I have a diploma in vegan and vegetarian nutrition and enjoy experimenting with new recipes and ingredients.
Can You Get Enough Nutrients On a Vegan Diet?
When switching to a vegan diet many people are concerned about how they will obtain enough nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, in order to stay healthy. Some of this worry comes from facing an entirely new way of eating and perhaps not having very much knowledge of nutrition, which is understandable. It can be a good thing too, as it is likely to lead a person to research and learn about what a healthy, well-balanced diet consists of.
In many cases, well-meaning family and friends can also add to new vegan’s worries since they likely know little about veganism and nutrition. If they all are eating a standard diet, they may not know of unusual or less mainstream foods such as quinoa, kale, or buckwheat.
They may also be unaware of the true nutrient content of everyday fruits and vegetables as these are commonly treated as nothing more than side dishes or ways to bulk out meat-based meals. In fact, fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, including those that are known to fight all-too-common diseases, such as cancers and heart diseases.
Many people also shy away from nuts and seeds as they have been taught that these are high in fat, and therefore, are unhealthy. But these healthy fats should not be compared to refined or processed fats—or fats present in animal-based foods. Healthy fats are needed by the body in appropriate amounts for proper functioning.
Another food that many people have been taught to avoid or fear is soy and any soy-based product, such as tofu. There has been lots of research done on both sides of this issue, and it is important to be aware of how and by whom any studies were carried out.
Eating a Vegan Diet Isn't Automatically Healthy
A well-balanced vegan diet that is low in processed foods tends to be high in vitamins and minerals due to the fact that it contains a wide range of different fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and pulses.
However, it is important to note that a eating a vegan diet is not automatically healthy—there are many unhealthy foods, such as doughnuts, cakes and other processed foods or ready-made meals that may be suitable for a vegan diet but are not particularly healthy. It is important, as with any way of eating, to be mindful about what you are eating and to avoid falling into a diet of processed meat replacements and junk foods.
Vitamins and Their Roles in the Body
Vitamins are needed to achieve and maintain optimum levels of health and well-being. They carry out a wide range of functions within the body and perhaps many more that we are not yet aware of. There are two groups of vitamins that are needed by the body: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are found in fats and oils and are stored within body fat. Water soluble vitamins dissolve in water and can mix easily with blood. They are only stored by the body in small amounts and any excess is excreted in urine.
Vegan Sources of Essential Vitamins
Within the vegan diet vitamin A is obtained from beta carotene. This is converted in the body depending on how much vitamin A is needed, which limits the risk of vitamin A toxicity. This vitamin helps in forming healthy skin, teeth, soft and skeletal tissues, and produces retinal pigments. It also maintains healthy vision and mucous membranes.
Beta carotene is found in many orange and yellow plant foods including cantaloupe melon, pink grapefruit, apricots, carrots, pumpkins and sweet potato. It can also be found in most green leafy vegetables and is often included in fortified plant based milks.
B Complex Vitamins
This is a group of vitamins that include:
- B1 (thiamine)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothenic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folic acid)
- B12 (cyanocobalamin)
They are used in the body for a range of functions such as obtaining energy from food, forming red blood cells, growth, and in maintaining the nervous and digestive system.
Many B vitamins can be found in leafy green vegetables, pulses, nuts, whole grains and yeast based foods. They may also be included in fortified foods. Vitamin B12 is difficult to obtain when eating a vegan diet and it is important to include appropriately fortified foods or supplements in order to avoid deficiency of this vital vitamin.
Deficiency develops over a period of time and symptoms include poor memory, confusion and lack of energy. Long-term B12 deficiency can lead to nervous system damage. As it can be difficult to ensure adequate intake of B12, many vegans chose to take a supplement.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to protect against damage caused by free radicals. These cause damage to the body and contribute to the aging process and are thought to have a role in conditions such as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. Humans are unable to produce or store vitamin C so foods containing this essential vitamin should be eaten every day.
Vitamin C is used by the body for growth and repair of all tissues, the formation of skin, blood vessels and tendons, wound healing and the maintenance and repair of cartilage, bones and teeth. This vitamin maintains the health of the immune system, skin, eyes and connective tissues and also aids the absorption of iron.
This water soluble vitamin is found in fresh fruits and vegetables especially citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, peppers, berries, pineapple and kiwi fruits.
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and so is vital for good bone health. It is a fat soluble vitamin and deficiency can lead to bone diseases such as osteoporosis or rickets.
This vitamin can be produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight and there are few foods that contain it naturally, although it is added to fortified foods such as cereal and plant milks.
It is recommended that ten to fifteen minutes of sunshine, three times a week is enough to produce the body's requirement of vitamin D. To be effective the sun needs to shine directly on bare skin (without sunscreen). As well as contributing to bone health vitamin D plays a role in maintaining the nerves, immune system and muscles.
Vitamin E is another fat soluble vitamin, and like vitamin C, has antioxidant properties. This essential vitamin is used by the body’s cells in their interactions with each other, helps in blood clotting, maintains the immune system, and aids in the utilisation of vitamin K by the body.
It is found in fortified foods and occurs naturally in many oils such as sunflower, safflower and soy bean. Vitamin E is also present in nuts, seeds and some green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin K is vital for blood clotting, and although deficiency is rare, it is still important to be aware of what foods contain this nutrient. Without a sufficient supply of vitamin K, blot clotting is seriously impaired, and uncontrollable bleeding can occur.
Vitamin K is also important for the use of calcium in the body, and research has suggested that eating plentiful vitamin K may help to prevent osteoporosis. Adequate intake of vitamin K has also been associated with a reduced risk of arterial calcification and stiffening.
This vitamin can be found in a variety of plant based foods including Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, green tea, oats and spinach.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Claire