OPTIMISING A VEGAN DIET: ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS TO CONSIDER
Many people are joining the Veganuary this month, and if you are thinking to follow this diet long term you might want to pay attention to specific nutrients that might be more difficult to get while being vegan.
The decision to embrace a vegan lifestyle is often driven by ethical, environmental, and/or health reasons. While a well-planned vegan diet can offer numerous health benefits and support animal welfare, it’s essential to also focus on specific nutrients that may require additional attention. By understanding these key nutrients and incorporating them strategically into your diet, you can thrive on a plant-based journey.
One of the most common concerns about a vegan diet is protein intake. However, various plant-based sources offer an abundance of this essential macronutrient. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans, along with tofu, tempeh, seitan, and certain whole grains like quinoa and amaranth, can provide sufficient protein. Try to incorporate these foods throughout your day to meet your protein needs.
Plant-based sources of iron (non-heme iron) may not be as readily absorbed by the body as iron from animal products (heme iron). This does not mean that we cannot have enough iron on a plant-based diet: to enhance absorption, pair iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C, like citrus fruits, bell peppers, or tomatoes. Dark leafy greens (such as spinach, chard and kale), lentils, beans, nuts and seeds are excellent iron sources for a vegan diet.
Maintaining bone health without dairy can be achieved by consuming fortified plant-based milk alternatives (like almond, soy, or oat milk) and calcium-set tofu, but the best way is to consume green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and bok choy. Additionally, some plant milks and cereals are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption.
Vitamin B12, crucial for nerve function and red blood cell production, is primarily found in animal products. Vegans should consider fortified foods like nutritional yeast, plant-based milk, breakfast cereals, and B12 supplements to ensure adequate intake. Regularly checking B12 levels is crucial to confirm the need to adjust supplementation.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While fish is a common source of omega-3 fatty acids, vegans can obtain these essential fats from sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and algae-based supplements (providing DHA and EPA, the active forms of omega-3s). Incorporating these foods regularly can help maintain optimal omega-3 levels.
Iodine, important for thyroid health, can be obtained from iodized salt or seaweed. However, intake should be moderate, as excessive iodine from seaweed can lead to excess levels.
Zinc, essential for immune function and wound healing, can be sourced from legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting these foods can enhance zinc absorption.
Top tips when going vegan
Start to implement this lifestyle slowly, as over time you might need to adjust the amount of food that you eat. You will also have to adapt your recipes, and possibly learn new cooking skills, so take your time to experiment and find what you like.
A well-balanced vegan diet can provide all necessary nutrients with careful planning and varied food choices. However, it’s essential to remain vigilant about specific nutrients to ensure optimal health. Consulting with your healthcare professional can offer personalized guidance tailored to individual needs and help avoid potential deficiencies.
With mindfulness and strategic meal planning, a vegan diet can be a fulfilling and nutritious lifestyle choice.
Remember, making informed choices and enjoying a diverse array of plant-based foods is the key to thriving on a vegan journey.