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Going vegan?

If like many people you have decided to try a vegan diet for environmental and personal reasons, read on for expert advice

To say that veganism has become more mainstream in recent years is something of an understatement,” says Gerald Colfer from health store Only Natural in Wexford town. “What used to be regarded as an ‘extreme’ lifestyle choice is now relatively common. This is happening in tandem with many aspects of modern life where the old norms have broken down and a new pluralism has taken their place. People choose to become vegan for many reasons, all of them valid. For some it’s a health-related choice, while for others it’s motivated by environmental or animal rights concerns.”

Making the switch

“At the start ‘purposely transitioning’ might be the way to go,” says Gerald Colfer. “Perhaps start with two or three vegan days per week as your body gets used to the new food sources and the absence of others. This is also when a good vegan-friendly multi-nutrient in capsule, tablet or powder form can be a very worthwhile ‘nutritional insurance’ to take care of some of those important micro nutrients that might be thrown out of balance.”


“As with any dietary restriction care must be taken not to leave the diet unbalanced as would be the case if you took a ‘standard diet’ and removed all animal-derived foods overnight,” says Gerald Colfer. “If the change is made a new balance needs to be achieved and all the nutrients formerly derived from meat, dairy and fish sources must be replaced from vegan sources.”

“Many vegans I know eat a lot of hummus and beans, and cook at home a lot, and that means they are very healthy,” says Hannah Dare from health store and cafe Organico in Bantry, Co Cork. “They eat plenty of kale and broccoli to help with minerals that might be lacking such as calcium and magnesium.”


“People who change to a vegan diet will need to take a multivitamin and often some extra omega 3 and B12. Getting sufficient iron can also be an issue,” says Hannah Dare. “But that’s often the same for non-vegans to be honest - our food just doesn’t contain the minerals it should, so supplementation is smart, whatever your diet.”

“Protein, essential fats, selenium, vitamins D, B, A and K, iron, selenium and zinc are all vital nutrients and it’s important that all of them are sourced in sufficient quantities from non-animal sources by anyone that’s transitioning to a vegan diet,” says Gerald Colfer. “Nuts and seeds, high quality vegetable oils, wholegrains and their derivatives, a broad spectrum of fruit and vegetables plus pulses and the high protein products made from them all need to be included.”

World benefits

“It’s pretty obvious, if you read at all about the impact on the world resources of meat production that a vegan diet, even for a percentage of time, makes sense,” says Hannah Dare. “David Attenborough is pretty convincing, as is our own Mary Robinson. Industrial meat production simply uses too much land and too much water, and is completely unsustainable as our population is growing.”

Finding alternatives

“Replacements for animal protein are readily available and your local health store can introduce you to and explain how to prepare things like tofu, tempeh, TVP (texturised vegetable protein) and the plethora of nuts, beans, seeds and lentils that form the backbone of the vegan diet,” says Gerald Colfer. “There’s now a huge choice of vegan-friendly food choices available, many of them made relatively locally. Just take care to keep your diet balanced and eat a large variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods.”

“Of course, some popular vegan ingredients come from far away, and can use air miles, and this needs to be considered,” says Hannah Dare. “As retailers we need to consider where we are buying from. But still, the impact of eating avocadoes is not as harmful as a beefburger, even with the air miles!”

Flaxseed for protein

“Milled flaxseed offers a plant-based solution for meeting the body’s protein and omega-3 requirements without compromising a vegan diet,” says Patrick Woods, Managing Director of Linwoods. “Omega-3 ALA (alpha linolenic acid) is an essential fatty acid that is not produced by our body, and therefore must be obtained through our food. It is essential for maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation and increasing metabolism. Milled flaxseed also offers a source of protein which is a vital part of a healthy diet – your body uses protein to make new cells for growth and repair damaged tissues.

“Milled flaxseed also naturally enhances the fibre content of any meal, making it a great addition to all your vegan recipes. Whilst it can be difficult to source the perfect vegan alternatives for home baking, milled flaxseed is an ideal substitution to create a perfect egg mixture. To make one flax egg, all that is required is one tablespoon of milled flaxseed combined with two and a half tablespoons of water, left to rest for five minutes.”

Top vegan foods

  • Algae – spirulina and chlorella are good sources of complete protein.
  • Chickpeas – hummus is essential for vegans, and you can use chickpea water from the tin as an egg replacer.
  • Coconut – can be used in so many dishes as an oil, milk or dried.
  • Hemp, flax and chia seeds - high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid.
  • Chia and flaxseeds can substitute eggs in baking.
  • Jackfruit – popular for lots of alternative to meat dishes, from pulled jackfuit to many vegan dishes.
  • Nutritional yeast – as a yellow powder or flakes. Helps vegans meet their daily vitamin B12 needs.
  • Nuts and seeds – nut butters, nut milks, nuts themselves, contain iron, fibre, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E.
  • Oatmilk – to replace milk and make custard and cream. Essential for good milky vegan coffee.
  • Pulses – lentils beans etc form the basis for most healthy vegan diets, providing protein, fibre, and minerals.
  • Seaweed – contains essential fatty acid DHA.
  • Seitan – popular meat alternative. Contains iron, calcium, and phosphorus
  • Soy or hemp milk and yogurts – look for calcium-fortified.
  • Tahini – gives creaminess to many meals as well as protein.
  • Tempeh – a popular replacement for fish, but it can also be used in a variety of other dishes.
  • Tofu – can be used for so many savoury and sweet dishes.
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