Does thinking about the topic of Vegan Nutrition fill you with uncertainty? If so, you are not alone. Nutrition for vegans seems to be one of the biggest assumed obstacles, whether you are 100% vegetarian or considering checking it out. But you may be surprised to learn it is easier than you think. Let's chat about this topic for a bit...
When Jeff and I went vegan back in 1994, the LAST thing I thought about was whether I was meeting my nutritional needs. Why? Because I never gave my nutrition a second thought before I went vegetarian, so why now would I go on "high alert" just because I went vegan?
It was only when people starting peppering me with questions like "Where do you get your protein?" and "If you don't drink milk, where will you get your calcium?" that I began to wonder about it all.
And if you have landed on this page, you are likely vegan (or vegetarian or non-vegetarian thinking about going vegan) and wonder if you can meet your vegan nutritional needs if you go down this path.
Since I have been a healthy and happy Vegan since 1994, and a Vegan Nutritional Consultant with an ever-growing list of healthy and happy clientele, I can say with certainty that you can meet your vegan nutrition needs -- and it's WAY easier than you might think.
But don't take my word for it. Let's see what "the powers that be" have to say about the topic of vegan nutrition...
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services join forces to put together yearly dietary guidelines.
Here is what the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for America has to say about the vegan diet (p. 45):
Research On Vegetarian Eating Patterns
"In prospective studies of adults, compared to non-vegetarian eating patterns, vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes, lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality. Several clinical trials have documented that vegetarian eating patterns lower blood pressure.
"On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids); fewer overall calories; and more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C than do non-vegetarians. Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index. These characteristics and other lifestyle factors associated with a vegetarian diet may contribute to the positive health outcomes that have been identified among vegetarians."
Well, yes and no.
Overall, YES. As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet which includes vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats, then you will be on your way to meeting your vegan nutritional needs.
But there are 5 topics about vegan nutrition that I believe all Vegans should pay special attention to. So let's talk about these now...
But does that mean we have to eat animals in order to get our B12? No way. Because B12 has been added to meat substitutes, breakfast cereals, and non-dairy beverages. Personally, I don't eat a lot of meat substitutes, breakfast cereals, or non-dairy beverages, so I use a B12 supplement made from methylcobalamin, which is the natural kind of B12 that comes from bacteria.
By the way, it is important to note that adding nutrients to our food supply is not reserved just for the vegan population. Over the years, Vitamin D, folate, and iodine have also been added because the general population tends to be low.
But with more and more people moving away from eating fish due to mercury contamination, and since vegans and vegetarians do not eat fish, it is important to understand where you will get your EPA/DHA. In fact, this is a topic that many vegans simply don't know about, so you will be ahead of the curve if you learn all you can about it now.
When we eat foods rich in Alpha-Linolenic Acid (LNA), an essential fatty acid found in foods such as flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, and soy, our bodies then can convert this LNA to EPA and DHA.
BUT, some of us can perform this internal conversion easily; others have some challenges making this conversion. So if someone is deficient in DHA/EPA, this could mean their body is not converting properly, or they are simply not ingesting enough of the raw materials to make this conversion. If you are eating enough flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, and soy, then consuming excess hoping it will cause more conversion than normal may or may not work - either your body converts efficiently or it doesn't.
Fortunately, we have a safety net: Plant-based vegan EPA/DHA supplements which contain these readily-available long-chain fatty acids. They are a little spendy, but some of us out here feel it is worth the cost.
Vegan Essentials (my favorite online vegan store!) has a good option for you. The one that I feel will give you the most bang for your buck is called Opti3, which is what Jeff and I use; it is made by the same people who created VPure (also vegan EPA/DHA which seems to not be available at this time).
If you are concerned about your own conversion from LNA to EPA/DHA, I recommend you supplement your diet. And please continue to research this vast and complex topic as you see fit.
Choose foods from this list to add to your diet each and every day. They are vital to your good health.
* Please note, spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens and rhubarb, while dark green veggies and excellent foods to add to your diet, are not good sources of calcium since they contain oxalates which bind to the minerals and cause the calcium to be unavailable. It's VERY important to include these foods in your diet, just do not rely on them as a source of calcium.
Why is it such a challenge for most Americans to get the Vitamin D we need? Because we spend SOOOOO much time indoors so we are not getting the sunlight we need in order for our bodies to make Vitamin D. Furthermore, when we DO go out in the sun, so many slather themselves with sunscreen, which causes further challenges. And of course, in the cloudy, colder, winter months we rarely get any sun at all. :-/
Now, in the summer months, it has always been thought that as long as we get 15 minutes of sun per day, our bodies can manufacture the Vitamin D we need. However, due to the hole in the ozone layer, we are not necessarily getting the ideal rays we need from the sun in order for our bodies to actually manufacture Vitamin D. So whether it is the warm summer months or the cloudy, cold, winter months we are smart to supplement our diet with Vitamin D.
Besides eating foods fortified with Vitamin D, you can also supplement your diet, which I highly recommend. Vitamin D supplements come in two forms, D3 and D2. The D3 form (also known as Cholecalciferol) is usually extracted from lanolin found in sheep's wool, or made from fish oil and are animal-based. The D2 form (also known as Ergocalciferol) is manufactured from plants and fungi, so it is NOT animal based.
Which form should you use, and how much?
Well, how much to use is the easiest to answer. The current recommendation is 4000 IU per day. But I am not a doctor, so you may want to check with yours before you begin taking Vitamin D.
As to which form to use, D2 or D3, is a topic of debate and confusion, quite frankly. There is some concern that D2, the plant-based D, is not as effective as D3. I will leave it to you to do your own research and decide which you will explore.
Fortunately for all Vegans, there is now vegan D3 available. Whoo-hoo! I recommend this Vegan Vitamin D3 made by Global Health Trax, which is registered with the Vegan Society.
If you go with D3, I recommend Carlson Brands drops. They come in different forms, but the drops are easiest to take. The drops come in either 1000 IU or 2000 IU, so you would need 2 or 4 drops per day, depending on which you go with.
A good brand of D2 is made by VegLife, but ask your friendly nutritional supplement consultant for a referral. Most come in 400 IU, so you will see that in order to reach 4000 IU for the day, you will need to take 10 tablets/capsules.
Again, do your research and come to your best conclusions as to whether you should supplement with Vitamin D, and which form you will use.
So choline really should not be a problem for most vegans as long as you are eating a well-balanced vegan diet. Because if you are, then you will be eating nuts, all sorts of veggies and fruits, lentils and beans, whole grains, and seeds, which as you just learned are sources of choline.
And this just points out how VITAL it is to eat a well-balanced vegan diet. Because you just never know when some new fangled nutrient will be discovered. As long as you are eating from the major vegan food groups on a daily and weekly basis, you should be getting the nutrients you need, paying special attention to the additional points I mentioned above (Vitamin B12, EPA/DHA, Vitamin D, and calcium).
It is so easy to eat a vegan diet, that you may wonder what all the fuss and confusion is about. So here are just a few things to keep in mind as you go along on your vegan adventure:
The biggest thing I hope you'll walk away with is that vegan nutrition isn't this big and scary dark place where you have to watch your every move or you could slip up and find yourself withering away forever.
But you have to be proactive. And you have to be smart. Be sure to eat from your main food groups every day, just as you always have (perhaps unknowingly) when you were eating a non-vegetarian diet. Follow the advice I've laid out here for you.
I wish you all the best on your Vegan journey. It's one of the most important decisions I've ever made, and one of the few things in my life I've ever been ENTIRELY sure of. ;O)
Now, the following information might be "overkill", but if you want to learn the major nutrients you get from any specific basic and natural whole foods that should make up the majority of your vegan diet, then you should like what comes next...
You can use this tool to help you along: World's Healthiest Foods
To use this tool, simply click on the food you'd like to investigate. It will take you to a screen like the one below with information about the greatest nutrients you'll gain from eating this food.
I clicked on tofu for an example. As you'll see, tofu is high in protein and calcium, among many other fabulous nutrients.
But if you want to delve even further and view the ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE NUTRITIONAL DATA FOR THIS FOOD then you're just one click away.
Here's how: Scroll to the verrrrry bottom of this first page you've arrived at (in this example, the tofu page). You'll see this..
Now, do you see the little link that says "In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Tofu"? Click on it and... Voila! There is the in-depth information you're looking for...
For example, in reviewing tofu's nutritional profile we discover that tofu is a wonderful source of protein and polyunsaturated fats, and a great source of calcium (but not such a good source of vitamin C).
Play around with it -- there's a LOT of information contained within the pages of that site that you should find useful. ;O)
As a Nutritional Consultant I assist my clients by examining their current diet to figure out areas that might need more attention. It's nice to have someone you can go to for advice that's YOU-nique.
"What is a Nutritional Consultant? Is that like a nutritionist or a dietitian?"
Not exactly. As a Nutritional Consultant, I have studied the basics, the building blocks of proper nutrition. When combined with my vast knowledge of vegan cooking, and my experience as a vegan since 1994, I have a unique perspective on how to create meals that are not only delicious, but nutritionally balanced as well.
For more information about this service, please visit the
Vegan Coaching page.
This is the place to ask! Please note, this is not the place to make a list of your personal physical challenges asking for help to cure your ailments. Please keep things generalized. Refer to your physician for challenges of a more personal and/or serious nature. ;)
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