— This is a guest post by Lily Drayton —
Many people assume that unless you are consuming animal protein on a daily basis that you are not getting a nutritionally complete diet, that has all the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for good health and wellness. This is a notion that really needs to be addressed and challenged. It’s completely possible to get all the nutrients you need from non-animal sources and is much easier than you might first imagine.
A varied and abundant diet of fresh food
The best way to make sure that you get all the vitamins and minerals you require is to make sure that your diet is plentiful in fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, pulses, grains and nuts. The fresher and less processed your food is, the better chance your body has of being able to digest the nutrients they contain.
However, many people still worry that nutrients commonly more associated with animal protein sources will be missing from their diet.
Protein is easy to find in many food sources and need not come from meat at all. In fact, it’s fair to say that over consumption of protein is one of the biggest problems, both with weight and overall health in the western world. Plant based protein is easily digestible and very good for you and can be found in such foods as lentils, beans and grains like quinoa. These foods also have the added bonus of being high in fiber, keeping you full and sustained for longer and also will help to keep blood sugars stable.
Examples: lentils, beans, quinoa, tofu, seitan, tempeh
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
More commonly found in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, the best way to include this essential nutrient into a vegan diet is to incorporate Flax Seeds or Flax Seed Oil into your eating regime. Omega 3s are vitally important for the function of the brain, the cardiovascular system and our sight. The seeds themselves can be incorporated into salads or sprinkled into breakfast cereals for added crunch and texture. However, it is worth noting that they need to be crushed a little before consumption, otherwise the valuable Omega 3 they contain can’t be as easily digested. Using Flax Seed Oil in salad dressings is another good way forward too. If none of that appeals, there are Flax Seed supplements that come in vegan approved capsules which can be taken.
Examples: flax (seeds, oil, or vegan gel-caps)
Typically to be found in a host of green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as foods like tofu and beans, it is very possible to get all the zinc you need in your diet without having to eat red meat or seafood. We need zinc so that we can fight off infections properly, for proper wound healing and also to help our nervous systems deal with stress and anxiety. It’s recommended that we need around fifteen milligrams of this mineral every day and eating a serving of one or more of these foods in every meal, will easily give us around two to five milligrams.
Examples: leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, chickpeas/garbanzo beans
Calcium rich plant foods are things like beans, tofu, soy beans, rice or almond milk, green vegetables like broccoli or bok choy and tempeh. Eaten regularly, these foods will give all the calcium needed for healthy bones. However, it’s worth noting that for calcium to be properly effective, it needs Vitamin D to be able to be absorbed properly. One of the best ways for vegans and vegetarians to make sure they get enough vitamin D is to make sure they spend enough time in the sunlight, but this is sage advice for non-veggies too!
Examples: sesame seeds, tahini, beans, tofu, tempeh, soy, fortified milk alternatives, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, okra, mustard greens
Iron deficiency is common amongst many people, whether they are vegan, vegetarian or otherwise. A lack of iron can result in a condition called anaemia which can make sufferers feel very tired, lethargic and generally unwell. Women tend to suffer from it more than men and it can cause heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding. Good, plant based sources of iron include vegetables like Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli and dark, leafy cabbages. It can also be found in peanuts and fruits such as bananas, raspberries and blueberries. Some people find adding black strap molasses into their diet can be beneficial too. The uptake of iron as part of a varied vegan diet is greatly helped by consuming the right amount of vitamin C, so making sure citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits and potatoes (preferably with the skins left on) are included in any eating plan is very important too.
Examples: lentils, swiss chard, black strap molasses, broccoli, tofu, potato, beans, spinach, kale, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, green beans, oats, peanuts, bananas, blueberries, raspberries
This can be one of the more problematic areas of a vegan or vegetarian diet and is sometimes best addressed by taking a supplement. The issue lies with the fact that it tends to only be found in foods such as animal protein, where the animal has fed on grass and absorbed it into their system. B12 could be found in some organic fruits and vegetables, or more specifically the soil that clings to them, but because produce is more rigorously cleaned these days, much of the nutrient is lost. Therefore it can sometimes be wise to look for breakfast cereals that have been fortified with it, but a supplement may still be required to make sure the RDA is being met.
Examples: nutritional yeast, vitamin B12 supplement (liquid or vegan capsule)
It is perfectly possible and very easy to have a varied, nutrient dense vegan diet that provides you with everything you need for optimum health and wellness. With a little forethought and planning it can be very pleasurable to do.
Lily Drayton is a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) health writer who works for a number of online health providers.