“A well balanced vegan diet can provide many health benefits, is suitable for all ages and can significantly lower the risk of common health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer.”
– Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics*
“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 20 different amino acids we require for protein synthesis but only 9 of these are considered essential as our bodies cannot make these and so these need to be provided in our diet.” – From Human Herbivore
Protein sources – Virtually all foods contain protein and vegans can get plenty of protein by basing their daily diet on plant foods such as lentils, beans, chick peas, tofu, tempeh, 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 is linked to 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 several minerals that are essential nutrients that humans need to consume 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 Human Herbivore
Calcium – The best plant sources include kale, leafy Asian vegetables (like bok choy), rocket, calcium-set tofu, fortified plant milks. (Check the label and look for plant milks that have at least 120 mg calcium per 100 ml.) Other plant foods that contain moderate amounts of absorbable calcium are white beans, almonds, figs, and oranges.
Iron – good sources include legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, soybeans) tofu, tempeh, whole grains, fortified vegan meat analogues, breakfast cereals, pepitas and green vegetables.
*NOTE: Vitamin-C rich foods (like orange juice, tomatoes, capsicum and raw green vegetables) help to increase the amount of iron we absorb so try eating these foods in the same meal. Tea and coffee can interfere with iron absorption so it best to have these between meals rather than with them.
Zinc – sources include soy products, legumes, nut, seeds, whole-grains, pepitas and green vegetables.
“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 plant-based diet to know about vitamin B12 and vitamin D and where to get them.” From Human Herbivore
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.
Vitamin B12 – B12 is produced by bacteria and is found in soil but is scarce in plant foods. (Eating soil or unwashed vegetables is unsafe so not recommended!) People on plant-based diets can obtain vitamin B12 by eating fortified foods (i.e. foods that have had vitamin B12 added, such as some soymilks, Marmite and some meat analogues – check the label. At least three serves of vitamin B12-fortified foods are required to meet the minimum recommended intake.
The easiest and most reliable way to ensure that you get adequate vitamin B12 is to take a vitamin B12 supplement. This can be either in the form of a daily multivitamin or vitamin B12 tablet, lozenge or liquid containing at least 100 mcg of vitamin B12, or a twice-weekly dose of 2000 mcg of vitamin B12. It is especially important that women of reproductive age, infants and children obtain enough vitamin B12 each day as it essential for brain development and growth.
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 humanherbivore.com/nutrition-faq/
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 ground seeds over cereal/muesli or add to a smoothie), chia seeds (make your own pudding) or flax seed oil (drizzle over salads).
Our bodies need to convert the omega 3 ALA (from flaxseeds etc) to DHA and EPA and we do this with variable efficiency. Another option to ensure we get enough of these omega 3s is to supplement with algal-derived DHA/EPA. (Algae is the original source of omega 3s for fish.)
“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 Human Herbivore
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. Alternatively, most multivitamin supplements contain selenium.
For more information on nutrition, health and the vegan diet please consult Amanda Benham, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist at Human Herbivore
*From full article go to: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics