Sara Picken-Brown, ‘THE FIGURE GENIE’ is a U.K based Nutrition & Fitness expert. A former classically trained professional ballerina her career has twisted and turned from dance to a professional Figure Athlete career spanning a decade. Her online nutrition programs, 1-on-1 bespoke Coaching and Rejuvenation Retreats have helped thousands of women love their bodies and live inspired healthy lives.

How To Avoid The Vegan Death Trap

Valetudo Retreats Luxury Healing HolidaysWhatever your stance on Veganism, one thing we can all agree on is that Veganism is here to stay.  As more and more people turn to a more sustainable and ethical means of nourishing themselves.

Over the last 20 years as a Health Coach and Nutrition Counsellor, I have seen the popularity of this ‘lifestyle’ choice growing in a tsunami -esque wave of advocates.  In some cases it seems to have become the new religion; a simple question of ‘would you like any mayonnaise’? Turns into a fact-bashing debate on more than one food industry, personal and societal ethics and  a caustic sprinkle of judgement all around.

From a professional stance, my personal opinions and dietary choices aside, I do believe that it is important that foundational nutrition basics be understood and factored for long term health and well-being.

With more education and availability of information on the many ways to follow a vegan lifestyle and still be thriving in good health,  more people have the knowledge and capability to follow this type of diet.  If you have the money, (to do it correctly is not cheap) and time in planning and preparation, then all power to you. Veganism certainly seems to be the trending  lifestyle choice of the financially independant  and globally conscious.

According to the Vegan Society , U.K; “In 2018 [they] surveyed 2,000 people aged 15 or over across England, Scotland and Wales. We found the number of vegans in Britain has doubled twice in the past four years: from 0.25% (150,000) in 2014 to 0.46% (276,000) in 2016 to 1.16% in 2018 (600,000).” Vegans demographics show 64% of vegans  in the UK are female, with 40% being aged 25-34. Business it appears is certainly booming in the ‘meat-free’ food industry, The Mintel Meat-Free Foods UK Report for 2012 shows that meat-free and free-from sales are expected to reach a total of £949m in 2012 with meat-free sales set to reach £607m and free-from market sales expected to reach £342m.

Statistics about the vegan industry, and make no mistake it is a booming industry, aside, I find a lot of confusion and doctrine surrounds this lifestyle choice when speaking to clients about their diet and how we can improve their hormonal balance, moods, energy, sleep and weight management.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the defining sectors of Vegetarianism and Veganism:

The Types:

When people think about a vegetarian diet, they typically think about a diet that doesn’t include meat, poultry or fish. But vegetarian diets vary in what foods they include and exclude:

  • Lacto-vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, poultry and eggs, as well as foods that contain them. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter, are included.
  • Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allow eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish and poultry, but allow dairy products and eggs.
  • Pescatarian diets exclude meat and poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allow fish.
  • Vegan diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products — and foods that contain these products.

Some of the more important considerations about balanced nutritional intake is that  vitamins and minerals are at optimal intake and absorbtion levels, which can be difficult if you are not aware of your personal requirements and are not planning your meals well.

Keep in mind that the more restrictive your diet is, the more challenging it can be to get all the nutrients you need. A vegan diet,  eliminates natural food sources of vitamin B-12, calcium can be limited, omega’s and essential fatty acids, Vitamin D and getting a full compliment of protein. Pay special attention to the following nutrients:

Calcium and vitamin D

Calcium helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Dark green vegetables, such as turnip and collard greens, kale, and broccoli, are good plant sources when eaten in sufficient quantities. 

Vitamin D also plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D is added to some products. Be sure to check food labels. Having just 10min a day in the sunshine can help with natural production of Vitamin D, but in the UK  you may need a vitamin D supplement (one derived from plants). 

Here are a few general observations about calcium content and absorption rates of different plant foods.

  • Leafy green veggies are often rich in calcium, but some of them are also high in oxalates, compounds that bind calcium and reduce its absorption. High-oxalate vegetables include spinach, beet greens, and chard. Even though these foods contain calcium, you won’t absorb much of it so they should not be considered good sources of calcium.
  • Kale, mustard greens, turnip greens and broccoli are low in oxalates so we absorb calcium from these foods very well. Absorption rates vary from 50 to 65% for these cruciferous vegetables. Collard greens are a little bit higher in oxalates but are also very rich in calcium and can be considered a good source of this nutrient.
  • Beans, nuts and seeds provide moderate amounts of calcium that is absorbed at relatively low rates. Soaking nuts and seeds can improve absorption. 
  • Calcium-set tofu—usually made with calcium sulfate—varies widely in its calcium content depending on how it is made. Its calcium is well-absorbed, though, at about 30%.
  • Calcium absorption from fortified plant milks is similar to absorption from cow’s milk when the type of calcium added is calcium carbonate. It’s a little lower when tricalcium phosphate is used, but still good at about 25%. Just be careful of the added sugar and preservatives to these type of products.
  • Calcium absorption from fortified fruit juices seems to be at least as good as from cow’s milk, or probably better. Again,  be careful of the added sugar and preservatives to these type of products
  • Cooked Chinese cabbage, turnip greens, mustard greens, collards (if you prefer raw greens, just double the quantity to get the same amount of calcium)
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Fortified plant milks
  • Fortified juices.

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. For this reason, it’s important for vegans to consider vitamin supplements. Vitamin B12 is needed for production of DNA (and therefore for cell division) and for maintaining nerve cells.

Two symptoms of B12 deficiency are:

  • Megaloblastic anemia, in which red blood cells become abnormally large because they can’t divide.
  • Nerve damage, which can result in a host of problems—everything from depression and mental confusion to tingling and numbness in extremities to a loss of balance and even paralysis.

The anemia is reversible with vitamin B12 therapy. The nerve damage is usually reversible, but not always.


Protein helps maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Eggs and dairy products are good sources, and you don’t need to eat large amounts to meet your protein needs. You can also get sufficient protein from plant-based foods and supplements (, if you eat a variety of them throughout the day. Plant sources include meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health. Diets that do not include fish and eggs are generally low in active forms of omega-3 fatty acids.  Walnuts, ground flaxseed and chia seeds are good sources of essential fatty acids. However, because conversion of plant-based omega-3 to the types used by humans is inefficient, you may want to consider fortified products or supplements or both.

Iron and zinc

Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit are good sources of iron. Because iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended intake of iron for vegetarians is almost double that recommended for nonvegetarians. To help your body absorb iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli, at the same time as you’re eating iron-containing foods.

Like iron, zinc is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal products. Cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts and wheat germ. Zinc is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in formation of proteins.

Some vegetarians & vegans rely too heavily on processed foods, which can be high in calories, sugar, fat and sodium. And they may not eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich foods, thus missing out on the nutrients they provide. Coupled with food sensitivities and gut health issues, restrictive diets like veganism can make things very difficult when it comes to getting your nutrient intake correct. Enough food and variety to cover nutrient bases without blowing your calorie intake away.

Planning is the key and knowing exactly what you are eating and that you are getting your needs met from the food you eat. 

Planning a healthy Veggie-Lifestyle 

To get the most out of a vegetarian diet, choose a variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, and whole grains. At the same time, cut back on less healthy choices, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and refined grains.

**It is advisable that you speak to a Nutrition expert to ensure you have a clear understanding of your needs.

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