It’s always hammered in to us to consume your macronutrients, but micronutrients should also never be forgotten. When following a vegan diet, it is essential to get all the nutrients your body requires after removing animal based foods. Veganism can be extremely difficult and you have to be educated for it to be successful. If not, it can be dangerous and lead to malnutrition.
Veganism from a nutrition point of view, is a way of living that excludes animal-based foods, leading to the most common question to be asked “where do you get your protein”. This stems from the idea that meat is the only source of protein out there! However, few realise there are countless sources of Vegan Protein available and in fact, its often the other dietary elements you need to be aware of.
Unfortunately, most are not aware that there are key vitamins & minerals potentially missing from a vegan diet. This can affect your cognition, bones, joints, hair, energy, the list is really endless and I cover a lot of this in my book ‘Re-Nourish’. To ensure you are healthy and strong make sure you have the following dietary components in check:
Vitamin B12 is an amazing micronutrient found mostly in animal foods. B12 deficiency can cause problems with your heart, anaemia and complications during pregnancy; and unfortunately, B12 deficiency is high in vegans. The recommended dietary amounts (RDA) are 2.4 micrograms (mg) daily for ages 14 years and older and 2.6 mg daily for pregnant females. But don’t worry, there are vegan sources out there such as fortified foods (breakfast cereals), plant-based milks and yoghurts, marmites and of course supplements.
Calcium is the nutrient that helps maintain strong bones, but also the nervous system and blood clotting. While milk is a great source of calcium, it can be sourced elsewhere for a vegan diet, and it should be noted that milk isn’t the only source of calcium out there!
Sources such as kale, dried figs and almonds all count towards the 700mg/day that is required in the body, but there are many calcium fortified foods available; calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified milk and bread.
Iron is essential as it’s a central component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. There are two types of iron; heme and non-heme. A vegan diet will only include non-heme diet as its plant-based opposed to heme iron. Key sources of non-heme iron are broccoli, spinach, soy beans, and tofu.
It is harder to absorb non-heme iron, when compared to heme iron, so finding ways to enhance absorption is key. Vitamin C is a great enhancer, so next time you have spinach, squeeze on some lemon juice. Whereas caffeine and alcohol may inhibit absorption; try to leave at least an hour between your morning coffee and iron filled breakfast.
Iodine can often be forgotten but it is key for your body, as it is used to make thyroid hormone. Iodine deficiency can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland, fatigue and a weakened immune system. Iodine can be found in cranberries, navy beans, seaweed; but also, supplementation can be used.
Make sure you are getting enough Omega-3 in your diet! There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These cannot be made in the body and therefore, must be obtained from our diet or through supplementation.
The brain has the highest concentration of lipids after adipose tissue. 35% of brain lipids are long-chain PUFAs, DHA being the most common form. Therefore, for a healthy brain we NEED Omega’s! The best vegan sources are nuts and seeds but these only contain ALA, which take a longer time to convert to EPA and DHA in the body so make sure you are getting enough; if not supplementation may be key.
The word ‘cholesterol’ scares many people, but Cholesterol is a crucial molecule in the body and is part of every cell membrane. It is also used to make steroid hormones like testosterone. Studies show that saturated fat intake correlates with increased testosterone levels. Not surprisingly, Vegans and Vegetarians have much lower testosterone levels than meat eaters. Whilst it is also true that vegans have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, they still need to ensure they are eating the good types of fat in the diet from foods such as Avocados, Nuts, and Olive Oil.
From 20 amino acids, the body can produce a vast array of proteins. Of the eight essential amino acids, lysine and methionine are given special attention in vegan diets. This is because compared with foods of animal origin such as eggs and milk; various food groups of vegetable origin have an imbalance of either lysine or methionine.
Whilst lots of vegan foods contain protein it is highly likely you may need more, especially if you diet is not varied enough. Investing in a good vegan protein powder can be recommended, with rice, pea and hemp all being great choices.
Now there may seem as if there are now countless things to remember when going vegan, but being educated can help in the long run in preventing any deficiencies that could harm your health. Do it right now, then have to fix it later.