Animal products such as meat, fish, honey and dairy products are still an integral part of everyday life for many. At the same time, the demand for more plant-based food and attention to sustainability is increasing, according to experts. We consult Iris Groenenberg, nutrition and health expert at the Nutrition Centre, and Claudia Tjan, dietician and recipe developer at Green Chef.
First of all, it is good to know what exactly a vegan lifestyle entails. “Vegans choose to exclude animal products from their diet. This means 100 percent plant-based food. They don’t just consider their meals,” explains Groenenberg. “It’s a lifestyle that also avoids cosmetics, clothing and entertainment that use animals.” Think about care products that have been tested on animals or contain animal ingredients. Vegans do not wear wool, leather or fur clothing as a statement against the system of using animals as objects or means of production.
Better for animals and the environment
For many people, the animal and environmental aspect is one of the main reasons for becoming vegan. Groenenberg: “Most people make this choice for animal welfare or for the planet. The food system has a major impact on the climate: food is responsible for 20-35% of all greenhouse gas emissions. More than half of the emissions from our food come from meat and dairy products .By not eating meat one day a week, you reduce your diet’s CO2 emissions by 5 to 10 percent.”
There is also the health aspect. Dietician Claudia Tjan: “A plant-based diet can be a way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, because you get more fiber and less saturated fat and cholesterol. Provided that there is a healthy and balanced content with, for example, sufficient pulses and nuts.”
Switching to vegan food can definitely be a bit of a puzzle at first. Tjan: “Animal products contain important nutrients. Before you get started, you must therefore familiarize yourself with vegan nutrition and deficiencies or consult a dietitian and calculate your diet and look for suitable substitutes. Think legumes, grains, tofu, unsalted nuts and seeds.”
Nutritionist Groenenberg explains: “Fish and dairy products have been shown to have specific health benefits. For example, it lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. Most vegans take the forgotten health benefits for granted. They make sure they get enough of a number of nutrients through food or supplements.” In particular, think about protein, iron, calcium, iodine, vitamin D, B2 and B12. She continues: “The proteins in vegetable sources are sometimes more difficult to digest or provide fewer essential amino acids. You can easily solve this by combining certain plant products. Whole grains and legumes, such as lentils, kidney beans and white beans, for example, are a good combination.”
For some groups, the risk of a shortage is somewhat greater and the consequences can also be greater, she adds. “This applies to pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and children. In the Netherlands, it is not recommended for these groups to eat vegan, but it is always recommended to seek help from a dietitian who has specific knowledge about vegan food.”
Step by step
Sure, but know this: how do we start? It’s easier to change your diet gradually than to change your diet strictly all at once, advise both experts. Consider replacing the bacon stew with unsalted nuts or use chickpeas in the curry instead of chicken. Tjan: “That way you slowly get used to it. For example, first stop with meat, then with fish and finally with dairy.”
Also think about what you are going to eat in advance, precisely because you are constantly working on what can and cannot be done. “Consciously choose how often you want to eat something so that you get varied meals. Recipes can be found in cookbooks and on the Internet that help with a balanced and balanced diet.”
Groenenberg: “It’s important to choose what you’re comfortable with and what works for you. A vegan lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be. But it’s clear that we have to to do something about the habitability of the planet. In the Netherlands we eat more meat on average than recommended. Eating less meat is therefore a very good first step for almost everyone.”