dr Alexa Iwan: What speaks for and against a vegan diet


Writed by - Andy Gocker
  dr Alexa Iwan: What speaks for and against a vegan diet
The nutritionist and TV presenter Dr. Alexa Ivan. © Streetstyleshooters, SpotOn

January becomes Veganuary

The 'Veganuary' month of action has also been available in Germany for three years and it's getting bigger every year. Not only are more and more private individuals deciding to take part, but also more and more organizations and companies are encouraging people to eat vegan for a month in January. So does the food retailer Kaufland. Nutritionist and Kaufland expert Dr. In an interview, Alexa Iwan talks about the advantages and possible disadvantages of a plant-based diet.

Are you eating vegan yourself this month?

dr Alexa Iwan: I'm a classic flexitarian - I eat vegan dishes alongside dishes with animal products all year round. My personal focus in nutrition is explicitly on the quality of food and not on a specific nutritional style. In this respect: No, I will not eat vegan for a whole month.

What are the health benefits of a vegan diet?

Iwan: I would like to say one basic sentence first: It's okay here - and above all for me! - not that we all become vegans. It's about using January to try out whether it's possible - and maybe even tasty - to incorporate more plant-based foods and dishes into your own diet.

The advantages of a plant-based diet are well documented: The reduced intake of animal fats and the simultaneous increased intake of secondary plant substances and fiber reduces the risk of various widespread nutrition-related diseases - such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer .

Are 30 days enough to notice the first changes?

Iwan: In any case, 30 days is enough to feel a difference and maybe lose some weight. But you shouldn't delude yourself: Your overall health won't improve overnight. Some people may even struggle with the increased intake of fiber at first and feel a rumbling in their intestines. And of course it always depends on the initial situation: someone who previously had a very unfavorable diet will certainly feel a bigger difference than someone who previously ate quite health-consciously. Most people report an increase in energy as they consume more plant products.

Vegan diet is a big change and a challenge for many at the beginning. How do you stay on the ball?

Iwan: I assume that some will actually struggle a bit at the beginning, because cooking vegan requires a bit of rethinking in the kitchen. How do I substitute cheese? How do I get flavor into food if, for example, I can't fry bacon cubes? What do I actually smear on the bread? And how about sweets?

Therefore, it makes sense to plan the veganuary well in advance and consciously. So first look for appealing recipes in vegan forums. Kaufland also offers numerous vegan recipe ideas on its website kaufland.de/veganuary. You should find out which products you can use to replace eggs, for example, and research which vegan products belong in the pantry. And then it is important to make really concrete meal plans for the January days or weeks so that you don't get into the situation of being hungry and not knowing what to cook or eat.

Can everyone try the Veganuary? Or is a vegan diet not suitable for some people?

Iwan: In principle, every healthy adult can try the Veganuary. If in doubt, you can consult a nutritionist or your doctor beforehand. People with a sensitive digestive system should take it easy, because a purely vegan diet greatly increases the fiber content in the food, which can lead to problems. In this case, stay with individual vegan days if necessary. The German Nutrition Society does not recommend a vegan diet for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants, children and young people.

What tips do you have for new vegans?

Ivan: Be gentle with yourself! Switching to a purely vegan diet is a major intervention in shopping, cooking and eating habits that have been practiced for years. And changing behavior takes time. Something will always go wrong in between, you might even put a piece of cheese in your mouth and think 'Oh no!' afterwards.

A good approach is to initially only make one meal of the day vegan, e.g. breakfast. And only when the vegan breakfast has become second nature and you no longer think every morning 'What can I eat now?' do you switch to another meal for lunch or dinner. In this way, the digestive system also has enough time to adjust to the new foods.

Can a vegan diet also have disadvantages?

Ivan: If you look at it very strictly, a vegan diet is malnutrition. Because it is not possible to cover the human nutrient requirement with a purely plant-based diet. You have to know that. A vegan diet does not work by simply eliminating meat, fish & Co. from the menu. Vegans should think about where they get which nutrients and in what amounts. For example, the protein quality of plant foods is not as high as that of animal foods. In order to absorb enough protein - especially as an older person - you should know that you have to combine grains, legumes and nuts in order to achieve the highest possible protein quality. And you also have to eat a little more in terms of quantity, which is not so easy for many women.

I would advise all vegans to have their blood levels checked regularly for their personal micronutrient supply so that they don't fall behind in the first place.

Which vitamins and nutrients do you have to pay particular attention to when following a vegan diet?

Iwan: As mentioned above, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and selenium are officially considered critical nutrients in a vegan diet. Of course, that doesn't mean that all vegans are undersupplied with these nutrients per se. But it is an indication that you should consult a nutritional value table more often to calculate whether you actually get 1,000 mg of calcium a day, for example.

What do you think of meat or dairy substitutes as part of a vegan diet?

Iwan: When it comes to substitute products, the first thing I always look at is the list of ingredients. What is the product made of? There is no benefit in giving up animal products and instead eating a highly processed artificial product. However, the manufacturers also know this and are constantly improving the products and the selection.

Basically, the replacement products make the changeover easier because you can replace what you are used to with a similar product. But one must not assume that the vegan substitute product has the same nutrient profile as the animal product. For example, plant drinks do not contain the same amount of protein as milk. The only exception are the soy drinks. In contrast to cow's milk, the raw materials (oats, rice, almonds, etc.) do not contain any calcium. Calcium must therefore be added. However, this is only permitted for conventional drinks, but not for organic products. A few organic plant drink manufacturers are therefore adding calcium-rich algae to their products, which has been permitted since the beginning of 2022.

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