What are the nutritional needs of vegans?

5 tips for meeting your nutrition goals

Researchers have shown that a more plant-based diet may help prevent, treat, or reverse some of our leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure! However, as someone who just switched to a plant-based diet there are a few things you must keep in mind to make sure your nutrition is in check. Here are 5 tips for meeting your nutrition goals as a vegan.

1. Get enough protein

How do you get your protein? Is a question as old as time which vegans encounter daily. There is a common misconception that you can’t get enough protein as a vegan – which is completely false. There is plenty of protein in plant-based food so at the end of the day it is not about whether it is possible or not – it is about whether you are doing it right or not.

The easiest way to get enough protein is to eat protein rich food. Focus on consuming a lot of beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and grains. As a snack, try to incorporate more nuts or nut butters such as peanut butter into your diet. Lastly, if you are still worried about your protein intake – consider adding a protein powder supplement to your morning smoothie or oats. There are many vegan protein powder options available – flavored or unflavored. I find that most days I get enough protein without adding protein powder to my meals and I assume for most of you it will be the same. However, if you are very physically active – a protein powder may be a good idea.

In case you are worried about your protein intake on a plant-based diet, you can read this study which discussed how plant foods do have a complete amino acid composition!

2. Get B12 supplements

It may take you a very long time to actually become deficient in B12 after switching to a plant-based diet. On the other hand, you may already be deficient as B12 deficiency is common in individuals who consume animal foods as well! Foods fortified with B12 (such as some plant milks, soy products, and breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements are the only trustworthy sources of B12.

To make sure you got this covered, I advise you to take B12 supplements regularly.

about b12 vitamin infographic
infographic as part of an upcoming book on choosing veganism

3. Focus on consuming whole foods

The truth is that if you eat a lot of junk food – no matter which diet you are on – you may not meet your nutrition goals regularly. The best way to ensure optimal health on a plant-based diet (or any diet really) is to focus on consuming whole foods as much as possible.

Whole foods such as fruits and vegetables are packed full of phytochemicals and, according to a study by the Institute of Nutrition Sciences, Germany, these natural compounds can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular and other diseases. Source

Whole foods are foods that have been minimally or not at all processed. Whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables are just a few examples. Consider preparing more food at home if you can – that way you know exactly what ingredients are added to your meal.

4. Getting enough calcium

Personally, I have never been deficient on calcium as I get enough of it from my diet but the common misconception that you need to drink cow milk to get your calcium is so prevalent that I feel like it is important to discuss this briefly.

Calcium-set tofu, soybeans and soy containing foods, calcium-fortified milk and yoghurt alternatives, sesame seeds and tahini are some ways to get enough calcium. You can also choose to take supplements.

calcium info for vegans

5. Getting Enough Calories!

Unless you are planning on losing weight (and even then…), getting enough calories every day is essential if you want to maintain optimal health as a vegan.

One of the most common mistakes new vegans make when they transition to a plant-based diet is not eating enough. A salad made up of greens and tomato is not enough for a lunch. It is important to make sure you get enough calories and a good mix of protein, carbs and fats. You need all three for your body to function well. An example of a proper salad is one which has all three – for example a salad with greens, tomato, avocado, almonds and beans. You can check out some vegan salad ideas here.

In the beginning, it may be hard to figure out whether you are getting enough calories or not, which is why I encourage you to try using an app such as Cronometer or Lifesum where you can track your food intake and see if you are getting enough calories, protein, carbs and fats.

So, what are the nutritional needs of vegans?

The key takeaways are:

  1. Try to get enough protein
  2. Get vitamin B12 supplements
  3. Focus on consuming whole foods
  4. Make sure you get enough calcium
  5. Eat enough calories – protein, fats and carbs

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