Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get all the nutrients you need when on a vegan diet. Curious to know more or try it out? Here are the basics of veganism and a day’s worth of simple recipes to get you started.
Vegan Diet 101 Unlike some vegetarians, who might be more flexible, vegans don’t eat any type of animal products — that means no meat, fish, dairy or eggs. Some vegans also exclude honey and foods that are processed with animal products, including refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, gelatin and some wine and beer.
Nutrient Needs Vegans need to make sure they’re getting enough of and properly replacing the nutrients found in animal-sourced foods. Some of the most important ones include protein, vitamin B12, calcium and zinc — all are necessary for proper metabolism, growth and strength.
Plant sources of protein include soy, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. More and more options are available for vegans these days. Meat alternatives like soy burgers, BOCA burgers and seitan (a thick textured meat replacement made from wheat gluten) provide a variety of options for those who want to re-invent some favorite meat-containing recipes. Soy “dairy” products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are also great options (and they’re often fortified with calcium).
It’s also a good idea to mix grains and legumes at meals (such as rice and beans or pasta and peas) — this combo creates a “complete protein,” which is similar to the type of protein found in meat. (If you eat out at vegetarian or vegan restaurants, you may notice a lot of meals mixing grains and beans.)
B12 is predominantly found in animal products so it’s a biggie for vegans. The good news is B12 is one of the only water-soluble vitamins stored well in the body. If you’re switching to veganism now, but have eaten animal-sourced foods for most of your life, it will take years to deplete your stored B12. Once you’ve been vegan for about 5 years or so, it might be a good time to consider a B12 supplement.
Calcium and iron are plentiful in plant products. Both can be found in beans, almonds, tofu and leafy greens. Fortified products such as orange juice with calcium and breakfast cereals with iron are also easy ways to get some extra nutrients. Zinc (commonly obtained from meat and fish) can be found in beans and nuts. Supplements are also be an option, but only if needs can’t be met from food (but talk to your doctor!). A lot of people worry about iron deficiencies; it’s important that you don’t take an iron supplement unless your doctor detects a deficiency. Too much iron can be toxic.
A day in the life?
Breakfast: A basic bowl of oatmeal (without the butter or added milk) or a smoothie made with creamy silken tofu, soy milk and fresh fruit work well. Honey is used to sweeten our smoothie recipe, but swap it for agave nectar.
Snack: Fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, whole grain pretzels and rice cakes are simple mid-meal snacks — same as for everyone.
Lunch: Veggies are a vegan’s best friend so try a large salad. Add some beans for extra nutrients and hunger-fighting protein. Another easy option is a grilled “cheese” sandwich made with soy cheese, tomato, arugula and spicy red onion.
Dinner: Try a veggie stir fry served with brown rice or quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”), a protein-packed whole grain that we love.