Vegan Nutrition

  1. What should I eat?

    1. Water

    2. Carbohydrates

    3. Fat

    4. Protein

    5. Micronutrients

  2. Can I get the nutrients I need as a vegan?

  3. Common dietary problems

    1. Celiac Disease

    2. FODMAPs

    3. Anemia

    4. B vitamin deficiencies

    5. Diabetes

What should I eat?

If you know nothing about eating healthy, read the Wikipedia article on Human Nutriton.

So, as the article says, "nutrients" consist of carbs, fat, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water. Let's go into how to get each of these in a vegan diet.

Water

Don't forget it! There's a bunch of numerical recommendations out there like 8 glasses of water per day, or a few liters, whatever. I'll give you a qualitative rule here: your pee should be a light color. If it's completely clear you don't need to be drinking as much. If it's on the darker side, drink more.

Carbohydrates

Not strictly necessary, though most people will probably want to eat them cause they're pretty cheap and taste good and fill you up. There are two types, simple and complex. For simple, think "fruit." For complex, think "grain". Complex carbs give you more sustained energy, whereas simple are quick energy. You should try to eat whole grains as opposed to refined (whole wheat, not white). Refined grains still have carbs but they've lost a lot of the other nutritional value like protein and vitamins. Too much of simple carbs (like table sugar) is what leads to diseases like diabetes.

I'm not an expert but it's probably extremely difficult if not impossible to eat enough fruit for the amount of simple sugar to be bad for you (certain primates eat almost exclusively fruit, for example). You should never feel bad about sugar intake when reaching for a piece of fruit.

Sources of Carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains like oats, brown rice, whole grain bread
  • Beans
  • Starchy veggies like potato and sweet potato.
  • Fruits

Fat

Fat's pretty simple. There are things called fatty acids that are important for pretty much everything (hormones, endocannabinoids, even cell division) in the body. So, they're obviously necessary and the body can't produce all of the ones we need (essential fats like omega-3 for example), so that's where eating fat comes in.

Sources of Fats:

  • Vegetable oils (olive, canola, coconut, etc.)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds)

Protein

Proteins are broke in our system into smaller molecules called amino acids, the building blocks of our bodies, so they are pretty important in a balanced diet. The current recommended intake of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight a day for healthy adults in a normal regime of exercises, and contrary to the current myth, a vegan diet have plenty of available protein sources:

  • Beans, lentils and various legumes (peanut, green peas, chickpea), usually combined with grains are a good source of veggie protein;
  • Some grains like quinoa, amaranth, oats, spelt, have good amounts of protein;
  • Nuts and some seeds (like hempseed);
  • Some products derivated from soybean like Tofu and Tempeh, and from wheat gluten like Seitan;
  • Some algae like spirulina;
  • Nutritional yeast;

Micronutrients

These are the vitamins and minerals that almost everyone (even meat eaters) forgets about and only are needed in small amounts. If you have a diverse and colorful diet the chance are that you are ok. For a vegan diet, only Vitamin B12 that we don't have untill now, a reliable source because it is produced by bacterias in our guts and living in overly higienized times we will need to supplement it. Remember too to expose yourself to the Sun at least 15 minutes a day, to get your Vitamin D synthesized by your own body. Here goes a list of essential micronutrients:

  • Vitamin A (retinol)
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (panthotenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxin)
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid, folate)
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • Vitamin E (tocopherol)
  • Vitamin K (naphthoquinones)
  • Choline (vitamin Bp)
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

Can I get the nutrients I need as a vegan?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: see below.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

  • It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.

Dietitians of Canada

  • A healthy vegan diet can meet all your nutrient needs at any stage of life including when you are pregnant, breastfeeding or for older adults.

The British National Health Service

  • With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.

The British Nutrition Foundation

  • A well-planned, balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate ... Studies of UK vegetarian and vegan children have revealed that their growth and development are within the normal range.

The Dietitians Association of Australia

  • Vegan diets are a type of vegetarian diet, where only plant-based foods are eaten. With good planning, those following a vegan diet can cover all their nutrient bases, but there are some extra things to consider.

The United States Department of Agriculture

  • Vegetarian diets (see context) can meet all the recommendations for nutrients. The key is to consume a variety of foods and the right amount of foods to meet your calorie needs. Follow the food group recommendations for your age, sex, and activity level to get the right amount of food and the variety of foods needed for nutrient adequacy. Nutrients that vegetarians may need to focus on include protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12.

The National Health and Medical Research Council

  • Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle. Those following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can meet nutrient requirements as long as energy needs are met and an appropriate variety of plant foods are eaten throughout the day

The Mayo Clinic

  • A well-planned vegetarian diet (see context) can meet the needs of people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. The key is to be aware of your nutritional needs so that you plan a diet that meets them.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

  • Vegetarian diets (see context) can provide all the nutrients you need at any age, as well as some additional health benefits.

Harvard Medical School

  • Traditionally, research into vegetarianism focused mainly on potential nutritional deficiencies, but in recent years, the pendulum has swung the other way, and studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free eating. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.

British Dietetic Association

  • Well planned vegetarian diets (see context) can be nutritious and healthy. They are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and lower cholesterol levels. This could be because such diets are lower in saturated fat, contain fewer calories and more fiber and phytonutrients/phytochemicals (these can have protective properties) than non-vegetarian diets. (...) Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of life and have many benefits.

Common dietary problems

Celiac Disease

Is a condition where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten, a protein present in wheat, barley and rye. There is no clear reason to trigger this condition, some of the symptoms: diarrhoea, stomach aches, bloating and farting (flatulence), indigestion, constipatioN and also cause more general symptoms, including tiredness (fatigue) as a result of not getting enough nutrients from food (malnutrition), unintentional weight loss, an itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis), problems getting pregnant (infertility), nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy), disorders that affect co-ordination and balance and speech (ataxia). If diagnosed with Celiac Disease avoid any food that contains wheat, barley and rye as pasta, cakes, breakfast cereals, most types of bread and most beers.

FODMAPs

Are types of carbohydrates found in certain foods, mostly dairy and veggies like fruits high in fructose. Some digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation can indicate a low tolerance to Fodmaps.

Anemia

Is a deficiency of dietary iron that can be worsened by loss of blood or pregnancy. Symptoms are tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations) and pale skin. Besides dietary supplementation, the inclusion of dark-green leafy vegetablea, dried fruit like apricots, prunes and raisins, and pulses (beans, peas and lentils) can help. Avoid drinking tea, coffee or mixing dairy with other iron rich food.

B vitamin deficiencies

Diabetes