Vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian?
There are many different terms for diets focused on reducing or avoiding meat and other animal products, but how do they differ?
Vegans exclude all foods with an animal origin from their diet. The diet of a vegan is solely plant or fungal-based, and includes fruits and vegetables, grains, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds. This diet is often part of a wider ethical position where the respect for animal life is paramount. For example, vegans also avoid wearing or using leather, fur, wool and down.
Vegetarianism represents a wide range of diets where the use of animal products is restricted to different degrees. Lacto-vegetarians eat plant-based along with milk and dairy products. Lacto-ovo vegetarians include both eggs and dairy products in the diet, but do not eat meat, fish or birds. Semi-vegetarians / pesco-vegetarians do not eat red meat, but include dairy products, eggs, fish and sometimes birds in their diet. Strictly speaking, the meat-eating variants are not considered vegetarians and are similar to a flexitarian diet, where the main focus is to eat less meat and other animal products, but not exclude it completely. The difference between flexitarians and semi-vegetarians is flexitarians will eat less meat overall rather than exclude some meat types entirely.
Whatever the type of diet you follow, it is important to ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis. It is essential for your health to make sure you take enough iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and iodine. These important vitamins and nutrients are found more readily in animal-based foods as opposed to plant-based foods. If you choose to avoid fish or seafood then you also need to make sure you have enough vitamin D.
Vegan diets also require daily sources of vitamins B12 and D along with iodine and omega-3. This can come from supplements or vitamin and nutrient-fortified foods.
Maintaining the intake of the following nutrients or vitamins is important for vegan diets:
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine)
- Iron, zinc and selenium
- Protein and omega-3 fatty acids
Vegan Omega-3 Supplements
It is difficult enough to know which vitamins or nutrients your diet is lacking, but as a vegan, you also need to ensure the supplements are made from vegan sources. In the case of omega-3 supplements, these are often made from cod and other fish livers which are not suitable for vegans. These nutrients are important as long polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are crucial for the development of normal vision and brain function in infants, as well as having a positive effect on brain, vision and cardiovascular health in adults.
Omega-3 is also found in plant sources such as flaxseed oil and rapeseed oil. However, these beneficial fatty acids are different from EPA and DHA, which mainly comes from fish or seafood. Vegetarian foods are rich in omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), but contain less of the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA). However, the fatty acid ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA in the body, but the conversion rate is unfortunately low. Therefore, a diet that provides only the omega-3 fatty acid ALA will not provide enough DHA and EPA to have a positive effect on your health.
Algae, which is an aquatic plant, contains both EPA and DHA and is, therefore, a suitable omega-3 source for vegans. In fact, algae is the primary source of most of the omega-3 in the food chain. Like humans, fish produce little omega-3 of their own, but as algae is an important part of their diet, they obtain omega-3 fatty acids from the algae and store it in their fatty tissue, which in turn is extracted by us.
‘Möller’s Vegetable Omega-3 and Vitamin D’ contains omega-3 from algae, which makes this supplement suitable for vegans and vegetarians who do not eat fish. In addition, the product also contains vitamin D from plants. The algae extract is not only vegetarian and vegan, but halal and kosher as well.
Vegan Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps to maintain the immune system and encourages the absorption of calcium in the intestine, contributing to healthy bones in people of all ages.
Although we naturally produce vitamin D through the contact of sunlight with our skin, it is difficult to obtain enough of this vitamin during winters. This is especially a problem in northern climates as we suffer from longer nights whilst also wearing many layers to keep out the cold. It is therefore essential that we take additional vitamin D in our diet. This can be achieved through supplements and fortified foods.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding combined with veganism
When you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is important for both you and the baby to get all the nutrients your body needs. Generally speaking, as a vegan, it is enough to maintain a healthy intake of vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine. In addition, it is especially important for vegans who are pregnant and breastfeeding to take more iron, as well as the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA through supplements sourced from algae extract.
The recommended daily intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA for pregnant and breastfeeding women is a minimum of 200 mg.
Dietary tips for vegans and vegetarians
As a vegan, you learn a great deal about what you eat, precisely because you have to work harder to ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs. Here are some food tips for vegans to maintain a healthy diet:
- 4 servings of whole grain products such as coarse bread, oatmeal, total flour, whole grains and cereals, natural rice and whole grain pasta every day
- 3 servings of beans such as chickpeas, peas, soy products and lentils every day
- 5 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruit each day
- Brussels sprouts
- 1-2 servings of seeds and nuts
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Milk, dairy products and / or eggs for those who include this in their diet
- 1 serving of fat or oils such as flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil and perilla nut oil