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Becoming vegan is hard for most people. Not the reasons behind it, you know why you want to be vegan, whether it be for the animals, the environment, your health, or a combination. But when you start to think of the things you will be giving up, it can seem a little daunting.
Well one thing you absolutely don’t need to worry about, is vegan nutrition.
Why? Because I’ve got you covered!
Below I will tell you what your body needs to thrive, and exactly how to get it from a tasty vegan diet.
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If you don’t want to know all the nitty gritty details, here is a brief overview of the things you should be looking at for a healthy diet:
- Make sure your diet contains a variety of fruit and vegetables – think different colours.
- Choose higher fibre starchy foods like oats, sweet potato, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice.
- Include good sources of protein in the majority of your meals. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soya, milk and yogurt alternatives and peanuts are all excellent choices.
- Eat nuts and seeds daily, especially those rich in omega-3 fats.
- Have calcium rich foods daily. Calcium fortified products and calcium-set tofu are easy options.
- Make sure your diet includes a good source of vitamin B12, either fortified foods or a supplement.
- Ensure your diet contains Iodine, supplements are the best option for this.
- UK vegans should take vitamin D supplements during the autumn and winter – and all year round if you don’t regularly expose your skin to sunlight or have darker skin.
- Use small amounts of spread and oil which are high in unsaturated fats, eg. veg and olive oil.
- Season food with herbs and spices rather than salt
- Drink 6-8 glasses of fluid per day.
- Consider supplements containing long-chain omega-3 fats from microalgae, especially if you are pregnant or breast feeding (also good for vegan children)
- Keep active and try to keep a healthy weight.
Delving deeper into vegan nutrition.
For those of you who like to know more about what vitamins and minerals do for your body, and where the best source are, this next section is for you. There’s a lot of info, so grab yourself a nice cup of herbal tea and get stuck in!
This vitamin is essential for everyone. B12 comes from plants, which animals eat, and then humans eat the animals. Vegans cut out the animal bit and just get our B12 from the plants themselves! We get our B12 either from fortified foods, or as a supplement.
B12 is often added to milk and yogurt alternatives, vegan spreads, nutritional yeast, yeast extracts (marmite) and breakfast cereals, so it is easy to get it in a vegan diet.
We should aim to eat these foods at least twice a day, with a recommended daily intake of at least 3mcg.
However some of us don’t take as much care of what we eat as we should. I will admit that my busy lifestyle means I often find myself going for easy processed meals rather than cooking from scratch. So to ensure I get enough of this essential vitamin, I take a supplement. If you take just B12, you should aim for 10mcg a day, or 2000mcg per week.
This may seem like alot considering the recommendations, but the body absorbs B12 more efficiently in small doses, so the less frequently you take it, the more you need. It’s important to note that you cannot overdose on B12, as what you don’t use will be passed in your urine.
I take a vitamin B complex which contains all 8 B vitamins needed for healthy balance.
Protein gives the body structure in our muscles and bones. It is also used for fighting infection, carrying oxygen, growth and repair. A common question put to vegans is: ‘how do you get enough protein?’ A varied and balanced diet containing plenty of whole plant foods and adequate calories provides more than enough protein for us!
You should ensure that most of your meals contain good sources of protein, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soya milk, dairy free yogurt and peanuts.
Other great sources of protein include cashew nuts, pistachio nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice.
Omega -3 and 6 fats
We need some fat in our diet. These fats are classified as essential as our bodies cannot make them. Omega-3 (alpha-linoleic acid) and Omega-6 (linoleic acid) affect our immune system, brain, nerves and eyes.
Omega-6 comes from seeds, walnuts and soya spread, whereas Omega-3 comes from chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, walnuts and vegetable oils.
You should take care with portion sizes of pumpkin seeds however as they can cause loose stools!
Calcium is commonly known as the nutrient that keeps bones and teeth strong. But it also plays a major part in keeping our nervous system, blood clotting and muscle control healthy. So where so vegans get their calcium?
Great sources include calcium-set tofu, fortified milk and yogurt alternatives, soya and ground linseed, vegetables like kale and broccoli, fruits like oranges and blackberries, almond butter and sesame seeds to name but a few.
It’s also important to note that consuming dairy as a way to get calcium is not the best option, due to the side affects of dairy on the body. – source: Dr Mark Hyman
Vitamin D is vital to keep our bones healthy. It helps to control the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight and it’s thought that this vitamin has a more important role in our bone health than calcium.
With the weather being so unpredictable here in the UK, it is recommended that we take a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months to give us a much needed boost. This may also be helpful to those who suffer with S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Iodine is used by our bodies to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control how well our cells and metabolic rate work. There are sources of iodine in plants. However, the levels vary depending on how much iodine is in the soil. Vegans should take an iodine supplement. (Speak to a GP or nutritional specialist for advice as overdose can affect how your thyroid works.)
Selenium is a part of many important enzymes, which are substances that speed up reactions in our bodies. Great sources include brazil nuts and supplements.
Anaemia – iron deficiency, is one of the most common deficiencies in the world. Menstruating women need to aim for a higher intake. Iron can be found in lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots, figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereals.
Lots of factors are involved in the amount of iron the body can absorb. If you are deficient, more will be absorbed quicker. Tea and coffee can make it difficult to absorb iron, whereas vitamin C increases absorbtion. Vitamin C comes from peppers, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, kiwi’s, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit and orange juice. Most of these also contain iron too, so it’s a win-win!
For those of us who need a supplement, it’s important to take it with a source of vitamin C, such as orange juice.
Iron and IBS
Having IBS makes taking iron tablets difficult, I personally can’t tolerate them at all. If you’re like me, worry not! You can take liquid iron instead, Spatone is gentle on the tummy, comes in handy daily sachets and is suitable for vegans, and it doesn’t break the bank because it’s cheaper than a prescription!
*If you live in the US, Floradix is another great liquid iron for those suffering with IBS. It is very gentle on the tummy so won’t cause stomach upsets or pain.
Zinc is important for fighting infections, growth and speeding up our reactions. Good sources include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu and walnuts. You could also try cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread and quinoa
Vitmain K is responsible for blood clotting, bone health and kidney function. It is make by plants, such as brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, broccoli, spinach, spring greens and kiwi’s.
So you can see that a plant based diet provides almost all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you need. Eating a varied balance of the foods mentioned above, along with healthy supplements will ensure you get what you need.
In fact most vegans get more of these essentials than non-vegans as animal proteins can affect the body’s ability to absorb them.