Taking an interest in basic nutrition is important regardless of what you eat, but this is the area where most people feel the least confident when they first go vegan.
To take away some of that worry away, we’ve pulled together some vegan nutrition key facts. Below we focus on the nutrients people typically have questions about, and suggest some great plant-based sources. For more in-depth nutritional information please click here.
Please note: one of the most common mistakes people make when transitioning to plant-based eating is not replacing what they’ve removed. Be sure to replace animal protein and fats with plant protein and fats etc. etc.
Important for cell repair and maintaining or building strength, protein is a vital part of our diet. And guess what? It doesn’t have to be animal-based. You can find protein in almost every food. There are so many plant-based sources out there, so go explore!
Some of the best vegan sources are:
- Legumes – beans, peanuts, peas, lentils and soy (beans and soy products like tofu, tempeh etc.)
- Grains – brown/wild rice, wholewheat bread and pasta, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa
- Nuts – brazils, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and walnuts
- Vitamin B12
B12 is necessary for the healthy function of our brains and nervous systems. It also plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells.
Some good B12 sources include:
- Marmite/Vegemite and other yeast extract spreads
- Nutritional Yeast flakes (check for ‘fortified with B12’ on the label)
- Fortified breakfast cereals (check the label)
- Fortified plant milks (check the label)
- A good quality vegan multivitamin/B12 supplement (100 – 250 mcg a day is ideal or one 2,500 mcg supplement each week).
Find out more about B12 here.
Note: Some people struggle to absorb sufficient B12, regardless of diet. If this is the case, no matter how much B12 you have in your diet, you may require medical treatment to ensure you are absorbing the recommended levels. If you are concerned about your B12 levels please consult your doctor.
- Omega-3 and -6 Fatty Acids
These are two polyunsaturated fats that our bodies cannot make, and are therefore crucial in our diet. Keep a check on your omega-6 intake. Too much Omega-6 can reduce omega-3 conversion.
Good sources of omega-3 are:
- Ground flaxseeds (Linseeds) – 1 tbsp
- Chia seeds – 2 tsp
- Walnuts (4 halves) and walnut oil – 1 tbsp
Sources of Omega-6:
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Soya oil
- Most nuts and seeds
According to two credible nutrition authorities, the World Health Organisation and European Food Safety Authority, you should get at least half a percent of your calories from the short-chain omega-3 ALA in the food sources above. Your body can then take the short-chain omega-3 from these and elongate it into the long-chain omega-3s EPA and DHA found in fish fat. The question, however, is whether the body can make enough for optimal brain health. Until we know more, Dr Greger recommends taking 250mg (2-3 times per week) of pollutant-free long chain omega-3s directly.
Vegan supplements providing DHA or DHA plus EPA are widely available.
Calcium is key for strong teeth and bones, so it’s important to ensure your body is getting the amount it needs – RDA (UK): 700 mg for adults.
You can find it in:
- Kale, watercress, collard greens
- Calcium-set tofu
- Fortified plant milks
- Soy yoghurt
It’s also important to combine calcium sources with lots of fruit and vegetables and protein-rich foods, to aid absorption.
Dr. Michael Greger’s most recent book, ‘How Not To Die’ offers some great suggestions for a healthy, balanced plant-based diet. As part of this, he also created a Daily Dozen checklist to help you keep track of your diet each day. To make it even easier, simply print off the checklist and planner below and stick on your fridge: