January is a month where we often turn to focus on our health after a month or so of eating everything and anything.  Veganuary therefore is a prompt to consider adopting a vegan lifestyle for a month and see if it suits you.  There are many possible health benefits to following a vegan diet but it doesn’t suit everyone.  Here we explain what to look out for.

Following a vegan diet

A vegan diet avoids anything derived from animals, including meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and even honey. This also rules out fresh pasta made with egg, foods with animal-based additives like cochineal (a red food colour made from beetle shells found in some red or pink foods) and gelatin, found in jellies and other chewy sweets. Many wines and beers are also off the menu as a product called isinglass, derived from fish bladders is often used in their production. Even some supplements like vitamin D can be an issue.

Any plant-based food is on the menu, however. Many vegan diets are high in vegetables and fruit which is wonderful. Those enjoying a vegan diet can also eat grains, pulses like chickpeas and lentils, nuts and seeds, and soya products.  It also includes the myriad of vegan products now available, ranging from soya yoghurts to vegan chocolate bars and vegan cheese.   It is possible to have a varied and interesting vegan diet, but it’s hard work and choices can be limited when eating out. And of course, you can eat a junk-food vegan diet with lots of processed food. For example, most vegan cheese replacements are highly processed vegetable fat. It is advised to read the ingredients carefully on ready-made vegans products too.  Not all are bad, but watch out for too many additives and high levels of oils.

Vegan protein

We need protein to build and maintain muscle and to keep us full. Many of the better known sources of protein are animal-based, like meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. These are ‘complete’ proteins as they contain the full complement of amino acids. If you are avoiding all animal products, you will need to make a concerted effort to get a variety of plant-based protein into your diet. Most plant proteins are ‘incomplete’ and may be lacking in some amino acids, therefore variety is key in order to get the benefit of all of them. Pulses such as lentils, beans and chickpeas are a good source of protein and are an essential component of any vegan diet. They are high filling and nutritious, versatile and easy, economical and sustainable. Pulses are also high in fibre, reduce cholesterol and may reduce your risk of colon cancer and heart disease.

Pulses and wholegrains, however, also contain anti-nutrients called phytates, which can inhibit absorption of some minerals, especially iron, zinc and calcium. Vegans can get around this by soaking, fermenting and sprouting. By germinating the pulses (which are seeds of the legume plants) phytic acid is activated which breaks down the phytate. Sprouting also increases the overall nutritional value of the seeds.

Nutrient deficiencies to be mindful of

The most difficult nutrients to get enough of on a vegan diet are those we usually get from animal products: vitamin B12, iron and omega 3 essential fats.

Vitamin B12

A vitamin B12 deficiency can give you symptoms like fatigue, weakness and memory loss. It’s found in very small amounts in nori seaweed, tempeh (fermented soya bean), nutritional yeast and in fortified foods like plant-based milks. It is the one nutrient that most vegans do need to supplement longer term and we recommend having your levels checked. This is especially important for children, pregnant mothers and infants being breastfed as deficiencies in these groups can have serious consequences.


Vegan diets are also naturally lower in iron and the form of iron found in animal products is more easily absorbed than plant-based iron. Iron deficiency causes symptoms like fatigue, hair loss and breathlessness.   However, there are many plant-based sources of iron, like green leafy vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts and wholegrain cereals. Vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption so it’s helpful to include plenty of fruit and vegetables together with iron-rich foods.

Omega 3

While flax seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds do have small amounts of omega 3, we get most of our omega 3 from oily fish.  Fish and fish supplements are off limits for vegans so sourcing a good algae-based omega 3 is also important.

Our top tips

  1. Eat as wide a variety of foods as possible
  2. Check levels of B12, iron and omega 3. Supplement where needed
  3. Avoid processed vegan foods
  4. Be prepared to spend time in the kitchen!
  5. If you are new to plant-based eating, start slowly with one or two vegan days (or even meals) per week




Breakfast porridge with berries and coconut yoghurt
Snack apple and palmful walnuts
Lunch Coconut lentil soup, rye sourdough bread
Snack oat cakes with hummus & cucumber
Dinner Roast vegetables with quinoa and red pesto


This blog is brought to you by Nutritional Therapist Lynne Dalton from Glenville Nutrition – find out more on www.glenvillenutrition.ie

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