A vegan eating lifestyle includes the ingestion of fruits, vegetables, grains, dried beans, peas, lentils, seeds, and nuts. Vegans do not consume dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, fish or any products that contain any of these foods. Many people struggle with adopting a vegan lifestyle because they believe deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, and a host of other vital vitamins and nutrients will take place. And, in part, they are right… if they do not replace what they have removed with other sources of these vitamins and minerals.
If a traditional eater removes all dairy and animal products from their diet and simply eats regularly despite that removal, they are not only going to be deficient in vitamins and minerals, they will be deficient in protein and caloric intake.
Vegan’s Sources of Macro-and-Micro-Nutrients
There are plenty of vegan sources of these very important macro and-micro-nutrients you can place into your diet once removing dairy and animal byproducts in order to “plug the holes” those food items will cause.
Protein is a vital component to building muscle, keeping strong, and making sure red blood cells are healthy. It is also the component that supports growth all through a species’ life cycle. Sources of protein for vegans include soy and soy-based products (such as tempeh, fortified soy beverages, and tofu), veggie burgers, legumes (black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils), grains (quinoa, oatmeal, and brown rice), seeds (sunflower and sesame) and nut butters.
Iron is another vital component of a healthy diet because it helps carry oxygen to different parts of the body. It is said that vegans usually need twice the amount of iron in their diet as traditional eaters because these iron sources from plants is not as well absorbed as the iron from animal foods, but that does not mean a vegan eating lifestyle is a bad thing. The foods that contain iron also contain high amounts of micronutrients that most all other people are consistently deficient in.
Sources for iron include soy and soy-based products, veggie burgers, prune juice, dried apricots, cooked spinach, cooked kale, potatoes with the skin on, pinto beans, adzuki beans, lentils, fortified grain products, cashews, almonds and blackstrap molasses.
One thing to keep in mind with absorbing iron while eating vegan is the fact that it absorbs better when it is ingested when paired with foods that are rich in vitamin C. These types of foods include grapefruits, oranges, kiwis, lemons, limes, potatoes, sweet peppers, broccoli and cantaloupe. And yes, their juices also count if you are a juicer.
Vitamin B12 is yet another vitamin that many would be deficient on if they did not replace those foods removed from their diet. This vitamin helps the body to utilize stored fats as well as create red blood cells. Good sources of vitamin B12 for a vegan include Red Star nutritional yeast, fortified soy beverages and fortified meat alternative like meatless chicken and veggie burgers.
Vitamin D is necessary for the body because it not only helps to stave off seasonal depression and help regulate the brain’s chemistry, it also aids in the absorption and convert phosphorus and calcium into usable components that aid in strong teeth and bones. Vegan sources of vitamin D include non-hydrogenated margarines and fortified, vegan-friendly products.
Also, the sun. Get outside and get yourself some sun.
Speaking of calcium, that is another one of the controversial nutrients that vegans supposedly do not get enough of. Calcium is necessary for bone and muscle health, and helps with muscular contractions, like your heart beat. There are numerous calcium sources for vegans, and some of them are soy yogurt, fortified non-dairy beverages, navy beans, sesame butter (also called “tahini”), blackstrap molasses, bok choy, okra, figs and fortified orange juice.
Zinc is another mineral many people are deficient in, and there are many sources of it for those who choose a vegan eating lifestyle. Zinc is necessary for basic development and growth, and it also aids in strengthening the immune system and healing wounds inflicted upon the body.
Good sources of zinc for vegans include peas, lentils, dried beans, pecans, cashew butter, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds and fortified whole grains.
The last nutrient that many people are deficient in that can be provided for on a vegan diet is linolenic acid. If you do not recognize that name, then you will probably recognize it by its other name, omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s are important for nerve, eye, and brain development, but are also helpful in preventing heart disease and cardiac events. There are some wonderful vegan-friendly sources, some of which include flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, ground flaxseed, tofu and walnuts.
When To Take Supplements?
But, if you are an athlete, or work out intensively while adopting a vegan eating lifestyle, then supplements are usually something worked into the health regimen, no matter what. Vegans, however, have to be very careful with the types of supplements they choose to take. Many supplements on the market have animal byproduct additives to aid in its preservation and shelf life, and it can wreak havoc on a vegan’s body if they have gone for an extended period of time without consuming animal products or byproducts.
If you find yourself to be a picky eater, then all of the nutrients and vitamins listed above would be wonderful to work into your morning or evening routine. Just make sure you find a vegan friendly distributor of these vitamins to stay within the boundaries of your diet.
For most vegans, a basic vegan-certified multivitamin that includes B12 will be enough. Those multivitamins house zinc,iodine, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a slew of micronutrients that your body can benefit from. However, if you are someone who is eating a vegan lifestyle and training or working out regularly, then it is recommended you find a branched chain amino acid that is vegan-friendly in order to help your body recuperate from the beating your muscles are taking in your workout sessions. These BCAA’s will help your body to maintain the muscles it is breaking down and strengthening instead of you simply losing your strength. It will also aid in keeping your bones strong during training, as well.
The truth of the matter is that dropping entire food groups from your body, while healthier, will inevitably create holes in the nutrients you are receiving. Our stereotypical dietary pyramid that kids are taught in school is not focused on keeping their body inwardly healthy for the long run, but is there to make sure they get the right amount of vitamins and minerals daily.
In other words, our dietary pyramid is not constructed with bodily health in mind, but with nutrient health in mind.
And yes, there is a difference.
This means that supplements will be necessary. How will you know if you need supplements? Start by finding a basic vegan friendly multivitamin you can take daily (and a vegan-friendly BCAA if you are working out and training regularly), and see how your body feels from there. If there is a list outlined above whose foods you simply cannot stomach, then that is an individual nutrient and/or vitamin that will probably require its own bulk daily supplement.
But, now that you have all of this information, it is time to tackle the last informational part of this book before we talk about “going vegan” and what that entails, and this last part is addressing the intimidating work of exercise and what it means and looks like to someone who eats a vegan diet.