What should you eat on a vegan diet?
Going vegan seems to be the hot topic at the moment. People tend to go vegan for a few reasons, it may be for health reasons, to stop animal suffering and/or reduce the effect on the environment. Whatever the reason it is worth being well informed on what you should be eating to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients you need.
No matter what type of diet you are following it needs to contain a balance of the following important food groups:
Protein for repair and maintenance of body tissue and building muscles
Carbohydrates for energy
Vitamins and minerals for many and varied functions within the body, from hormone production to digestion to liver function etc.
Essential fatty acids for energy, brain functioning, skin health, hair growth etc.
Fibre is needed to keep the digestive system healthy and functioning properly. It is essentially a carbohydrate that is found only in plants i.e. fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses, wholemeal grains & cereals.
Plenty of water.
The vegan diet should be based around the following:
Proteins including tofu, beans, pulses, peas, rice, quinoa, edamame beans, tempeh, lentils, almonds etc.
Vegetables and fruit are important for your daily supply of vitamins and minerals. Make sure you get lots of varying colours so that you can be sure you’re getting a good variety of all of the vitamins and minerals that you need. Raw and organic are always best. You can easily include raw vegetables and fruit in your diet by including salads, smoothies and sprouted beans, pulses & seeds in your diet. If you struggle to eat raw vegetables then just steam them lightly rather than boiling.
Wholemeal grains and cereals include foods such as brown rice, oats, bran, barley, wholemeal wheat, rye, millet, buckwheat, quinoa etc.
Healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, cold pressed unsaturated oils e.g. olive, safflower, sesame oil etc., olive/sunflower spreads.
Dairy alternatives of which there are plenty now-a-days including almond/oat/coconut rice milk/cream. Watch out for any added ingredients however, Rude Health and Oatly are really good brands; their products don’t contain any additives or thickeners.
Drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated; at least 2 litres per day.
Replacing missing nutrients
Going vegan means that you are eliminating a major food group from your diet, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products which are all good supplies of protein, vitamin B12, calcium and iron. Therefore, you have to ensure that you are replacing any potential losses with plant based sources.
As mentioned above proteins, are needed by everyone for repair and maintenance of body tissue and building muscles. On average, daily consumption of protein should amount to:
Average sedentary man = 56 g/day
Average sedentary woman = 46 g/day
Teenagers 14 – 18 = 46 g/day for girls and 52 g/day for boys
Children 9 – 13 = 34 g/day.
Children 4 – 8 years =19 g/day
Children 1 - 3 years = 13 g/day.
Of course these are all averages and these amounts can be affected depending on your weight, activity levels, age, muscle mass, physique goals and current state of health.
Good sources of plant based proteins include tofu (8g/100g block), edamame (18g/1cup), tempeh (19g/100g block), lentils (18g/cup), cooked black beans (1g/cup), cooked lima beans (15g/cup), peanut butter (7g per ¼ cup or 2 tbsp), cooked wild rice (6.5g/cup), chickpeas (12g/cup), almonds (24g/cup), chia seeds (6g/2 tbsp), oats (20g/cup), cashews (20g/cup), pumpkin seeds (5g/¼ cup), potatoes (4g/1 medium potato).
Iron is needed mainly for haemoglobin production; a protein that allows for oxygen transportation around the body. A deficiency in iron can lead to anaemia.
The recommended daily allowance needed to avoid any problems with deficiency is as follows:
Adult males and women over 50 = 8 mg per day
Women aged 19 - 50 = 18 mg per day (it's higher in women of this age to compensate for menstrual losses).
Children need between 7 and 11 grams per day.
We normally associate red meat as good supplies of iron, however you may be surprised to find that you can get all the iron you need from plant based foods. Good sources include:
100g bar of dark chocolate (70-85% cacao solids) contains 8mg.
Dried fruit such as peaches contains 6.5mg/cup followed by dried prunes, apricots and raisins.
Blackstrap molasses 2 tbsps contain 3.5mg.
Dark leafy greens contain more iron when eaten raw than cooked; raw spinach contains 6.4 mg/1 cup this amount is reduced to 0.81mg per cup of cooked spinach. Swiss chard contains 3.95 mg/cup. Cooked beet greens have 2.74 mg/cup followed by collard greens, kale and turnip greens.
Spirulina contains 2 mg/tbsp.
Tofu 2.15 mg/quarter-block
Whole grains such as quinoa, oatmeal, barley, rice, bulgur, buckwheat and millet. For example quinoa 2.76 mg/1 cup serving.
Beans e.g. kidney beans provides 3.93 mg of iron.
Nuts such as cashews contain 8.22 mg/1 cup, almonds 5.32 mg/cup, macadamias & pistachios 5 mg/1 cup
Seeds, particularly sesame seeds contain 1.31 mg/1tbsp.
Note: Iron absorption is aided by Vitamin C, therefore eat your iron rich foods with foods that contain Vitamin C.
Calcium is needed for many different functions in the body; it gives the blood its ability to clot, allows the nerves to send/receive messages, it is needed by the muscles so that they can contract.
The recommended daily allowance is as follows:
Adults (19-64 years) 700mg
Children & teenagers 700 – 1300 mg
Babies upto 12 months 200 – 260 mg/day
Dairy products are always promoted as being the best source of calcium, 1 glass of dairy milk contains approx. 120mg calcium, however, there are good plant based sources available.
Fortified hemp milk provides about the same as a glass of dairy milk.
Leafy green vegetables such as cooked collard greens, turnip greens and kale are good sources; 1 cup of cooked kale provides approx. 10% of the RDA.
Soybeans, white beans, navy beans, and pinto beans, are all good sources, for example white beans contain 191 mg / 1 cup.
Blackstrap molasses 1 tbsp contains 10% RDA
Sesame seeds 351 mg / 1 cup
Almond butter 111mg / 2 tbsps
Fennel seed 59mg / 1 tbsp
1 broccoli stalk (raw) 71mg
1 cooked artichoke 54mg
Blackcurrants 62 mg / 1 cup
1 orange 60 mg
Amaranth (cooked) 116mg / 1 cup
Chia seeds 631mg / 100g
Note: A diet which is high in animal protein can cause the loss of calcium through the urine, however, plant based protein is less likely to cause this loss.
Vitamin B12 is exclusively present in animal products, although some research is showing that chlorella may contain a pseudo form of vitamin B12 that may be of some benefit. A deficiency of B12 can lead to a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia which can cause tiredness and weakness. Therefore to ensure that no deficiency occurs it is important to include vitamin B12 supplements in the diet and/or eat cereals or nutritional yeasts that have been fortified with vitamin B12.
If you follow this sort of diet taking into consideration the points I have outlined avoid and cut down on junk/unhealthy/processed food & drinks such as refined flour/sugar, caffeine, alcohol, artificial additives, preservatives, colours & flavourings, you’ll be doing your body a whole lot of good.
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Disclaimer: Before embarking on any diet or fitness regime always speak to your doctor first.