Nutrition

A Vegan Diet

What is a vegan diet?

 Veganism is nonviolence and a rejection of the exploitation of sentient beings, so the vegan diet reflects these values.  Vegans consume an entirely plant-based diet* (hereafter referred to as a vegan diet), and just as in all aspects of vegan living, the vegan diet does not include any products that are taken from any animals, such as: the “meat” of any animal, including fishes, crustaceans, squids, octopi or any other sea-dwelling sentient beings; animal milks or animal milk products such as cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk cheeses, cow’s milk ice cream or any other “dairy” products; no bird’s eggs; nor honey; nor products containing any of the above; nor products containing any other animal by-products such as cow’s hooves (gelatine) or feathers (often labelled as “L-cysteine” and often used to make commercial breads) etc.

This is not an exhaustive list, but if it seems like a lot to take in, never fear!  Avoiding processed foods makes the avoidance of animal by-products easy, and is also much healthier way to eat.  There are vegan processed foods, but like most processed foods they are less likely to be nutritionally sound and in NZ they can be rather expensive.

*Note – there are individuals who consume an entirely plant based diet for health reasons or environmental reasons or both,  but who otherwise use or exploit animals or other animal products. Veganism is not a diet  and they are not vegans, however a plant-based diet is obviously an essential part of veganism.

It is our individual responsibility to maintain our health and wellbeing, and we each have the means to do so, through eating a balanced vegan diet supplemented with certain vitamins where needed, and making sure we get enough exercise and rest, and avoiding activities that are harmful to us & to those with whom we share this earth.

There is no need, and we have no right, to exploit other sentient beings unnecessarily, in order to eat them, or to supplement our diets with certain products that we are perfectly able to obtain from vegan sources.  

Two excellent resources including great information on vegan nutrition — Boston Vegan Association and Gentle World

Is a vegan diet healthy?

Well-planned vegan diets are recognised as healthy and nutritious by the world’s leading mainstream dietetic associations:

Dieticians of Canada/Les diététistes du Canada state:

“A well planned vegan diet…is safe and healthy for pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies, children, teens and seniors.”  And “A vegan eating pattern has many potential health benefits. They include lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Other benefits include lower blood cholesterol levels and a lower risk for gallstones and intestinal problems.” and “A variety of plant foods eaten during the day can provide enough protein to promote and maintain good health.”

The American Dietetic Association, in its Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets, Volume 2009,  states:

 “Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases…[and]…are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

Note the phrase “appropriately-planned” appearing in the expert analyses. This is important, because no diet that is poorly planned will meet anyone’s nutritional needs, so someone can easily eat an unhealthy vegan diet i.e. only eating potato chips and applesauce, or only white bread and pasta.  It is very important to eat a balanced vegan diet in order to get all the nutrients our bodies need.

Read these inspiring personal stories about the health benefits of eating a vegan diet:

http://gentleworld.org/rewarded-for-being-vegan/

Balance

A healthy balanced vegan diet is made up of four food groups: 1. legumes, nuts & seeds; 2. grains; 3. fruits and 4. vegetables.

1. Legumes, nuts and seeds (4+ servings per day):

This group includes beans, split peas, lentils, nuts, seeds and also soy products.  It’s not a requirement to consume soy products in order to have a balanced vegan diet, and not all vegans consume soy products.  However for those who like soy, it is an extremely versatile food that can be used in a variety of ways.

2. Grains (4-6+ servings per day):

Whole grains are preferable to refined grains, because the refining process removes the healthiest nutrients.  Brown rice, oats, millet and quinoa are fantastic sources of B vitamins, fiber, minerals, proteins and antioxidents.  For gluten intolerant individuals, rice, millet and quinoa are gluten-free.  They can be prepared in a variety of ways, from pilafs and spicy savoury dishes to salads.  Quinoa and millet are considered “superfoods”.  In New Zealand, the most affordable kind of quinoa tends to be the white quinoa.

3. Vegetables (4+ servings per day):

The vegetable world is full of colour and nutrients and variety.  Eating a wide variety of colourful vegetables is not only delicious and creative, but extremely healthy and provides an assortment of protective nutrients in your diet.  It is impossible to list all the wonderful vegetables that there are available.  It is recommended to buy what is in season in your country at the time, as that is nature’s way of letting us know which are the most beneficial for us to consume at that time of year (not to mention the most affordable and eco-friendly!)

4. Fruits (2+ servings per day):

Anything with seeds is considered a fruit, so this includes cucumbers, tomatoes and avocados as well as mandarins and apples etc.  Most fruits are a great source of Vitamin C and all fruits provide antioxidants and fibre.  Whole fruits are more beneficial than fruit juices, and again it is recommended to consume what is in season in your country at the time.

Click here for answers to some common questions about vegan diets.

