How to Go Vegan?
Everybody eating a mostly or entirely vegan diet should learn the basics of vegan nutrition. The main pitfalls of a plant-based diet are easy enough to avoid, once you find out which nutrients are of special interest to vegans.
Going vegan, or merely taking a few steps in that direction, can deliver important health benefits. Diets built primarily on plants are associated with lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk for type-2 diabetes. Plant foods also contain compounds with anti-cancer properties. Some people find that replacing meat, dairy and eggs with fiber-packed vegan foods helps them shed weight, too.
Simply eating a variety of whole plant foods along with healthy fats can increase your odds of avoiding chronic diseases. But meeting nutrient needs on a vegan diet requires a little additional attention. This article highlights the main things to keep in mind to ensure adequate nutrition on a vegan or near-vegan diet. Nothing presented here is all that difficult, it’s just that it isn’t exactly intuitive.
Moving toward a vegan diet means finding new ways to meet needs for some nutrients. But once you learn the basics of sensible menu planning, following a healthful vegan diet becomes second nature.
SAFELY CHANGING YOUR DIET:
Whether you’re vegan or not, it’s wise to eat a wide variety of vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
But even after making these healthful foods the basis of your diet, it’s certainly possible to come up short on one or more nutrients. The nutrients that require extra attention from vegans are:
- vitamin A
- omega-3 fats
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D
Any of the above nutrients are typically associated with animal foods. But vegans don’t need to worry, since everything except B12 and vitamin D is easily found in vegan foods as well. Later in this article, below I will cover how to meet your protein, B12 and D needs on a vegan diet.
You may have heard that vegans face no risk of protein deficiency as long as they eat enough calories and choose whole plant foods. That’s not quite true, though. I haven’t personally met any overt protein deficiency vegans, but it doesn’t mean that all vegans consume protein in optimal amounts. Marginal or suboptimal protein status may damage health by affecting bone health and muscle strength. It’s especially important to include legumes in your diet to ensure adequate amounts of amino acids. These are the building blocks of protein and some of them, the essential amino acids, must come from food. Vegan diets that don’t include legumes (this food group includes beans, soy foods and peanuts) could fall short of one particular essential amino acid called lysine.
Two servings per day of legumes will probably provide you with sufficient lysine, but three servings delivers an extra margin of safety. Older people or anyone on a weight loss diet might want to aim for even more of these foods.
The internet abounds with misleading information about vitamin B12. Specifically, countless websites and forum posts make unfounded claims that vegans don’t need to worry about their B12 status. But nutrition experts are in clear agreement that there are only two reliable sources of vitamin B12 for vegans. These are foods fortified with this nutrient and supplements.
Contrary to popular belief, sea vegetables, fermented foods and organic vegetables don’t provide vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast often contains significant B12, but only if it’s grown on a B12-rich medium. And while people can store significant amounts of vitamin B12 in their livers, this is not a reliable source of the vitamin for anyone.
B 12 SUPPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS:
When you go vegan or become nearly vegan you should start taking B12. There is no persuasive reason to wait, and every reason to start right away. Vitamin B12 deficiency results in anemia and can also lead to nerve damage—irreversible in some cases—so it’s essential to make sure you get enough.
Figuring out appropriate dosages of B12 is tricky because absorption varies by dosage size. It’s absorbed best in small frequent doses which means you need larger and larger amounts of B12 the less often you consume it.
Here are three ways to meet your vitamin B12 needs. They all refer to the cyanocobalamin form of the vitamin, which is the only one proven reliable as a supplement.
- Take a daily supplement providing 25 to 100 mcg of vitamin B12. Opt for chewable since this may allow for greater absorption.
- Take a supplement providing 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12 twice per week.
- Eat two servings per day of foods fortified with at least 2 to 3.5 mcg of vitamin B12 each. You’ll need to eat these servings at least 4 hours apart to allow for optimal absorption.
Humans evolved to make vitamin D whenever strong summer sunlight hits bare skin. But smog, clouds and sunscreen all block vitamin D synthesis. Older people and people with darker skin require more sun exposure to make vitamin D. In temperate climates, winter sunlight is often too weak for adequate vitamin D synthesis. Exposing your face and arms (without sunscreen) to midday summer sunlight for 10 to 20 minutes per day, or 30 minutes if you’re over 70, should enable your body to generate sufficient vitamin D. If you aren’t regularly getting this amount of sun exposure, you’ll need a dietary source.
Vitamin D occurs naturally in eggs and some types of fish, but the amounts are too low to meet daily needs. This means that many people, vegan or not, must take vitamin D supplements or fortified foods to avoid deficiency.
Vitamin D3 is the most common form of vitamin D found in foods and supplements, and is almost always derived from animals. Vitamin D2 usually comes from yeast and until recently was the only vegan form of the vitamin. If you have adequate vitamin levels, vitamin D2 supplements are sufficient for maintaining those levels. There is evidence, though, that D3 is more effective for reversing a deficiency of vitamin D. So if your vitamin D levels are currently too low, you may need D3 to bring them back up to a healthy level. Although it’s a little harder to find, vegan D3 supplements have recently become available. Recommended intake of vitamin D is 600 IUs per day.
TIP: While it’s smart to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, there is no reason to avoid vegan meats, plant milks, or oils. These foods not only make vegan diets convenient and more tasty, they also contribute important nutrients. There is no evidence that vegans who shun these foods enjoy better health than others. Always consult a physician prior to starting a new diet to see it will be a good fit for your health and weight loss needs.
***If you liked “How to go Vegan”, article, don’t forget to share it with a friend.