According to TheAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, around 1.4% of the American population identifies as vegan, and USA TODAY reports that the number of vegans is only growing thanks to support from celebrities like Natalie Portman and books about the health and weight loss benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Although health organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics generally support research that suggests vegan diets can be healthy, they also urge vegans to research and plan their diets appropriately to ensure that they get all of the nutrients their bodies need. If you’re making the switch to veganism, here’s how to be a vegan and stay healthy:
Make sure your body gets enough protein – Lack of sufficient protein is common among those with poorly planned vegan diets. Your body needs protein to aid in growth, repair, metabolism, and digestion, among many other things. Meat eaters get plenty of protein from things like eggs, milk, cheese, and meat. Vegans and vegetarians, on the other hand, have to put forth some effort to get enough protein in their diets. If you’ve embraced veganism in your life, try to incorporate plenty of beans, nuts, tofu, quinoa, tempeh, and seitan into your vegan diet plan.
Don’t forget about vitamin B-12 – Vitamin B-12 is an important vitamin people primarily get from eating meat. Without this crucial vitamin, your energy levels can take a nosedive, you may develop a rapid heartbeat, you could bruise more easily, and you might suffer from various different kinds of stomach problems. Certain types of nutritional yeast can be a rich source of vitamin B-12 for vegans. Additionally, some kinds of cereal and soymilk are fortified with B-12. Since the list of foods that contain vitamin B-12 is limited, you may want to consider taking a plant-based multi-vitamin to help you meet your daily B-12 intake requirements.
Be sure to throw some calcium into the mix – Things like green leafy vegetables, almonds, and figs all contain calcium, so be sure to eat plenty of those. Additionally, the American Dietetic Association recommends that vegans regularly drink orange juice and/or soymilk that have been fortified with extra calcium, since many vegans are calcium deficient. Calcium deficiency can lead to things like tooth decay, brittle bones, and muscle cramping. So, make sure you put some calcium-rich foods and drinks on your vegan grocery list.
Getting all of the nutrients you need as a vegan takes some work on your part. Protein, vitamin B-12, and calcium are some of the most important things you’ll need to supplement your diet with as a vegan. It’s a good idea to keep up with nutritional research to help you with healthy meal planning. If you’re committed to planning out healthy meals for yourself and researching your food options, you may discover that a vegan lifestyle helps you maintain a healthy weight and keep your cholesterol levels under control.
“Health effects of vegan diets,” Winston J. Craig, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
“Veganism is taking root, but is it healthy?” Kim Painter, USA TODAY
Many vegetarians can attest that the most commonly asked question about their diet is “But what about protein?” Though it may seem impossible to many carnivores, it is easy to follow a vegetarian protein and still get enough protein.
In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health says that vegetarian and meat sources of protein are equally healthful. In fact, vegetarian protein may have some advantages over animal protein sources. For example, you will get more protein in a serving of steak than in a serving of lentils, but the calorie and fat content will obviously be much higher in the steak. Depending on your point of view and your health views, eating lower calorie vegetarian protein can make a lot of sense.
Common Sources of Vegetarian and Vegan Protein:
Tofu – This is certainly the most well-known meat substitute, and for good reason. Tofu, a food made of mashed soy bean curd, absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. This versatility makes it perfect as an ingredient in everything from Indian food to vegetarian lasagna. One half cup contains 10 grams of protein.
Seitan – Seitan, otherwise known as “wheat-meat”, closely resembles meat when it is cooked. This quality makes it an ideal ingredient in non-meat burgers or barbecue. This gluten-based food has 10 grams of protein per veggie patty or 21 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Quinoa – The Incas called this delicious food the “mother grain”. It is considered a complete protein, which means it contains every essential amino acid. This inexpensive grain is easy to prepare and add to a plethora of recipes. One cup contains about 18 grams of protein.
Beans and Lentils – Besides being incredibly versatile and easy to find in every area, beans and lentils are a high-protein fiber packer. These proteins are great for cooking, and also have a well-earned place in both Indian recipes and healthy lentil recipes. A cup of beans may have about 13 grams of protein.
Nuts – Nuts are great on salads, in pasta recipes, or just by themselves in their natural state or made into nut butter. Though nuts aren’t usually a good choice for a primary protein, supplementing a diet with nuts is convenient and delicious. Depending on the nut, a ¼ cup will have around 5-9 grams of protein.
Using these foods as a substitution to meat and other animal products helps keep vegetarians and vegans healthy. Even meat-eaters can benefit from these healthy choices.
“Protein: Moving Closer to Center Stage”, Harvard School of Public Health