How to Prevent Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet
How to Be a Healthy Vegan
Being healthy as a vegan can be hard at the beginning, but when done right, the vegan diet can be healthier than the non-vegan one. You can get almost every nutrition from a plant-based vegan diet. However, you will have to eat more food, and you have to know where you can find your essential nutrients. The only supplement you might want to consider is the B12. B12 is made by anaerobic microorganisms on the ground and are commonly added to the food of the cows, sheep, pigs and other animals used in the production of animal products. A vegan diet has shown to be one of the healthiest diets for humans by far and this is how you can rule it.
Having a Well-Rounded Diet
Get your vitamin B12.B12 promotes healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system, and is an essential vitamin for any healthy person. The recommended daily intake for adults is 2.4 micrograms. However, B12 only naturally occurs in animal foods. Since B12 is not found in plant-based foods, vegans need to find ways to supplement their diet with foods that have been fortified with B12. Look for the following:
- Breakfast cereals or oatmeal that have been fortified with vitamin B12. Check the labeling to make sure eating the cereal will give you the recommended daily intake.
- Soy milk, Rice milk and some other plant milks is also often fortified with B12.
- B12 supplements are popular among vegans. Since B12 is the only vitamin you can’t get by eating plants, it might be worth adding this supplement to your daily routine.
Seek out foods rich in iron.This mineral aids in healthy oxygen circulation, and it’s most commonly found in red meat and fish. However, iron also occurs naturally in a number of different foods. When you eat iron-rich foods, eat vitamin C at the same time; it helps the body absorb iron more effectively. It is recommended that adults get 8 mg of iron per day.Here’s where to find it:
- Dried fruits
- Leafy green vegetables
- Whole grains
Eat protein-hearty foods.Protein contributes to the growth of muscle, hair, nails, and other very important systems in the body. Adults need 46 to 56 grams per day to stay healthy.There are plenty of plant-based protein sources, and these should make up a significant portion of your diet as a vegan. Here’s what to eat:
- Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, lima beans, etc.
- Whole grains
- Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and other seeds
- All nuts
- Soy products
Eat plenty of calcium.It builds strong bones and teeth, and this essential mineral is most often associated with cow’s milk. However, you can get the calcium you need (1,000 mg daily, for adults) by eating the following fruits and vegetables:
- Dark, leafy greens like kale and collards
- Fortified cereals, soy milk, or bread
- Citrus fruits like oranges and lemons
Incorporate foods with omega-3 fatty acids.This healthy type of fat is essential for a range of functions in the body, both internal and external. It’s also beneficial for keeping your mood stable and your mind healthy. Adults need 12 to 17 grams per day, and you can get them from the following plant sources:
- Canola oil
Eat salt and seaweed for the iodine.This trace element helps keep the thyroid functioning properly, and you need 150 mcg per day to stay in good health. It’s commonly found in seafood, but vegans can get the iodine they need by eating sea salt and seaweed.
Eat foods with zinc.This mineral is involved in healthy cell production, and some studies connect it to helping treat the common cold. Adults need 8 to 11mg daily. Zinc naturally occurs in the following foods:
Planning Your Meals
Talk with a nutritionist.If you’re making a serious switch to a vegan diet, it’s a good idea to get advice from a professional. He or she will be able to tell you how to best meet your unique needs as well as giving you resources to help you choose the right foods.
- Kids, women who are pregnant, and elderly people all have slightly different nutritional needs than the average adult, so it’s especially important for people in these groups to talk to a nutritionist.
Eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats.Meat-eaters have it a little easier: they choose a meat, a vegetable and a starch, and that’s that. As a vegan it’s important to make sure your meals are balanced according to the new food pyramid issued by the US Department of Agriculture. Aim to get the following each day:
- 6 oz. grains (half of these should be whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat)
- 2.5 cups vegetables (eat a variety, not just one or two types)
- 2 cups fruit (choose whole, fresh fruit instead of juice whenever possible)
- 5.5 oz. beans and other protein sources
- Healthy fats (olive oil, grapeseed oil, nut oils etc)
Fill up on healthy food.Some Vegans feel hungry after eating the same amount of food as meat-eaters. Meat and dairy are very filling, and vegans need to eat larger portions of vegetables, legumes, and fats to feel satisfied. As long as you’re filling up on healthy food, it’s fine to eat more than one helping and stop your stomach from rumbling. Pears are very filling. Try a pear if you are a hungry Vegan.
- To make vegetables more filling, add olive oil, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, and other goodies. Eating just plain vegetables won’t feel as satisfying.
- Use plenty of spices to make your food taste just as rich and nuanced as any meat-eater’s meal.
