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Balanced vegan diet: How can you get the nutrients you need?

The start of the year is a new chance to revisit your overall nutrition. This year, you may be curious about Veganuary—a 31-day vegan diet challenge throughout the month of January that encourages participants to stick with the diet year-round. Veganuary is also a non-profit organisation that started in England and Wales in 2014 to support and encourage people to eat a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets have continued to increase in popularity in recent years. From 2014 to 2018, there was a 600% increase in Americans subscribing to a vegan diet. (1) The British Nutrition Foundation reports that 2-3% of the UK population follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, with interest in reducing meat consumption on the rise. In 2017, 28% of people in the UK reported an interest in reducing their meat consumption, compared to 34% in 2018. (2) While “vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, there are some distinctions. A plant-based diet is any dietary pattern that includes a low amount of animal food and high amounts of foods from plants, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. A vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that is free from any animal products (e.g. no meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, or other foods derived from animals). For the purposes of this article, we will be using both terms to refer to the avoidance of animal-derived products in the diet. Whether you’re aiming to focus more on plants to get most of your nutrients or deciding to cut animal products completely, it is important to identify the best sources of protein, carbohydrate, and fat that fit into a plant-based diet. You may set out with the intention to better your health, but without careful planning, cutting out animal-based foods can leave you filling up on carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods, which aren’t best for your energy levels (due to blood sugar spikes and crashes), or your overall health. Below, we break down why people may choose to eat a vegan diet and what a healthy, balanced vegan diet truly looks like. Why people choose to eat a vegan diet There are many reasons people may be interested in trying a vegan diet, a major one being for the desired health benefits. Plant-based eating has been linked to lower BMI (body mass index), weight loss, lower cholesterol, lower risk of diabetes, intestinal diseases, heart disease, cataracts, certain cancers, and more. (3)(4) Adopting a vegan diet is also a lifestyle for many people who choose it for ethical reasons, including animal cruelty and environmental considerations. Many of the health benefits of plant-based diets are linked to the higher fibre content compared to animal-based diets. Since vegan diets are based around complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits, plant-based eaters tend to get closer to the 30 grams of fibre that is recommended daily. (5) Picturing a vegan diet may bring to mind brightly colored vegetables, fruits, and other healthy plant foods. However, many foods are technically vegan that aren’t health promoting (think: sugary soda, biscuits, greasy chips). So while the goal for many of eating a vegan diet is to eat more plants and plant-based foods, it can unintentionally lead to eating an unbalanced diet that is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates, specifically refined and ultra-processed foods (UPFs). A 2021 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that vegans consumed the most UPFs of any plant-based diet. (6) Eating a diet high in UPFs has excessive amounts of added sugar, unhealthy fats, salt, and low in micronutrients and fibre. This can wreak havoc on your glucose, energy levels, and overall health. In other words, vegan diets are not automatically healthy. (7) A high consumption of vegan-friendly foods like sugary drinks, refined grains, potatoes, desserts, and fruit juices has been associated with a higher risk of chronic disease and overall mortality. (4) In contrast, a balanced vegan diet can be health promoting. One of the ways is through better blood glucose levels due to increased fibre intake. A 2023 study found that diabetic participants on an animal-based diet had a six times greater risk of having uncontrolled blood glucose levels compared to those who adopted a vegetarian or vegan diet. (8) If you’re interested in eliminating animal products, it’s important to limit added sugars and get enough protein from plant-based sources to steady glucose. Eating protein, especially pairing a source of carbs with a protein, is key to helping balance blood sugar. Eating a vegan diet comes with extra challenges, especially attaining proper nutrition from vegan foods. Trying a vegan diet this year? Keep reading to learn how to get the nutrients you need with a balanced vegan diet. Sources of nutrients for vegans Since vegan diets are free from any animal products or byproducts and often plant-based, it’s important to understand which vegan foods fit into each macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) category for balanced vegan nutrition. Here are the best sources of vegan nutrition for each macronutrient: Protein sources: Beans, peas, and lentils; nuts, seeds, and soy products (such as tofu and tempeh). Carb sources: Whole grains (quinoa, barley, oats), whole-grain bread and pasta, brown rice, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables. Fat sources: Plant oils (canola, olive oil, coconut), avocado, nuts and nut butters, and seeds It’s important to note that many meat alternatives on the market that are designed to replace animal-based foods like burgers and sausages are often not a healthier option. These foods can be low in protein and high in salt, oil, and sugar. If searching for a meat alternative, look for whole soy-based products like tofu and tempeh that have few additives. Healthy vegan nutrition should revolve around the rule of three: Fill ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (e.g. asparagus, Brussels sprouts, peppers), ¼ with high-quality protein (e.g. tofu), and the remaining ¼ with complex carbohydrates (e.g. sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa). Don’t forget to include healthy fats (e.g. avocado, nuts, seeds, or a drizzle of olive oil) as well. Vegan nutrition advice If you follow a vegan diet, it’s crucial that you eat a balanced diet that satisfies macronutrient and micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) needs, as vegans are more prone to nutritional deficiencies that can lead to future health problems like anemia, stroke, cognitive impairment, decreased bone health, and more. (9) Nutritional deficiencies are common among people who follow an unbalanced vegan diet, like those who eat an abundance of ultra-processed foods. Common micronutrient deficiencies include vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, selenium, iodine, iron, zinc, riboflavin, and omega-3 fatty acids. (7) Additionally, because plant-based sources of protein are not as easily utilized by the body and have a different mix of amino acids compared to animal sources, it’s important to ensure you are getting enough protein from a variety of sources to ensure you get all of the amino acids your body needs. (10) Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame), quinoa, and buckwheat are complete proteins that provide all nine essential amino acids, and other plant-based foods that aren’t complete proteins but provide a good number of amino acids include beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds. To eat a balanced vegan diet, some of the recommendations from the National Health Service include: (11) Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Have some fortified dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower-sugar options). Eat some beans, pulses, and other proteins. Eat nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts) every day. Have fortified foods or supplements containing nutrients that are more difficult to get through a vegan diet, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, calcium and iron. Drink plenty of fluids (the NHS recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day). While these are broad recommendations for people following a vegan diet, Lingo recommends that you tailor your own vegan diet to include foods that allow you to keep your glucose levels steady. This may mean: Base meals on a quality source of protein (like tofu or tempeh) and make sure to include protein at every meal. Tailor carb portions based on your own blood sugar response and choose whole grain carbs whenever possible. Eat fruits and vegetables that don’t cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly. Vegans should also still focus on limiting ultra-processed foods that are high in added sugars, simple carbohydrates, unhealthy fat, and sodium. Although many foods may be vegan-friendly, it does not mean they are nutritionally sound. To adhere to a balanced diet for good nutrition, follow the rule of three as outlined above to balance non-starchy vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. A final note from Lingo Since many people are looking to eat healthier and increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods, a plant-based diet might be something to explore. Plant-based diets have grown in popularity in recent years, and some studies point to health benefits such as improved BMI, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of heart disease. (11) However, if a balanced vegan diet is not followed, it can create nutritional challenges. Nutritional deficiencies can be common for vegans, but can be avoided with fortified foods and supplements such as B12 and vitamin D. (9) Although eating a vegan diet higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein may lead to glucose spikes, using a continuous glucose monitor like Lingo can help you understand your habits and patterns and work towards eating a more balanced diet to limit glucose spikes.   Lingo is not a medical device and not designed to treat or diagnose any disease or illness. If you have medical questions or concerns regarding your glucose, please contact your doctor.

