With the uncertain future of our planet at the forefront of our minds, as well as ethical concerns surrounding the use of animal products – people are increasingly turning to a vegan diet. Effects of a vegan diet on the body and the brain are certainly controversial – but not to worry my vegan friends, a well-constructed and complete vegan diet is within reach! To ensure your vegan diet meets your complete nutrition needs – you need to be equipped with the knowledge to prevent deficiency and take just a little time to plan your food.
For the most part, even a half-planned whole-food vegan diet will provide adequate macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat). Micronutrient adequacy is where things get a little more difficult. Iron, calcium, zinc, omega-3, vitamin B12, iodine, and Vitamin D are all in need of special consideration in a vegan diet. For the sake of today’s article – we are going to provide you with a little insight into three of these and give you some really simple and effective rules to implement, to ensure you don’t miss out on these critical nutrients.
Nutrients that vegans lack: VITAMIN B12
Vitamin B12 is key for blood cell formation and functioning of your nervous system – so, you could say it is pretty important! Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products, so deficiency is definitely a concern.
Vegans should choose B12 fortified foods, and we’d recommend a routine blood test to check on B12. You may potentially need a B12 supplement if unable to meet your needs via food. Sources include fortified milk and fortified vegetarian burgers and sausages.
Nutrients that vegans lack: IRON
We need iron to carry oxygen in the blood and to give us energy! Low iron can result in iron-deficiency anemia, causing fatigue and loss of appetite. There are 2 types of iron: haem iron (from animal products) and non-haem iron (plant products). Non-heam iron is not as well absorbed, so including plenty of iron-rich plant foods is key.
Sources include; legumes, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds (flaxseed, chia seed, pumpkin seed), whole grains (bread, pasta), and iron-fortified cereals (e.g. Weet-Bix).
Vitamin C in fruit and vegetables helps to improve the absorption of iron from plant-based foods, so ensure to include a range of colorful vegetables and/or fruit at each meal. Additionally, substances in tea and coffee can decrease non-haem iron absorption so try to drink these beverages between meals.
Nutrients that vegans lack: CALCIUM
We all know calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, but it is also key for blood clotting, and nerve & muscle function.
It is a great idea to include calcium-fortified dairy alternatives daily to ensure adequate calcium intake. Good choices include calcium-set tofu (check the label) and fortified soy milk. You can use other alternative milk (e.g. almond, rice), but they are lower in protein. Check the label to ensure alternative milk contain at least 120mg/100ml of calcium.
Other plant-based sources contain calcium in very small amounts but can contribute to your daily intake nonetheless. You may choose to include: Quorn, dried fruit (e.g. figs, apricots), nuts (almonds, brazil nuts), green leafy vegetables (Asian greens, broccoli, silverbeet, parsley), chickpeas, and tahini.
Don’t forget – your body needs Vitamin D to utilize calcium effectively. Good sources for vegans include sunlight, fortified cereals, and soy milk and – if needed – Vitamin D supplements.
VEGAN DIET – TOP 5 TIPS FOR VEGAN PEOPLE
- Snack on dried fruit, nuts, and seeds (& nut/seeds butter).
- Include legumes every day, with at least one meal.
- Include green leafy veg with most meals (e.g. lunch and dinner – most of the time).
- Include a protein source 3 x day (soy products, Quorn, legumes, nuts/seeds, etc.).
- Drink calcium & B12 fortified milk (check the label).
Ellie Wiltshire – Accredited Sports Dietitian