Vegan essentials: From being marginal, the vegan diet is becoming more mainstream

By Shubhangi Shah

“If (Mahatma) Gandhi were alive today, he would probably be a vegan,” says Dr. Kiran Ahuja, vegan food and nutrition specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India.

Ahuja was referring to Gandhi’s book, The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, in which he wrote, “In my opinion, there are definite disadvantages in taking milk or meat. To get meat, we have to kill. And we are certainly not entitled to any milk other than breast milk in our early childhood. However, in an earlier paragraph, Gandhi described being terribly afflicted with dysentery. “I was reduced to a skeleton, but I stubbornly refused to take milk or buttermilk,” he wrote. However, as soon as he drank goat’s milk, “it seemed to me to bring new life.” Appearing to make the case for veganism, Gandhi wrote: “I am convinced that in the vast vegetable kingdom there must be a kind which, while supplying the necessary substances which we derive from milk and meat, is free from their drawbacks, ethical and otherwise.”

It seems that Gandhi’s view on veganism is similar to most of us. Sounds clean in theory but difficult in practice. That’s the problem with the vegan diet, because it seems restrictive (since you can’t eat animals and their products) and it can be laborious to follow. But Dr. Ahuja thinks otherwise. “Being vegan is an ancient Indian (sic) practice,” she says, giving the example of the Brokpa tribe in Ladakh, who have been vegan for centuries. Unfortunately, the tribe turns to an alternative diet of dairy, eggs, and meat. It is attributed to climate change, which has led to hotter summers and winters, damaging traditional crops and attracting pests.

Oat milk in a glass and a cup on a blue background. Flakes and ears for oatmeal and granola on a wooden plate.

From marginal, the vegan diet is becoming more and more common, thanks to a growing awareness towards health and the environment. “It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers,” says Sreemathy Venkatraman, clinical nutritionist and founder of “Mitha Aahara,” adding, “It is also beneficial for hypertension and the fight against obesity”. Not only our health, it’s also good for the health of the planet. “It produces less greenhouse gas emissions, consumes less energy and has a much smaller environmental footprint,” says dietitian Neha Pathania of Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.

About 39% of India’s population is vegetarian, according to US think tank Pew Research. However, dairy products are an integral part of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. Although the consumption of meat is considered cruel in many quarters, the same is not true for dairy products. PETA India’s Dr. Ahuja, however, paints a different picture. “There was a time of family farms. But today most cows and buffaloes are kept on overcrowded farms or factory farms where they are treated like milk producing machines,” she says. Describing how the dairy industry works, she says, like humans, cows or buffaloes must have recently calved to produce milk.

“Thus, they are crudely and artificially inseminated by workers who hold down the animals in difficulty or put them under restraint and push their arms and rods with semen into their vaginas,” she adds.

Once their milk production decreases, they end up in butcher stalls or on the streets. The fate of male calves is not better either. “Since they cannot be reared for milk, they are either sold as beef or end up on the streets,” says Dr Ahuja. As a result, dairy farming inflicts unacceptable and unavoidable pain and suffering on cows, buffaloes and their calves, she adds.

Whether for health, ethical or environmental reasons, there are some things you need to know before going vegan. It is primarily a strict plant-based diet, devoid of any animal or animal-derived products. Juxtaposed with popular belief, it’s “nutritionally adequate” when planned well, says nutritionist Venkatraman. The key here is to plan it appropriately based on the needs of the individual and the stage of the life cycle they are in. Obviously, a vegan diet for a pregnant woman would be different from that of an infant or an elderly person, she adds.

So what foods can a vegan have? “The answer is anything that comes from plants, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as cereals, millet, rice and wheat, legumes, soy products, nuts and oilseed,” says nutritionist Venkatraman. As dairy alternatives, you can have oat milk, or that obtained from coconut, almond, soy, etc., explains dietician Pathania. With the popularization of this diet, more and more companies are offering vegan products, which are now becoming easily accessible to consumers.

“Research predicts that the demand for plant-based dairy and meat alternatives will increase over the next two years,” says Avnish Chhabria, founder of Wellbeing Nutrition, which makes ingredient-based nutraceuticals. herbal. “It’s mainly driven by Generation Y,” he adds.

One of the concerns around a vegan diet is the deficiency of certain nutrients, especially protein and calcium. However, one of the nutrients of greatest concern is vitamin B12, which can only be derived from animal sources. “This vitamin keeps nerves, blood cells and DNA healthy,” says nutritionist Venkatraman, adding, “Its deficiency causes symptoms such as nerve damage, fatigue, tingling in the hands and feet. , numbness, blurred vision and digestive problems. If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible neurological effects.

Vitamin B12 is naturally available in dairy products like milk and cheese, as well as in eggs and meat. Therefore, if you are switching to a vegan diet, pay attention to your vitamin B12 intake. Taking supplements can help, Venkatraman recommends.

For calcium, you can have leafy green vegetables. For protein, you can have tofu, lentils, legumes, or tempeh. “Tempeh is a 100% plant-based, low-carb, high-protein food ideal for a vegan diet,” says Siddharth Ramasubramanian, Founder and CEO of Vegolution India, the creators of Hello Tempayy. Made from naturally grown and fermented soy, it’s a 100% plant-based protein, which is also gluten-free, low in saturated fat and carbs, and high in fiber, he adds.

Since tempeh undergoes fermentation, it is rich in probiotics and several macronutrients, says nutritionist Dr. Priyanka Marakini. Made from pure soy, 100 grams contains 19 grams of protein, she adds. According to the CEO of Vegolution India, this plant-based protein product is also versatile and can be incorporated into several dishes such as curries, kebabs and rolls among others.

Therefore, if you are fully committed to going vegan, there are several food options available. However, it would be helpful if you consult a qualified nutritionist or dietician as he/she can help you with substitutes and a healthy transition.