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Image for Why is losing weight after 40 harder? Advice from a Lingo Dietitian

Why is losing weight after 40 harder? Advice from a Lingo Dietitian

Why is it that after about age 40, it seems those extra pounds start creeping on and it’s harder to shed extra weight? In this article, we’ll discuss the reasons it may be harder to maintain a healthy weight after 40 and effective strategies to either maintain your weight or lose weight and improve body composition. How hormones impact your weight As we get older, for both men and women, hormones levels such as testosterone and oestrogen gradually start to shift. For women, this tends to be more of a dramatic shift. Many women report that it can be hard to not only lose weight but maintain the weight they stayed at for years. This change in body composition and weight is typically associated with menopause when there is a dramatic shift in hormones. However, menopause does not happen overnight. It is typically a gradual shift from perimenopause, which is when women first start to see irregularity in their menstrual cycles and may experience other symptoms such as sleep disturbances, to menopause, which is 12 months after a women’s last period (1). Weight loss or even weight maintenance can feel harder during these years, which is typically around age 40 to 55 and lasts on average around 7 years, but can last as long as 14 years for some women. (2,3) A change in hormones does not just happen to women as they age, but for men as well. While the side effects may not be as dramatic, the gradual decrease in testosterone can also make it more challenging for men to maintain muscle or lose weight. (3,4) Why you may struggle to lose weight One impact of the shift in hormones as you age is a natural decline in lean body mass (aka muscle). It has been shown that the ageing body needs more stimulus to maintain and build muscle than it does at a younger age. (5) What does this mean? There are two main components to building and maintaining muscle: Using the muscle (e.g. strength training) Eating enough protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Does the chicken come before the egg? As people get older, they tend to be less active. Is this decrease in activity because of muscle loss? Or is the muscle loss because we decreased activity? Likely both. Hormone shifts can contribute to the loss of lean mass, and the decrease in activity also creates less stimuli for the body to maintain the muscle it has, much less build any new muscle. The way our body metabolises protein can change also as we get older. Studies have shown that muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or how much protein our body needs to stimulate muscle growth, increases as we age. (6) To put it simply, you need more protein to stimulate muscle growth than you did when you were 20. Because of these changes, not only does it seem like it’s harder to maintain or lose weight, but you also may notice that your overall body composition is changing. If nothing is done to mitigate this, you can start to lose muscle mass while putting on fat mass. On top of the physiological changes that happen with age, many adults over 40 may experience lifestyle shifts that can impact weight management. Taking care of children, a stressful job, or other life changes can impact things like sleep, eating habits and activity compared to when you were younger. Studies show that poor sleep can impact your metabolic health and promote weight gain. (7) Additionally, chronic stress can impact weight management by disrupting the body’s hunger and fullness signals and a change in eating habits that induce weight gain. (8,9) So we've covered the major reasons why your weight may change as you get older, or why it may be harder to lose weight after 40, but what can you actually do about it? The good news is, there are several strategies that you can use to effectively lose weight no matter if you are in your 40s, 50s, or older. Tips to manage weight after 40 Prioritise protein Eating enough high-quality protein is one of the most important things you can focus on as you get older. Protein will help you maintain lean muscle mass, which burns more calories at rest than fat, meaning you can eat more and maintain your weight. It also helps to keep you full, meaning you are less likely to crave the carb-heavy, sugary, and calorie-rich foods that make weight management harder. Remember that you’ll need more protein for it to trigger all these beneficial effects. Aim for 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of your ideal body weight daily, with at least 30 g per meal to maximise muscle protein synthesis. Some high-quality protein sources include salmon, shrimp, chicken, beef, eggs, whey protein powder, cottage cheese, and tofu. Strength train In combination with eating enough protein, strength training is the other major contributor to maintaining and/or losing weight as you age. Lean muscle mass requires more calories to maintain than fat, meaning you can eat more calories (especially calories from protein) and still maintain your weight. Strength training helps your body use the protein you eat more effectively (5) and can also help preserve metabolic health by increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering blood pressure. Stabilise glucose Eating nutrient dense foods that promote stable glucose will help to ensure you are curbing the glucose spikes and crashes that can stimulate hunger and cravings throughout the day. Using your Lingo CGM can help to identify the foods that help you minimise glucose spikes and maintain your energy throughout the day. Check out more information on how to avoid glucose spikes here. Try time restricted eating Sleep and stress can impact your circadian alignment, which may increase your risk for weight gain and metabolic consequences with age. One way to combat this is a type of intermittent fasting called Time Restricted Eating (TRE). TRE means restricting your food intake to specific periods of the day to synchronize your body's internal clock with your external environment. Set a specific time frame, usually lasting about 8-12 hours, in which you will only eat within that period. For example, you may eat breakfast at 9-10 a.m. and dinner around 5-7 p.m. with lunch and/or snacks in between, but limit any other food outside of that window, especially 2-3 hours before bed. TRE has been found to help with weight loss and improve metabolic health such as improved insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. (10, 11) Cut out or decrease alcohol intake When trying to lose weight, alcohol ends up being empty calories that your body must burn before it can metabolise fat or carbs. What does this mean? You may end up storing the food you are eating because your body can’t store alcohol and puts fat and carb metabolism on the back burner. Additionally, depending on the type of alcohol you consume, it can impact your glucose by increasing or decreasing it, which subjects you to the effects of the glucose roller coaster. This can impact hunger, fullness, and your ability to maintain stable glucose. Lastly, alcohol may lower your inhibitions making it harder to choose glucose-friendly food choices. (16) When trying to lose weight, it may be best to limit or cut out alcohol altogether. Limit ultra-processed foods and focus on whole foods Along with stabilising your glucose, focusing on whole foods and limiting ultra-processed foods can help you manage your weight as you get older. It has been shown that people eat an average of 500 more calories per day when the food is highly processed vs. minimally processed. (12) Not only are you missing out on important nutrients when you eat highly processed food, but this can lead to weight gain in as little as two weeks when compared to eating a diet of unprocessed foods. (12) Focusing on food quality is one of the best things you can do. (13) Keep your ultra-processed food consumption to a minimum, and aim for your diet to consist of primarily whole foods such as: - Fresh or frozen meat and seafood - Vegetables, especially non-starchy veggies and leafy greens - Unprocessed carbohydrates such as beans, legumes, and whole grains - Dairy like milk, yoghurt, and cheese - Healthy plant-based fats: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds Get quality sleep Poor sleep can impact not only weight, but also your glucose, metabolic health and overall mood and energy. (14) The NHS recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults. Having trouble getting quality sleep? Check out our tips for improving sleep and getting a good night’s rest. Manage stress Finding ways to relieve stress can not only help you manage your weight but can also lead to other benefits like reduced blood pressure and more steady glucose. (15) Identify ways you can destress, which may be different for everyone. Find something that works for you: breathing exercises, yoga, walking in nature, journaling, practising gratitude, or taking a warm bath or shower are all things you can implement to reduce daily stress. A final note from Lingo While getting older means your hormones and lifestyle may change, you can still work with them to reach your body composition goals. By focusing on the foods you eat, working to maintain and/or build muscle, and looking at your overall lifestyle including sleep and stress, you can still lose weight in your 40s and beyond.

