Vegan Diet

What is a vegan diet? 

Research shows that sales of plant-based products are increasing and an increasing number of people are turning to the vegan diet because of health and/or environmental concerns. Vegan diets tend to be rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats. Scientific studies show that a vegan diet can improve heart health, protect against cancer, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Only plant-based foods are consumed in the vegan diet, and those who follow this diet avoid all animal products, including meat, dairy products, and eggs. Some people also avoid eating even honey. For some, being vegan is a dietary choice, while for others it is a lifestyle. People who choose a vegan lifestyle may also avoid clothing, soaps and other products that use or contain animal parts such as leather and animal fur.

What should people on a vegan diet pay attention to? 

Like non-vegans, vegans need to get all the micronutrients their bodies need to be healthy. The main concerns with a vegan diet are the insufficient intake of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin D, and calcium, and the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies. However, a vegan diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables is rich in fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and omega-6 fatty acids. A well-planned and balanced vegan diet can be suitable for all age groups, including pregnant or breastfeeding women.

How to meet your vitamin B12 needs as a vegan? 

Vitamin B12 is essential for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 deficiency may occur in both vegetarian and vegan diets. The signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are well known (fatigue, wheezing, lack of energy, headache, irritability, possible anemia, depression, sleep disturbances, and other general disorders). We cannot rely on plant-based foods to meet our vitamin B12 needs, and we should meet our vitamin B12 needs by consuming supplements or functional foods.

How to meet your omega-3 needs as a vegan?

Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect the heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when taken as part of a healthy diet. Evidence suggests that plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits as omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish in reducing the risk of heart disease. 

Vegans can get omega-3 fatty acids from the following sources:

• Ground linseed) oil

• Walnut

• Rapeseed oil

• Chia seeds

• Shelled cannabis seeds

How to meet your calcium needs as a vegan?

Your body needs calcium to build and maintain strong bones. Your heart, muscles, and nerves need calcium to function properly. Some research suggests that calcium, along with vitamin D, may have benefits beyond bone health, perhaps protecting against cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Non-vegans get most of their calcium from milk and dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt). However, since vegans do not consume animal products, they have to get it from other foods. The following foods can be good sources of calcium for vegans:

• Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and okra

• Enriched unsweetened soy, pea, and oat drinks

• Sesame and tahini

• Brown and white bread

• Dried fruits such as raisins, prunes, figs, and apricots

How to meet your vitamin D needs as a vegan?

Vitamin D, known as the sun vitamin, is a hormone and our skin produces it from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It plays an important role in bone health and supports normal neuromuscular and immune function. Good levels of vitamin D in our bodies are associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis, certain cancers, and other chronic diseases. Getting enough vitamin D isn’t as easy as you might think, and low blood levels of vitamin D are an international public health problem. Good sources of vitamin D for vegans include:

• Exposure to sunlight 

• Functional spreads, breakfast cereals, and unsweetened soy beverages (with vitamin D added). 

• Vitamin D supplements

How to meet your iron needs as a vegan?

Iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells. Although iron from plant-based foods is less absorbed by the body than iron from meat, a vegan diet can be high in iron. 
Good sources of iron for vegans include: 

• Pulses 

• Whole wheat bread and flour

• Functional breakfast cereals rich in iron

• Dark green leafy vegetables such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens

• Hazelnut

• Dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and figs

How to meet your iodine needs as a vegan?

Iodine is a trace element that the body needs to produce thyroid hormones. This increases the importance of iodine for metabolism and other vital body functions, including bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy. Insufficient iodine intake causes insufficient thyroid hormone production, and insufficient iodine intake can cause a number of serious health problems, such as enlargement of the thyroid gland called goiter and autoimmune disease of the thyroid. Some scientific studies have examined the iodine status of vegans and found that vegans may be more at risk than the general population for low iodine intake. Therefore, it is important for vegans to be mindful of their iodine intake. 

Most vegetables and fruits are not reliable sources to meet their daily needs. The most potent dietary sources of iodine are sea vegetables such as kombu and dulse. Although the salt used in processed foods is not usually iodized, consuming iodized salt is one of the easiest ways to meet your daily iodine needs. People on vegan diet can also use iodine-containing food supplements to meet their iodine needs.