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M&S Health & Nutrition

Vegan Diets

Vegan Diets

What is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is entirely plant based including fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds. Like vegetarians a vegan diet does not include any meat but in addition, vegans do not eat foods that have been derived from animals such as honey, eggs, milk.

Being vegan is not just about diet, it is also a lifestyle choice. Vegans (and some vegetarians) do not wear or purchase any product made from animals such as leather, silk, wool and will not use any cosmetics that contain ingredients derived from animals or that have been tested on animals.

Staying Healthy on a Vegan Diet

Healthy eating on a vegan diet is achievable but you need to plan your diet and make sure that you eat a wide range of plant foods:

Starchy carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, rice, cereals & pasta for energy - try to eat between six and 11 servings a day, and go for wholegrain rather than refined foods, as they contain more iron and B vitamins. Fortified breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread are also good sources of iron and bread also contains some selenium and calcium.

Fruit & veg to provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients - aim for at least five portions (5x80g) a day and don't forget to eat a rainbow of colours to ensure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Try to include plenty of green leafy vegetable such as kale, broccoli, watercress, spinach and cabbage as they contain useful amounts of calcium and iron. Other plant sources of iron include dried apricots and calcium is also found in dried figs.

As the iron in plant foods is usually more difficult for the body to absorb, vegans should also eat foods which are high in vitamin C which can help with absorption. Vitamin C sources in the diet include oranges, kiwi fruits and peppers.

Protein foods such as beans, lentils, pulses, grains, nuts, seeds and soya products such as tofu, soya milk and tempeh. Aim for two to three servings daily.

Protein is made up of amino acids including 'essential' amino acids which have to be provided by diet, as the body cannot make them. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs all contain these essential amino acids, but plant sources of protein don't. By eating a varied diet including different sources of plant protein vegans can get enough protein in their diet including the 8 essential amino acids.

Beans and lentils are also low in fat and contain fibre, iron and B vitamins. Nuts and seeds are also an important sources of B vitamins and Brazil nuts are a vegan source of Selenium

As vegans avoid oily fish, the richest plant source of omega 3 oils is flaxseed oil. It provide short chain omega 3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which our bodies can then use to make some of the longer chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It may be difficult for vegans to obtain enough omega 3 in their diets so taking a supplement that is suitable for vegans will help.

Vegan dairy food alternatives such as soya, rice or oat milk are needed for protein, calcium, zinc, riboflavin & vitamin B12 - aim for two to four servings a day. Hard water is also a beneficial vegan sources of calcium.

Other nutrients vegans diets need to include are:

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is the only B vitamin that is not present in plant sources so it is important vegans obtain it in their diets from fortified breakfast cereals, soya milk, yeast extracts or supplements

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed to help absorb calcium from foods. Most people can make enough vitamin D from exposure of the skin to sunlight but it is also found in some foods such as eggs and oily fish. Some vegans may have low amounts of vitamin D if they do not get adequate amounts from sun during the summer - especially if they cover up for religious reasons, have dark skin or are elderly. To make up for this vegans should ensure they eat vitamin D fortified foods or take a vitamin D supplement

Iodine

Iodine is found in meat and dairy foods so vegans may be at risk of low iodine intakes. Good vegan sources of iodine include seaweed or supplements. Vegans should only eat small amounts of seaweed to avoid excessive iodine intakes which can lead to thyroid dysfunction.

By having a well planned and varied diet a vegan should be able to obtain enough nutrients needed for health.

For more information visit The Vegan Society

How we can help...

Product Information Lists

We also offer a list of products suitable for vegans. This list is updated monthly and is also available in store or from customer services.

All foods included on our vegan list will not contain:

  • meat, fish or poultry protein or any products derived from slaughtered animals (e.g. animal lecithin, animal rennet)
  • animal carcass fats ( including suet, lard or dripping)
  • meat, fish or bone stock
  • gelatine, aspic, cochineal, shellac or carmine
  • egg or egg derivatives
  • milk or dairy products (e.g. butter, yogurt, cream, cheese etc) or dairy derivatives
  • honey

Food Labelling

We label foods that are suitable for vegans with the below statement:

vegan statement

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