Demystifying Vegan Nutrition: Top 4 FAQs Explained
The world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has stated that a vegan diet is healthy for us at any stage of our lives. This includes infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, lactation, older adulthood and for athletes. A vegan diet can also provide a number of health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases including ischemic heart disease, certain types of cancer, hypertension, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Below we explain four of the most common nutrition FAQ’s asked by those exploring a vegan diet. Perfect for 2018 Veganuary participants!
What About Iron?
Iron is essential for producing healthy red blood cells and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Plant-foods rich in iron include whole grain bread and cereals, dark chocolate, beans, hummus, cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach, kale, broccoli, raisins and dried apricots. You can also find iron-fortified products like breakfast cereals and breads at most major supermarkets.
To boost absorption, it’s best to consume iron with vitamin C rich foods such as bell peppers, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, green peas, broccoli, kiwi fruit, berries, oranges, papayas and mangoes.
Bonus: some plant foods are an all-in-one as they contain both iron and vitamin C such as leafy greens, broccoli, and tomatoes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron for adult males and for women over 50 is 8 milligrams per day. For women aged 19-50, the RDA is 18 milligrams per day (the reason it's higher is to compensate for menstrual losses).
What About Protein?
Protein plays an important role in building and repairing body tissues, producing hormones and enzymes and maintaining our immune system.
Plant-based protein-rich foods include beans, whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, tofu and spinach.
In the past, we used to believe that animal products were the only way to obtain “complete proteins,” but today we understand that our bodies are capable of making complete proteins providing that we eat a decent variety of plant-based protein sources.
Additionally, soy beans (also called edamame) contain all nine of the essential amino acids and are considered a “complete” source of plant-protein.
According to Harvard Health, the recommended dietary allowance for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
This is easily obtained without animal products. For example, just a single vegan burrito from Chipotle (with black beans or pinto beans) contains a whopping 25-30 grams!
While it’s common for professional athletes and bodybuilders to fuss over protein, the message for the rest of is that we’re often consuming too much protein and not enough fiber leading to negative health consequences.
What About Calcium?
While calcium is most famous for building and maintaining healthy bones, it also helps our nerves to send impulses and our muscles to contract.
Plant-based foods that are rich in calcium include almonds, beans, bok choy, broccoli, tofu, collards and almonds. Most plant milks are fortified with calcium too.
It’s important to note that our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium (most easily obtained from sunlight), so be sure to get at least 10-15 minutes of sunlight per day. During the winter months, or if you live in an extremely cold climate, vitamin D supplements are recommended for both omnivores and vegans alike but be careful not to exceed the recommend dosage.
According to the World Health Organization, the recommended daily allowance of calcium for adult males and pre-menopause females is 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. For males 65+ for and post- menopause females: 1,300 milligrams per day. For children aged 2-9 years, 500-700 milligrams of calcium per day, and for adolescents aged 10-18 years: 1,300 milligrams per day.
What About B12?
B12 plays a key role in how our bodies create energy, and also keeps our cells, heart and entire cardiovascular system healthy.
Most people mistakenly believe that B12 is a nutrient that is natural or “exclusive” to animal products, when in fact it is synthesized by bacteria that is found in areas of bacterial growth: namely dirt and soil. This is where farmed animals who are raised in natural environments (less than 5% of total farms in the U.S.) obtain B12, and how it ends up in their flesh and by-products.
However, the majority of animals raised on factory farms do not consume their natural diets from soil, and thus their feed is often supplemented with B12 to compensate. So, when we consume B12 from their flesh and by-products, it’s essentially a second-hand supplement, and not the “natural source” it is often touted to be by those representing the interests of the meat and dairy industries.
For hundreds of thousands of years, humans obtained B12 by eating plants that still had bits of dirt and soil on them. Today, however, we wash our fruits and veggies so well (and understandably due to pesticide residues) that we no longer consume traces of dirt or proper levels of B12.
Considering that the majority of today’s B12 in animal products comes from second-hand supplements (plus all of the cholesterol, toxins, hormones and antibiotics that many animal products also contain) isn't it far better to simply take a B12 supplement and cut out the middle man?
Alternatives include foods that are fortified with B12 (most plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals).
● A diet of burgers, fries, soft drinks, chips, candy, and ice cream isn’t going to be healthy regardless of whether it’s vegan or not.
● Quoted RDA’s from health organizations will vary between individuals based on age, body weight, activity levels and other factors.
● For more information and delicious vegan meal ideas download our free veg starter guide today!