Protein

Plants have protein, so vegans get their protein from plant sources.  It is a myth that humans need a large amount of protein, in fact it is now recognised that most people eat too much protein, or at least more than they need.  By eating a variety of whole plant foods, humans can easily meet their daily protein needs.  The recommended dietary allowance (or RDA) of protein for humans depends on physical activity levels, pregnancy and other factors, including age.  For example, the NZ Ministry of Health Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Adolescents from 1998 states: “Peak requirements of protein will coincide with peak energy requirements and therefore can be summarised as 12–14 percent of energy requirements. Protein intake is recommended to be in the range of 0.8–1.6 g/kg body weight. The aim is to maintain protein intake at moderate levels (Department of Health 1991).”

See: http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/24

Some of the biggest animals in the world are “vegans”: elephants; giraffes; hippopotamuses; rhinoceroses; gorillas; not to mention cows and horses? We never hear anyone asking if these animals lack protein!

Calcium

Calcium is a mineral, and vegans get their calcium from plant sources (just like the cows do).  Some of the richest sources of calcium are leafy green vegetables such as silverbeet, spinach, watercress, dark green lettuces, kale and broccoli; almonds and other nuts; sesame and other seeds; and beans.

Listen to this very informative podcast episode by Colleen Patrick Goudreau about Calcium: Where do I get my calcium if I don’t drink cow’s milk?

There are foods that are fortified with calcium such as some tofu or soy milks, but they are not mandatory if one is consuming enough of a variety of the whole plant food sources mentioned above.  General guidelines indicate we need about 1000mgs a day of calcium, which can easily be met with a balanced vegan diet.

1,800mgs / day is a recommended daily dose. There is increasing evidence that stretching out one’s calcium intake over the day is beneficial. If one chooses to supplement, some medical studies have revealed that taking large doses of calcium supplement were found to have caused some calcification of the arteries. If you are unsure if you are taking enough calcium daily and you choose to supplement, as well as eating almonds throughout the day, consider adding a very small amount of “Melrose Pure Calcium Lactate powder” in one’s drinks throughout the day.

Iron

One of the biggest myths is that “red meat” is the superior, or even the only, real source of iron. Proponents neglect to point out the detriment to our health that is caused by consuming animal flesh, such as increased risk of diseases like colon cancer and other cancers; intestinal disorders such as constipation; diabetes; heart disease and stroke, to name a few.  We have all heard the warnings from even mainstream non-vegan sources about the dangers of “red meat”.  Here is how to get healthy and nonviolent sources of iron from your diet:

Green leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage and spinach; beans and lentils; pumpkin seeds; millet; and dried fruits such as apricots and dates.  Iron is best absorbed with Vitamin C, especially when one is getting iron from purely plant sources, so be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits alongside, to aid iron absorption and get the most out of these foods.

A fantastic way to eat leafy greens is a Green Smoothie. The pureeing of the leaves helps our bodies to digest them quickly, allowing us to absorb the calcium and other nutrients  more efficiently, and mixing them with lots of fresh  fruit means you are consuming them with Vitamin C also which will aid the Iron absorption even more.  Green Smoothie Recipe

Omega 3 and 6

Nowadays there is a lot of recognition about the importance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.

Omega 6 can be obtained from vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and seeds—good news for vegans, as this is essentially what a vegan diet is made up of.

Here are some vegan sources of Omega 3:

Flaxseeds (linseeds)—a tablespoon of freshly ground and sprinkled on porridges, cereals, in salads, soups  is a great way to supplement your daily needs—green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, grains, walnuts, chlorella, spirulina and chia seeds.  Oils made from linseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds are also good sources.  In NZ chia seeds and walnut oil can be quite expensive and hemp seed oil is hard to find, but walnuts and linseed oil are quite commonplace in our supermarkets, as are linseeds, whole and ground, and of course green leafy vegetables and grains.

It is also recommended to supplement daily with a seaweed based DHA Omega 3 supplement, Please read the following blog post for more information: A Nutrient that might help vegans – DHA/EPA, Omega 3’s and Vegans

Vitamin B12

Everyone needs to make sure they are getting enough Vitamin B12. It is an extremely important vitamin which is manufactured by certain kinds of bacteria.  It is a myth that vegans automatically suffer from B12 deficiency, in fact they are less likely to, because vegans go out of their way to educate themselves about its importance and take steps to ensure that we supplement our diets with an adequate supply.

B12 deficiency is often related to an individual body’s inability to absorb the vitamin, and can effect non-vegans and vegans. Everyone should get their Vitamin B12 levels checked, the most specific test for B12 status being methymalonic acid (MMA) testing.  Speak to your doctor about requesting this particular method of measuring your body’s B12 status.  Vegans obtain their Vitamin B12 from supplements such as vegan B12 tablets or sublingual drops, and/or B12 fortified foods.  We do not need to consume animal products to obtain Vitamin B12, and the bacteria can be manufactured without using animals.  Please take responsibility for your health and get your B12 level checked, and speak to a doctor or nutritionist familiar with vegan diets to get advice about the best vegan source for your individual needs.

