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January 17, 2022 | Nutrition

Trying a Vegan Eating Pattern? Here Are Some Things to Consider

There’s no doubt that eating an abundance of plant foods is beneficial to health. However, when making significant diet changes, you should be mindful of certain things.

A vegan diet includes foods only derived from plants. It excludes all animal products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy. A vegan diet may also exclude honey. Vegans are different from vegetarians, as vegetarians generally do not consume meat, but they may consume dairy and/or eggs.

You may be aware that increased intake of plant-based foods rich in fibre and low in saturated fat has been associated with positive health outcomes, such as lower risk of some chronic diseases. Yet, if you are eliminating all animal-based foods, you will be removing certain nutrients, and should include suitable alternatives to avoid associated nutrient deficiencies.

Here are some key nutrients and their plant sources you should consider:

Protein

Basically omnipresent in the body, protein is involved in building and repairing cells and tissues and helping to maintain a healthy immune system. Vegans need to ensure they get enough protein from plant sources such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy foods such as tempeh and tofu.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These are necessary for heart, eye, and brain function, and help to prevent inflammation. They are less commonly found in plant foods, but some sources include walnuts, algae, seaweeds, flaxseed and canola oil.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is important for nervous system function, formation of healthy red blood cells and DNA synthesis. It is found naturally only in animal foods. Vegans can get vitamin B12 from fortified foods such as nutritional yeast and fortified soy and rice beverages.

Vitamin D

The “sunshine” vitamin has many important functions including maintaining a healthy immune system and healthy bones and teeth. Although it can be made in the skin on exposure to sunlight, your exposure may not be enough. Plant sources are limited but include fortified soy and almond beverages.

Calcium

Well known for its role in bone health, calcium also plays a crucial role in heart and muscle function. Vegans should include plant sources such as tofu, edamame, dark green vegetables like broccoli and kale, and fortified soy and almond beverages.

Iron

Iron is necessary to make red blood cells and helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. Some plant sources include dark leafy greens, lentils, beans, quinoa, and fortified cereals and pasta. Iron in plant foods isn’t as readily absorbed as that in animal foods, so vegans need to ensure they are eating enough. Eating vitamin C foods, such as bell peppers, with iron foods helps to enhance absorption.

Zinc

Zinc is another key player in the immune system, and it helps to build proteins and heal damaged tissue. It is limited in plant foods, but can be found in beans, nuts, and grain products such as wheat germ.

When it comes to nutrition, you can maintain a healthful vegan eating pattern with careful meal planning. You may also require supplementation to help meet your needs. Before making any significant diet changes, be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian to know if a vegan diet is right for you!

By: Tarini Bidaisee, BSc, BASc, MAN, RD

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