Avoid eating processed “vegan” foods.Did you know oreos are vegan? Hundreds of snack foods and candies you might normally pass up will look extra tasty when you’re feeling hungry, but try to resist the urge to eat loads of sugar and processed carbohydrates. These foods are devoid of nutrition; they might fill you up temporarily, but they won’t give you the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
- Processed soy products aren’t necessarily healthy for you, even if they’re made with tofu. It’s fine to have “tofurkey,” seitan, and other soy products every once in a while, but these should not be staples in your diet. The same goes for faux dairy products like soy cheese and ice cream.
Have plenty of healthy snacks on hand.Some Vegans like to graze, since they tend to get hungry more often than meat-eaters. Have plenty of healthy snacks and smaller meals on hand so you don’t get to the point where you’re ravenous (which will make you more likely to wolf down a whole bag of gummy worms or three bowls of cereal with almond milk). Here are some great vegan snacks that you can gobble down without guilt:
- Nuts of any kind. Try roasting your favorite nuts in the oven with olive oil and spices. If you have a sweet tooth, use maple syrup and cinnamon.
- Whole grain crackers topped with hummus.
- Carrot sticks and other cut vegetables with hummus.
- Bean and rice cakes with salsa.
- Baked sweet potatoes topped with coconut oil and sea salt.
- Dark chocolate and peanut butter.
- Banana ice cream (blend a banana and run it through your ice cream machine; you will be amazed by how delicious it turns out).
Get a vegan cookbook and learn how to cook tasty meals.As a vegan, you’re going to have to fend for yourself more often than not. Unless you live in a town with lots of great options for vegans (lucky you!) you’ll probably have to do a lot of your own cooking to ensure your meals are balanced and healthy. There are loads of vegan cookbooks available, so pick one up and start bookmarking dishes to try out.
- Look for vegan blogs, too. You’ll find recipes as well as hosts of commenters who will offer more suggestions.
- Health food stores and vegan/vegetarian restaurants are also great spots for inspiration.
Learning Vegan Hacks for Eating Out
Find the vegan-friendly spots where you live.Maybe you don’t have a vegan-dedicated restaurant in your town, but there are probably some places with menu items that are vegan. Before you go out, have a few places in mind where you know you’ll be able to get a healthy meal and enjoy yourself.
- Steakhouses, barbecue joints and fried chicken spots are probably out. If your friends insist on going to one, you could always order a heap of fries and ketchup and call it a day.
- Many restaurants that offer cuisines from outside the US have vegan menu items. Try checking some menus out online, then up the restaurants beforehand to double check that dishes are vegan.
Check out the side dishes.If you’re seated at a restaurant and weren’t able to vet the place beforehand, side dishes are often the best bet. Unless you’re at a place where everything on the menu is made with bacon or ham drippings, you’ll probably find some tasty items that don’t have any animal products.
- If you decide to order vegetables, be sure to request that they be cooked in oil instead of butter.
- Look for tasty beans, peas, or other legumes and rice. These items aren’t often cooked with animal products.
Order salads with all the (vegan) trimmings.If you’re at a restaurant with tasty salads, you’re in luck. See if you can customize a salad to include extra vegetables, beans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and any other toppings they have that are vegan. Order it with oil and lemon juice or vinegar, since most dressings on offer probably contain an animal product or two.
See if they can whip something up for you.You might feel shy asking for favors at first, but as a vegan it definitely helps to speak up. You deserve to be able to eat a healthy, delicious meal, and most restaurant owners strive to be accommodating.
- Explain that you don’t eat meat, milk or eggs, and ask if there’s something they can prepare for you without any animal products.
- For example, they could give you plain pasta with garlic, olive oil and veggies, beans with veggies, rice and beans, and so on.
Eat before you go to parties.Even if the host of a party knows you’re vegan, he or she might try to serve you something with eggs, milk or even fish, not quite understanding that vegans don’t eat any animal products. Hopefully your well-meaning host will have something on hand you can eat, but just in case, you should eat before you go.
Vegans often struggle to consume enough protein, iron, calcium, and B12. Therefore, to be a healthy vegan, eat protein-rich foods, such as beans, whole grains, and seeds, for muscle growth. Additionally, you can get iron from foods such as dried fruits and legumes. For calcium, eat almonds and dark leafy greens. Finally, while B12 is only found in animal products, look for foods fortified with it, like breakfast cereals.
- Introduce a variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils to your diet.
- Learn to cook some easy vegan meals you enjoy, so that you always have a couple on hand.
- Know that this is a process of learning and it is okay to do mistakes sometimes.
- Find inspiration online.
- Be careful to get too involved in discussions online on this topic, as they can get very heated and you might start to reconsider.
- Watch a documentary on the topic to get a better understanding. The most common ones are What the Health, Forks over Knives, Cowspiracy and Earthlings.
- Consult with a doctor or nutritionist if you are worried or have some questions.
Sources and Citations
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