturally healthy and suitable for everyone. It is true that, at first, to do it safely you need to know where to get the key vitamins and nutrients.
In this blog we review some of the elements that you should not overlook. So you should pay more attention when you decide to take the step towards a plant-based diet, where all foods of animal origin are excluded.
Currently, in the developed world in which we live , some nutrients cannot be obtained directly from food. That is why the animals and products we eat are supplemented. Or we must supplement ourselves. In addition, there are several circumstances that can place the person in a nutrient deficit. Many times due to the increase in requirements in certain biological stages. In pregnant women. In levels of intense physical activity in which there is an increase in the demand for oxygen. Different pathologies or states in which we cannot eat a wide range of foods, as occurs in some digestive diseases. It is not easy to cover all the necessary nutrients with food.
I am going to tell you about some important nutrients that, regardless of the diet you have, you should pay attention to. But if you are changing your diet to a vegan diet you should know how to obtain them correctly.
2.1. B12 or cyanocobalamin
It can only be incorporated into the body through its production by bacteria. In the past, these bacteria were found in fertile soils where vegetables were grown. Where animals, including humans, could obtain them by eating these vegetables. If we also ate the animals that had eaten plant foods with this B12, we also obtained it.
Currently it is obtained from supplemented animals. The soils no longer have this richness and its production is not measurable or certain that it can provide us with our daily requirements. In recent years, many processed products have been fortified with active B12, but having to eat processed foods to obtain it is debatable. Although B12 is present in other foods, it is not the same. It is not found in its active form or in sufficient quantities to prevent a deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is important for metabolism , it helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system. Its deficiency is associated with neurological pathologies. The damage caused by its deficiency is irreversible. The analytics are imprecise since many confounding factors can make you believe for many years that you have sufficient levels without supplementation and this is not true. The safest and cheapest way to obtain it is through daily or weekly supplementation.
Iodine is found in seafood or fortified salt. It is a key mineral and necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Its deficit can generate hypothyroidism or what is commonly known as "metabolic slowdown" . It is an essential element for different biological states, such as pregnancy.
In a vegan diet it is essential to ensure a source, since no seafood is consumed. It can be obtained from iodized salt (with the inconvenience of having to use daily salt). Consuming algae 2-3 times in a controlled manner and always asking a professional nutritionist. An excess can also cause thyroid problems, or in the form of a supplement ensuring a minimum daily dose without risks or deficiencies.
23. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the entire population. It is convenient not to neglect its control. This vitamin has several functions at the bone, metabolic level and also at the level of the immune system. The main route of vitamin D synthesis is sun exposure , although nowadays it is not very common for different reasons.
If you cannot ensure your daily exposure, the most recommended is its supplementation at moderate doses. Although we know that nothing is comparable to natural exposure to the sun, we cannot go 365 days a year without getting enough vitamin D. Some animal products contain a small amount of it, so it is not very reliable either. But in a vegan diet it is even more difficult to obtain some minimum amounts. The most accurate recommendation after sun exposure would be its supplementation.
2.4. Omega 3
The contribution of essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6 family) must be balanced. Both compete for the same enzymes for their synthesis. Omega 3 are precursors of immunomodulatory molecules that help balance all inflammation processes and intervene in the immune system.
Both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids are found in whole plant foods. The omega 3 in a smaller proportion and in a smaller variety of foods. In an omnivorous diet, omega 3 is easily obtained from fish. In a vegan diet it is obtained from seeds, some vegetable oils and some nuts or cereals to a lesser extent. If you are not used to consuming seeds, or you are on a low-calorie or low-fiber diet (due to your personal context), it may be difficult to incorporate them to obtain your minimum requirements.
The best contribution of vegetable omega 3 comes from flax seeds. Only ten grams of these, consumed ground or powdered, provide us with the vegetable omega 3 necessary for our body. Although its conversion is lower and vegans have been seen to have lower total omega 3 levels, it has not been scientifically linked to any type of pathology or serious consequence. In the context of a vegan diet, it will not be necessary to provide more.
A vegan diet is inherently anti-inflammatory.
It is an essential mineral for energy and oxidative metabolism. It acts in defense at the cellular and humoral level. There are two types of iron: heme (from meats) and non-heme (from vegetables).
There are several easy ways to improve its absorption. For example, include sources of vitamin C when consuming iron-rich plant foods. If enough dietary iron is not consumed, or it is not well absorbed due to some personal or lifestyle condition, symptoms and pathologies can be generated such as: asthenia, anorexia, fatigue, deterioration of physical performance, anemia, etc.
Iron should not present a problem in the general population. Women could have certain deficits due to the menstrual cycle. It must be borne in mind that iron from meat (heme iron) has more bioavailability and is better absorbed than iron from vegetables (non-heme iron). But the truth is that vegans consume on average much more iron than omnivores. A vegetable diet provides more, and thanks to the fact that non-heme iron is not absorbed as much, there are no risks associated with excess iron in the body. Vegetarians eat less iron than vegans and may be more deficient.
Even so, a vegan athlete must control iron . Due to the menstrual cycles, the intensity of the exercise, and if there is also another associated digestive pathology.
As always, this would be a factor to be assessed by a professional. If you use any type of supplementation, I advise that it does not contain 100% iron. Its excess could also be harmful.
Creatine is a chemical that is naturally present in the body. Mainly in the muscles and in the brain. It is commonly found in the diet in red meat and seafood. Although its exogenous contribution is not necessary to preserve health. It has been seen that creatine in sports can decrease fatigue, increase muscle building, and improve the quality of exercise. So it is worth incorporating it if you can benefit from it in your sports performance.
Perhaps the biggest myth around veganism. It is often thought that meat has a monopoly on protein, but this is not the case. In fact, almost all foods (except alcohol and sugar) contain protein. A bowl of lentils or beans has about the same amount of protein as a serving of meat.
To get all the essential amino acids, you just have to include a wide variety of foods with different proteins. Including whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds etc. An adequate diet should be minimally varied. Among this variety we find all the necessary amino acids.
It is false that they should all be eaten at the same meal. The daily computation will be what is really important. You can eat tofu or chickpeas at noon and quinoa or rice at night. As it happens in the omnivorous or carnivore diet. A high intensity of physical exercise, a personal context in which more amino acids need to be replaced, or any pathology with malabsorption or intolerances, may make you need an extra EAA. So a good tool will be to be able to easily introduce them with a daily supplement.
As occurs in the omnivorous or carnivore diet, a high intensity of physical exercise, a personal context in which more amino acids need to be replaced, or any pathology with malabsorption or intolerances, may make you need an extra EAA (essential amino acids). So a good tool will be to be able to easily introduce them with a daily supplement.