Nutrition Tips

A healthy vegan diet is easy with these simple tips

Not all vegan food is automatically healthy. You could eat a dozen delicious flavors of vegan ice cream for breakfast, a stack of pancakes doused in syrup for lunch, and a dinner of cakes, cookies, pies, and cheesecakes. It’s great that we can make or buy all of these wonderful vegan treats, but no one would think for a moment that they are healthy.

A healthy diet must include putting plants at the center of our meals, though this does not mean we have to sacrifice pleasure or flavor. And if we choose vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, spices, herbs, and some of the 20,000 edible plants that exist in the world, we can experience an incredible improvement in our health while enjoying some wonderful flavors.

Dr. Michael Greger is an internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health. He has devised a list of foods we should all aim to eat every day for optimal health. This is Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen

Common Concerns 

Protein 

The first question asked of vegans is often “where do you get your protein?” This is really surprising, because protein is in almost every single food we eat. Of course, some sources are better than others, but it is not difficult to reach the recommended daily intake as a vegan.

Some of the best sources include tofu, tempeh, meat alternatives made from soy or grain protein, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, baked beans, edamame, seeds, nuts and nut butters, quinoa, oats, rice, and grains. Even vegetables contain some protein!

A typical day’s food that exceeds protein requirement might be: 

Oatmeal with a sprinkle of almonds or seeds – 12g 

One hummus and falafel wrap with a three-bean salad – 24g 

Veggie sausages with potatoes, peas and broccoli – 30g

Calcium and Vitamin D

Just as meat does not have the monopoly on protein, milk does not have the monopoly on calcium! We can get calcium from fortified plant milk and calcium-set tofu. Beans and greens tend to be calcium-rich, so eat plenty of black turtle beans, kidney beans, soya beans, kale, watercress, okra, and broccoli.

You’ll also find calcium in sweet potato, butternut squash, and tofu, and if you snack on dried figs and almonds, you’ll be getting a calcium hit again.

Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, and many people are low in this vital vitamin (particularly in the winter months), irrespective of their diet. Although fortified foods are available, these are not the best source – supplementing is best.

In the winter months, it is recommended to take a vitamin D supplement, although some may choose to supplement year-round if getting sufficient sunlight is not possible. Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, but vitamin D3 can be derived from animals, so ensure you choose a vegan brand of D3.

Iron 

Although iron-deficiency anemia is not uncommon, research suggests that those who eat a plant-based diet are no more at risk than those who eat meat.

Start your day with a breakfast of oats or a cereal that is already fortified with it. Sprinkle some seeds and dried fruit on top, and you may just have reached your daily intake before you even leave the house!

Other foods to help boost your iron intake are: Edamame, lentils, chickpeas and beans, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, blackstrap molasses, watercress, kale, and other dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, sesame seeds, and dark chocolate.

Be sure to eat plenty of vitamin C to help you absorb the iron in your food and avoid drinking coffee or tea with your meal, as this can reduce absorption.

Omega-3 and omega-6 

Our bodies are able to make almost all the fats we need for the proper functioning of our tissues, but there are two we must get from our food – omega-3 and omega-6 – and for this reason they are known as essential fatty acids.

Omega-6 can be found plentifully in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and most vegetable oils. It is very easy to get sufficient omega-6 on a balanced vegan diet, but this fat competes with omega-3 for use in the body so we need to make sure we are getting sufficient omega-3 every day.

Long-chain omega-3s (DHA and EPA) are found in fish (who obtain them from algae), and in sea vegetables. Short-chain omega-3s (ALA) are found in certain nuts and seeds, greens, and soybeans.

As the only food containing both EPA and DHA is sea greens, vegans should take a high-quality microalgae supplement to ensure we get enough, particularly during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This can be done alongside eating sources of ALA such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.

Iodine 

Iodine can be tricky to get right because having either too much or too little can cause thyroid problems. There are small amounts in nuts, bread, fruit, vegetables, and beans but the best plant sources are seaweed and iodized salt, though the amounts in seaweed can vary quite widely.

The most simple and reliable way to get enough iodine is to take a 140mcg supplement every day.

Vitamin B12 

This is the one vitamin that is tricky to obtain on a vegan diet. It is present in animal products, but it isn’t made by the animals themselves but by the bacteria inside of them.

Vegans can get vitamin B12 by eating nutritional yeast (aka nooch), and breakfast cereals and plant-based milks that are fortified with it.

However, it is recommended that everyone on a vegan diet takes a supplement of this important vitamin to be sure they are getting a sufficient amount.


Of course, everyone is different, and some people have special nutritional requirements (e.g. pregnant women, athletes, those with chronic illnesses or nutrient absorption problems). For specific nutritional or health concerns you should speak to your physician or a registered nutritionist. You can find a directory of plant-based health professionals here: https://www.plantbaseddoctors.org/find.


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