Vegetarians, as you know, don’t eat poultry or meat and may omit fish as well. Vegans take things one step further and stay away from anything that involves an animal by-product. This means that eggs, dairy and even honey are off limits.
These dietary restrictions probably seem drastic to some. How can a vegan get all the nutrients he/she needs when so many foods are cut out of the diet? The answer is: it’s easy!
When questioning the wisdom of a vegan diet, many bring up the issue of protein. Without red meat, chicken and even fish, how could someone be expected to keep up with daily protein requirements, never mind other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes? Let’s take a look at five important tips for a healthy vegan diet.
The truth is most foods contain some protein. For vegans, finding protein food sources is quite easy. Nuts, nut butters, and seeds provide one rich source of protein. Soy products like tofu and soymilk are another good source. Rounding out these two food groups are beans and lentils. And too, vegans can incorporate commercially-available protein powders into their meals. These protein powders contain pea protein, rice protein, hemp protein, and soy protein.
Vegan diets don’t contain any cholesterol. They are also very low in saturated fat. Nevertheless, certain foods such as coconut oil, avocado, nut butters, margarine, olive, and other vegetable oils and seeds like chia and flax all contain fat. In fact, there are enough fat sources that even vegans have to be careful and should eat fat-containing foods in moderation.
3. Vitamin D
There isn’t any vitamin D to be had in the vegan diet. You’ll have to get your vitamin D everyday from the sun or drink vitamin D-enriched soy, almond, rice, or coconut milk.
Many are afraid that without dairy, it will be impossible to meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium every day. However, there are plenty of alternate sources of dairy in the vegan diet: dark green veggies, soybeans, tempeh, almond butter, and orange juice. Soy yogurt fortified with calcium is another option. Vegans can also take a calcium supplement.
Meeting iron needs is a big concern for those contemplating a vegan diet. Many think that the best sources of iron are found in red meat. While this is definitely true, beans and dark green leafy vegetables are also excellent sources of iron. You can also try adding blackstrap molasses and prune juice to your weekly meals.
By doing a little meal planning—no different from what non-vegans do really—you can eat a nutritionally-balanced vegan diet. You could also be the recipient of some pretty impressive health benefits of vegan diet. Research has shown that vegans could have a lower risk for cataracts, cancer, and heart disease.
You can also take comfort in the fact that no animals have been killed to provide you with food.
Beck, L., “I’m on a vegan diet. Do I need to use protein powder?” The Globe and Mail web site, June 24, 2013; www.theglobeandmail.com, last accessed June 26, 2013.
Appleby, P.N., et al., “Diet, vegetarianism, and cataract risk,” Am J Clin Nutr. May 2011; 93(5): 1128-35.
Tantamango-Bartley, Y., et al., “Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population,” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. February 2013; 22(2): 286-94.