If you are considering following a vegan diet, you should read this!

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The choice to follow a vegan diet is becoming more of a mainstream consideration.  The vegan diet is ranked number 19 on the list of best diets overall by U.S. News & World Report. Vegan diets are gaining in popularity due to the facts that they contain less saturated fat, cholesterol and more dietary fiber than other vegetarian diets according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  

If you are thinking about becoming a vegan, here is a list of nutritional deficits that have been associated with this diet as well as certain dietary food sources that provide these essential daily nutrients.  I hope you will find the following information helpful in your journey towards overall health and wellness. 

Dietary Deficits and Related Nutritional Sources for a Vegan Diet:

-Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B-12 is not present in plant-based foods.  Vegans can avoid a B12 deficiency by regularly consuming B-12 fortified foods including meat substitutes, fortified breakfast cereals and/or rice beverages, B-12 fortified nutritional yeast or a daily B-12 supplement.

 

-Calcium:

Adequate calcium intake can be a problem for many vegans, especially post-menopausal women.   It is difficult to meet the daily calcium requirements to maintain bone health through plant and fruit sources alone.  Look for fortified cereals, nut and rice beverages to help you meet your daily calcium needs.  It may be beneficial to ask your doctor about your individual nutritional requirements.

 

Another aspect of bone health is maintaining an over-all alkaline diet.  Foods that are acidic pull calcium from the bones as your body tries to maintain your blood’s ph level.  Vegans have an advantage here because the base of their diet is mostly plants and fruits and both have an alkalizing effect on the body’s ph.  The fact that vegans tend to eat leafy greens and soy is also helpful in maintaining bone health.  By having just one serving of leafy greens a day (a good source of Vitamin K) studies have shown a decrease of hip fractures in middle-aged women by 45% The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Nurses Health Study.   Studies have also shown soy isoflavones to inhibit bone resorption (caused by overly acidic foods) and build bone mineral density in both peri and post-menopausal women.

 

-Omega 3 fatty acids ALA, EPA & DHA:

Diets that do not include animal products or sea vegetables generally lack the long chain n-3 fatty acids EPA (e icosapentaenic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), ALA (alpha linolenic acid) however is present in most vegan foods with fat, yet it is only available in trace amounts.

One way to make sure you are getting your daily fix of ALA is to consume ground chia or flaxseeds. One tablespoon a day will provide your nutritional requirement for the day, but ground flax and chia seeds spoil easily, so keep any grounds that are leftover refrigerated.  Some serving suggestions include using the grinds in a smoothie, stirring them into hot cereal, or simply adding them to a glass of your favorite nut or grain milk beverage.  Other sources of ALA are walnut halves (about six per day) will provide your daily ALA requirement whereas 1 tablespoon of walnut or canola oil are another option for meeting your daily ALA requirement.

 

Although neither DHA nor EPA are considered essential in the diet, they may be important for preventing chronic disease and they are crucial for brain health.  The reason that DHA and EPA aren’t considered essential nutrients is that the body can convert ALA into these two fatty acids—assuming it’s getting sufficient ALA in the first place.  Unfortunately people vary in their ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA so the only way to be sure that you are getting the nutrients that your body needs is to supplement as stated in the article Vegan Omega 3 Guide by Vegan.com/Vegan Made Easy.  There are several vegan brands of DHA/EPA available that come in vegan capsules and are pricier than the fish oil capsules, but worth the investment to ensure your overall health and wellness.

 

-Vitamin D:

Vegans are at risk for a Vitamin D deficiency, especially during the winter months when sun exposure, a valid source of Vitamin D is markedly lower.  Vitamin D fortified foods are an excellent way to ensure individual nutritional needs are met.  Soy milk, rice milk, orange juice, breakfast cereals and margarines are all fortified with Vitamin D.  If fortified foods are not an option, a Vitamin D supplement is recommended, especially if you are elderly.

 

Vitamin B-12:

Since plant-based foods do not contain vitamin B12 naturally, vegans must supplement this vitamin to maintain daily nutritional needs.   A lack of Vitamin B-12 in the diet can lead to neurological and psychiatric symptoms including pyschoses, disorientation, dementia and difficulty with concentration to name a few.  Some food sources for this vitamin include soy and rice beverages, certain breakfast cereals and meat analogs and B-12 fortified nutritional yeast.

 

Zinc:

Meat is high in bioavailable zinc and may actually enhance absorption, so vegetarians and vegans—who don't eat meat—may need up to 50% more of the RDA for zinc than people who do eat meat according to an article published by Health.com.

 

The following foods are good sources of zinc: soy beans, soy milk, tofu, tempeh, fortified soy burgers, legumes, nuts and seeds (especially sunflower seeds), wheat germ, fortified ready to eat cereals, whole grains and mushrooms.  It is important to know that zinc is bound to phytates a compound present in beans and whole grains which inhibits absorption.  Certain food preparation practices enhance zinc absorption, however. When whole grain bread is leavened with either yeast or sourdough, the zinc in the bread becomes much more available. Sprouting grains and legumes helps with zinc absorption as well Vegan.com

Hopefully this guide was helpful.  If you would like to receive more articles like this one (and healthful recipes), sign up for my free newsletter!

Laura Crotty