Nutrients in a vegan diet

If you are thinking about becoming vegan you may be asking yourself "Will I get the nutrients I need from a vegan diet?". Our nutrition writer Georgia Bamber sets your mind at ease.


When you first start contemplating eating a vegan diet it can all seem a bit confusing and overwhelming. People often worry that they will be missing out on some important nutrients. Protein is one of most people's biggest concerns, but they also worry about other nutrients like calcium, iron, omega 3's and vitamin B12.

Don't worry - you are not alone - these are all valid concerns. But I am happy to tell you that you don't need to worry, a healthy vegan diet has you covered, and more.

By filling your plate at every meal with a variety of whole plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds - instead of eating meat, dairy and eggs - you are probably going to be getting MORE vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients than you have ever gotten before.

Plant based foods are chock full of goodness - literally hundreds of thousands of protective substances that are good for your health and fill you with vitality.

As it turns out, Nature is pretty amazing. As long as we are eating enough calories from a wide variety of healthy, whole plant foods we will be getting everything our bodies need to thrive. The only exception to this rule is vitamin B12 - but we will get to that a little further on.

Protein

Protein is one of most people's biggest concerns and so we have devoted an entire article to the subject: "Where do you get your protein?". But rest assured, it is almost impossible not to get enough protein if you are eating sufficient calories.

Calcium

We have all been taught to believe that we need to drink milk to have strong healthy, bones. And it is true, we do need calcium for bone health but we don't need to get it from cows. In fact many studies show that dairy consumption is in fact detrimental to bone health - leading to weaker bones - as well as a host of other health problems. Plants on the other hand can provide us with all the calcium we need in a package that is going to improve our health. Great sources of calcium are leafy greens like kale, bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, watercress and parsley. But you can find calcium in all kinds of other plant foods like oranges, almonds, chickpeas and tahini.

Iron

A lot of people assume that vegans must be deficient in iron because they don't eat meat. But there is actually very little difference in the rates of iron deficiency between vegans and non-vegans.

Humans are perfectly capable of absorbing and using the iron produced by plants. Iron rich plant foods include wholegrains, beans, legumes, dark leafy greens, dried fruits, seeds and nuts.

You can download Georgia's printable guide to calcium and iron rich foods.

Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3 and 6)

We often hear Omega-3 referred to as the 'good' fatty acid that we need more of and Omega-6 as the one we should consume less of. But both of these fatty acids are essential to human health. The issue is more one of balance rather than which is good or bad. Ideally we should have a balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of 1:1 or at most 3:1. Typically in our Western diet the balance ranges from 16:1 to 50:1! This is where the problems lies. A high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is linked with numerous diseases - among them arthritis, Crohn's disease, diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.

With a diet that is this out of whack, balance can be achieved in two ways. By cutting back on the Omega-6 or increasing the amount of Omega-3's. Cutting back on Omega-6 is pretty easy by reducing the intake of processed foods, processed vegetable oils and animal products. You can supplement Omega-3 with Algae oil if you feel you need a supplement but there are also a lot of whole plant food sources including flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and canola oil.

Luckily, if you eat a whole food plant based diet and avoid processed food, your levels of these two fatty acids should be in balance and at healthy levels.

Vitamin B12

This is the one vitamin that plant based eaters will struggle to get and really should be supplemented.

Contrary to popular, belief B12 does not actually originate from animal foods but from bacteria which are found in our soil, our rainwater and even the ocean.

When animals eat grass or feed they also eat particles of soil that contain B12 producing bacteria which then end up in their flesh or milk which is where omnivores get this vitamin from.

But for anyone wanting to follow a vegan diet, a supplement is essential. Taking a Vitamin B12 two or three times a week should do it, but remember to be consistent as you don't want your levels falling too low. See our article What every vegan should know about B12.


If you would like to learn more about the basics of vegan nutrition why not sign up for Georgia's free email course Plant Based Nutrition Basics.

About the author : Georgia Bamber is a plant-based lifestyle advocate and health educator, ultra marathon runner, ironman and mother. Through writing, speaking and online teaching she hopes to inspire people to harness the benefits of a healthy plant-centered lifestyle. A graduate of Cornell University and City University, London Business School, Georgia also holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology as well as a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell. You can find her at www.georgiabamber.com and on twitter and instagram as @georgiabamber.

Georgia is currently offering a course to help people get more plant foods onto their plate, for more info see www.eatingcleanandgreen.com.




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