A well balanced vegan diet is extremely healthful, is suitable for all ages and can significantly lower health risks, such as heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.
We can obtain all essential nutrients without eating animal products.Here's how:
"Protein is an important nutrient for growth and has many functions throughout the body, including being a major component of muscles. Protein is composed of substances called amino acids. There are 22 different amino acids but only 8 of these are considered essential as our bodies cannot make these and so these need to be provided in our diet." From: www.humanherbivore.com/protein.html
Protein sources - Virtually all foods contain protein and vegans can get plenty of protein from plant foods such as lentils, quinoa, tempeh, tofu, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
It's a common misconception that vegans don't get enough protein. The actual problem is that the majority of meat-eaters consume too much protein, which can cause a variety of diseases! If you're into fitness and increasing strength you can add vegan protein powders to your diet for convenience, although it is not necessary. For more info about vegan strength training see: www.veganstrength.org
"There are many minerals that are essential nutrients that humans need to obtain in order to be healthy. Minerals are chemical elements and cannot be synthesized by any animal. All minerals are ultimately obtained from the earth, and the content of minerals in plants varies dependent on the soil they are grown in. Iron, zinc and calcium are important minerals that humans need to ensure they obtain adequate amounts of." From: www.humanherbivore.com/minerals.html
Calcium - sources include leafy green vegetables (like kale), collards, broccoli, okra, figs, oranges, almonds, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils, tempeh, tofu, fortified non-dairy milks, fortified soy products, fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified orange juice.
Iron - obtained from chickpeas (eg. in hummus), lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, soybeans, quinoa, tofu, raisins, goji berries, fortified vegan burgers, soy products, pumpkin seeds, cashews, figs, sunflower seeds, sesame tahini, prunes, whole wheat, parsley, and pine nuts.
*NOTE: Vitamin-C rich foods (like fresh orange juice, tomatoes, raw green vegetables) help with absorbing iron so try eating these foods in the same meal.
Zinc - sources include green vegetables, legumes, nut, seeds and whole-grains.
"Vitamins are essential nutrients that humans need to obtain in order to be healthy. The only vitamins that are not readily obtainable from unprocessed plant foods are Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. All the other essential vitamins are readily obtainable from eating a range of plant foods, including vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. It is important for anyone eating a herbivorous (/vegan) diet to know about vitamin B12 and vitamin D and where to get them." From: www.humanherbivore.com/vitamins.html
Vitamin D - the Sun! :) 10-30 minutes of daily mild sun exposure, without sunscreen, is recommended. During winter or for those living in less sunny areas Vitamin D supplements are recommended. Deva produce vegan Vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin B12 - B12 is produced by bacteria and is found in soil, water, etc. Since most bought vegetables are washed (which is a good idea for hygiene reasons) it is necessary for vegans to supplement their diet with vitamin B12. This can be done by eating fortified nutritional yeast (adds a cheesy flavour to foods) or other fortified foods. Some non-dairy milks are fortified with B12, just check the labels. Vitamin B12 supplements like the Deva vegan B12 are also recommended.
If you are not consuming at least three serves of vitamin B12-fortified foods per day you should take vitamin B12 in supplement form. This can be either in the form of a daily multivitamin or vitamin B12 tablet or lozenge containing 50-100 mcg of vitamin B12, or a once-weekly dose of 2000 mcg of vitamin B12.
Essential Fatty Acids
"Essential fatty acids are components of fats that humans need to have in their diets. The two types of essential fatty acids that are required are called omega 6 fatty acids (of which linoleic acid is essential) and omega 3 fatty acids (of which alpha linolenic acid is essential)." From:www.humanherbivore.com/efas.html
Omega 6 - linoleic acid is widely available from a range of foods including nuts, seeds, avocado, grains and vegetable oils. We do not require much omega 6 so even low fat diets can provide adequate amounts of linoleic acid.
Omega 3 - alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is obtained from flaxseeds (sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons over cereal/muesli), chia seeds (make your own pudding) or flax seed oil (drizzle over salads).
"Trace elements are mineral elements that are needed in small amounts in human nutrition. They are derived from soil and the amount of a particular trace element in a food will depend on the soil the food was grown in. Unfortunately modern farming methods tend to deplete the soil of trace elements, resulting in low amounts in the foods grown on those soils." From:www.humanherbivore.com/trace_elements.html
Iodine - sources include seaweeds (eg: nori) and iodised salt. Kelp (kombu) is also rich in iodine but not recommended because it can provide too much iodine, which could result in damaging the thyroid gland. If salt is used, use iodised salt, and eating seaweed a few times a week will also boost iodine intake. Another alternative is supplementation: multivitamin tablets containing about 100-150 micrograms of iodine will help ensure an adequate iodine intake.
Selenium - brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium. Just one brazil nut a day will prevent deficiency. Other sources include corn, wheat, soybean, sunflower seeds, walnuts and raisins.
For more information on nutrition, health and the vegan diet please consult Amanda Benham, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist: www.humanherbivore.com