How to Be a Healthy Vegan
Making the decision to go vegan or vegetarian can be a much bigger challenge than you might think. If done incorrectly, a vegan diet can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies, such as low B12, low iron and/or protein deficiencies. When one engages in a vegan diet that is well thought out however, the benefits can be great.
One Green Planet recently published an excellent easy-to-follow guide to ensuring that your micronutrient needs are met while on a vegan diet.
1. Eat legumes. They’re packed with protein, with the bonus of a big dose of fiber. (No protein-rich animal food can claim that!). Choose three servings of these foods — which include cooked beans, peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh, soymilk, veggie meats, peanuts and peanut butter — every day. Keep it simple if you don’t have time to soak and cook beans (or if you don’t like beans that much). Meals that include a serving of legumes include a PB&J sandwich; baked potato topped with homemade tofu sour cream; hummus wrap; instant cup of lentil soup; veggie burger; or cereal with soymilk.
2. Pile your plate with fruits and veggies, and vary your choices. Vegans are ahead of the game here, since they tend to eat more of these foods than omnivores. Variety is important, though, because different fruits and vegetables have different benefits. Those that are high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) will give iron absorption a big boost, so try to include one of these foods at every meal. Some leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard are among the world’s best sources of potassium, which is good for your bones and blood pressure. Other green leafies — collards and kale — are packed with calcium. And, of course, all of those deep orange vegetables like squash and carrots are important for vitamin A.
3. Get enough calcium. It’s not the end-all and be-all of bone health, but calcium does matter and it’s an area where some vegans fall short. Best sources for vegans are fortified juices and plant milks, calcium-set tofu, kale and collards. But you can get smaller amounts of calcium from figs, oranges, broccoli, and cabbage, too.
4. Choose whole grains. Every single bite of grain you eat doesn’t have to be unprocessed. If you enjoy crusty French bread with soups and salads, or regular pasta in your lasagna, that’s fine. Vegans get plenty of fiber after all. But whole grains have other benefits and nutrients besides fiber, so aim for the unrefined choices most of the time.
5. Be smart about fats. Limiting fatty foods is good, but avoiding them completely isn’t. Some high fat foods like nuts and seeds contribute important nutrients to vegan diets. Nuts are also linked to lower heart disease risk and are helpful in the control of diabetes. Added fats are okay, too, when used in small amounts to enhance texture and flavor of foods. Meals that are swimming in fat aren’t such a good idea, but a drizzle of olive or organic canola oil on salads and roasted vegetables is absolutely fine in the context of a healthy vegan diet. Be sure to include small amounts of ground flaxseed, chia seeds, or walnuts to meet needs for the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.