Whatever your reasons for exploring veganism, you’ll be glad to hear that well-planned vegan diets contain all the nutrients our bodies need. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about nutrition and experiment in the kitchen. You can get the most out of your diet by eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables, which are packed full of beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals. Some research has linked vegan diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. You can eat a diet that supports excellent health, while helping animals and protecting the planet.
Vitamin B12. Every vegan needs to know about vitamin B12. This nutrient is made by microorganisms, and isn’t produced by plants. Ensure that you get enough by using fortified foods or supplements:
Fortified foods: • Vitamin B12 is added to some plant milk, soya yogurt, vegan spreads, nutritional yeast flakes (sold by Appleseeds) and breakfast cereals • Eat these foods at least twice a day • Aim for a daily intake of at least 3mcg (micrograms) Supplements: take either at least 10mcg daily or at least 2000mcg weekly
Protein. If you’re eating a balanced vegan diet, it’s easy to get enough protein. Include good sources in most of your meals, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soya alternatives to milk and yogurt or peanuts. Other sources include cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, pumpkin seeds and quinoa.
Iron You’ll notice that protein and iron are often found in the same foods. Make sure that you daily diet contains plenty of iron-rich options, such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots, dried figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal. Help your body to absorb iron by combining these foods with good sources of vitamin C, such as pepper, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi fruit, oranges or pineapple.
Omega-3 fats. We all need a bit of fat in our diets, including essential omega-3 fat. Make sure that your daily diet includes good sources, such as chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts. Although it’s not an essential part of a vegan diet, supplementation with long-chain omega-3 fats from microalgae may be a particularly important consideration for infants and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, due to the role of omega-3 fats in brain health.
Calcium. Some vegan foods are particularly good sources of calcium, including calcium-fortified plant milk and soya yogurt, and calcium-set tofu. If you aim to consume at least two portions of these foods per day, you will be well on the way to hitting your daily calcium target. These examples each represent one portion: • 200ml calcium-fortified plant milk • 200g calcium-fortified soya yoghurt • 70g calcium-set tofu (look for calcium in the ingredients list) Kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds are foods that will help to boost your daily calcium intake even more.
Vitamin D. You need vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium from your diet. People in the UK should consider supplementation during autumn and winter as a minimum because carefully exposing skin to sunlight during spring and summer may not be enough to optimise your vitamin D status. Vitamin D3 from lichen and vitamin D2 are vegan friendly.
Iodine and selenium. The amount of iodine in plant foods varies according to where they’re grown, and may be low. Every vegan needs a reliable source of iodine in their diet, and arguably a supplement is the best option. Like iodine, the amount of selenium in plant foods varies, so it’s difficult to know if you’re getting enough from your vegan diet. Brazil nuts are particularly rich in selenium, and eating two of them might meet your daily target. Alternatively, you can guarantee a reliable intake by using a supplement.
Please discuss the use of supplements with a health professional to help ensure that they are suitable for you. If you have dietary concerns, please ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian. (Information provided by the ‘The Vegan Society’)