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Why meal planning matters

When you hear the words meal preparation, you may envision hours in the kitchen on what is supposed to be a relaxing Sunday afternoon. It doesn’t have to be daunting, and meal preparation has been associated with a quality diet. (1) Meal planning and prep can be broken down into a few easily managed categories. Map out a menu. Taking stock of what you have in the cupboards and what’s on sale at the supermarket, plan out meals for the week, paying close attention to the meals that fall in your Focus Area or eating occasions that tend to derail your steady state. Plan your grocery runs. Make a list to ensure you’ll pick up all the ingredients you need to make your meals for the next few days. In the days that follow, you’ll spend less time and potentially less money as you avoid last-minute supermarket runs. Make quick work of your weekday dinner prep by cleaning and chopping base vegetables like lettuces, onions, carrots, and celery ahead of time. You’ll save time throughout the week when these ingredients are ready to be added to your plate or recipe. Any extra that you don’t use throughout the week can be frozen or stored and used later. Pre-portion your snacks. Rather than reaching for the entire bag of almonds when you’re hungry, portion out your snacks. Portioning snacks can save you calories too. If you know your time is tight this week, prepare a meal that can be frozen and then removed from the freezer and put directly in the slow cooker, similar to slow cooker chicken fajitas recipe. Find aspects of meal preparation that you feel most comfortable with and fit your skill level and time constraints. You might make a week’s worth of dinner meals, a few side dishes, or simply stick to portioning out snacks. Whatever investment you make in meal planning will pay off with less hectic, more balanced meals in the days that follow.


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