Defending the kingdom | Issue 23

Defending the kingdom | Issue 23

Vegan nutrition: Let's cut the crap

As a student, I’m always keen to scope out cheap restaurants. Circadian Rhythm on St Andrew’s Street (just down from Starbucks, Auckland girls) is one of my favourites. The food is excellent value for money, the staff are lovely, they have adorable hipster-friendly board-games and squashy couches, and they have jazz nights and poetry readings. And their food is 98 per cent vegan.

I went there with a friend who discretely commented on the “sickly looking vegans” there. And she wasn’t wrong. Many vegans or vegetarians don’t get adequate sustenance and do look very run down. We even studied a case for Family Law about a baby who died from malnutrition after his raw-food vegan mother breastfed him.

Remember that you can get very run-down on an omnivorous diet too. Imagine living on Burger King’s Creamy Mayo Cheeseburgers for a month, and they’re full of meat, dairy and eggs. You’d feel awful. You’d feel the same after just eating Oreos, BBQ Shapes and drinking V – and they’re vegan.

So the key is to make sure you get all the nutrients your body needs. Makes sense, right? And it may be trickier on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but it’s definitely not impossible. You could save a lot of money too. Pulses and legumes (think lentils, chickpeas and beans) are far better value for money than meat and eggs. But you need to get enough protein and iron, which is easy if you know how to do it.
Women need 46g of protein per day, and men need 56g. A serve of chick peas (100g) has 19g of protein. A 100g serving of black beans (AWESOME in Mexican dishes) has 22g. Half a cup of tempeh (delicious pressed tofu) has 15 grams of protein. And just two tablespoons of chia seeds will give you 4g.

Iron is a little trickier. Most vegans and vegetarians have to take a supplement, I won’t lie to you. Women need 18mg per day, and men just 8mg. A cup of cooked spinach will give you 2.7mg, and silverbeet 2.53mg.

Vitamin B12 is a bacteria found in the soil. It is most easily consumed via animal sources, so it’s a trump card for people who want to find fault in a vegan diet. It’s also very important – the baby with the vegan mother would have been saved by B12 injections. It’s easy and cheap to get enough via Pam’s Soy Milk, and a number of other plant milks have it as a supplement as well (such as almonds and rice). Alternatively, there are tablet supplements.

Getting all your nutrients on a vegan diet is possible. You’ll also save money and reduce your impact on the environment, and will probably lose weight too. But if you’re thinking of going vegan, then please don’t go all self-righteous on us. I reckon the worst myth surrounding vegans is that they’re all dicks.
This article first appeared in Issue 23, 2014.
Posted 4:38pm Sunday 14th September 2014 by Elisabeth Larsen.