Marmite; some soy milks and Lotus brand Nutritional Yeast  are Vitamin B12 fortified foods that are available

Vitamin D

This is another very important vitamin that everyone should be mindful of. Sunshine is a great natural form of Vitamin D, and even fair-skinned people should try to get a few minutes of sunshine a day on bare skin.  There is no need to risk skin cancer—just a few minutes of mild sun on your arms or hands is a helpful way to obtain a natural  source of Vitamin D.  If you are very fair-skinned then you can do so when the sun is mild, such as in the mornings and late afternoons. Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a worldwide concern. Some people are getting what would be considered adequate amounts of sunlight, and yet are unable to synthesize it. It is important that people have their Vitamin D blood levels taken yearly to see if they have adequate levels in their blood. According to many medical journals, inadequate levels of Vitamin D can lead to many serious illnesses like Diabetes Type 2, breast cancer, colon cancer and so on. , therefore you may also choose to consume a dietary supplement, especially if you are someone who is suffering from low Vitamin D levels.  The vegan source of dietary Vitamin D is D2 (ergocalciferol), usually synthetic or manufactured from yeast.  It can be obtained in a tablet form, or found in supplemented foods such as some soy milks.  Please note vitamin D3 normally is NOT vegan, however there are a few D3 vegan supplements available. It is important that one do research as there are a few products which claim to be vegan D3, but they are not. There are two supplements which I am aware of which claim they are vegan D3 1) Vitashine 2) Source of Life Garden D3. Both products have been researched and the production process and the product itself contain no animal products.

I would recommend scheduling a 25(OH)D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) blood test.

33 Tips for Vegans from a 33 Year Vegan

Allergies

As mentioned previously, despite common misconception soy is not a necessary part of a vegan diet, so if you have a soy allergy you need not worry.  Nowadays there are also a myriad of alternatives for vegans with wheat allergies or gluten intolerance.  Products that were once only available in wheat varieties (such as bread, crackers and pasta) are now available wheat- and gluten-free.  Nut allergies are usually isolated; few people are allergic to all nuts and seeds.  Testing can determine which nuts and seeds are safe for you.

Isn’t a vegan diet bland and boring?

Not only is a plant based diet fantastic for one’s health, a plant based diet is far from boring or bland. There’s literally thousands upon thousands of fantastic delicious vegan recipes online and thousands of vegan recipe books available. What is possible is only limited by one’s imagination. A plant based diet can be simple, affordable and extremely delicious and tasty. Here is a sample of vegan cooking. Please view these thousands of excellent vegan recipes from all around the world — Check it out

From Vegan Culinary Experience:
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCESep08.pdf Out of Africa
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEOct08.pdf Fall Foods
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCENovDec08.pdf Holiday Meals
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEJan09.pdf The Art of Tea
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEFeb09.pdf A Tour of Italy
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEMay09.pdf Curries from around the World
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEJune09.pdf The Great Vegan Picnic
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEAug09.pdf On the Grill
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEDec09.pdf Food from the Middle East
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEMar10.pdf Vegan Decadence
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEAug10.pdf La Cocina Mexicana
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEDec10.pdf A Taste of India
http://veganculinaryexperience.com/VCEMarch09.pdf  “Meat Subs”

Please note I do not endorse opinions, links or ads on Vegan Culinary Experience. Consider saving these pdf files to your computer for who knows how long these links will be available.

Hints

A common mistake when transitioning to a vegan diet is to eat too few calories, causing people to mistakenly think they “need meat” or “have to have some animal products”.  Healthful vegan diets are bigger on volume – your plate should be overflowing with fresh food, especially if you include lots of raw vegetables.  Snacking is recommended throughout the day.  It is hard to eat too many fruits and vegetables, nuts or seeds, and they make very healthy snacks between meals.

Although any dietary change may cause temporary bodily complaints, such as cravings, digestive discomfort or minor fatigue, these should not continue for a long period of time, and it is recommended to seek advice from a doctor to rule out coincidental health conditions if the symptoms go on for too long or become overwhelming.


DISCLAIMER


Please note I am not a medical physician so if you are uncertain or concerned about your health, please consult your doctor. However, please also note that medical practitioners generally have little education about nutrition and probably know a lot less than the average vegan about the benefits of a balanced plant based diet. The medical profession tend to believe that humans needs animal products to be healthy. They will often put “VEGAN” on a chart the same way they note that someone has an allergy 😉 There’s a lot of disinformation about a vegan diet online, so please do your research. Many medical studies find conclusively that animal products to be deleterious to one’s health. A balanced plant based diet will lead to optimal health. Remember, the most important reason to go vegan is because all other animals deserve at least one right — the right not to be used as property. Any benefits such as health and environment are ancillary benefits of veganism.

Please note  I do not necessarily endorse the contents or opinions of all vids or links on my site to the extent that these sites promote: (1) any type of violence against persons or property; (2) welfare regulation; (3) any form of racism, sexism, or heterosexism; (4) endorse any of the large national animal organizations; or (5) promote “happy meat” or vegetarianism, I reject those positions.

Please note I do not make any financial gain from any endorsement of any product on this page.

Thanks to Liz Collins from NZvegan.com for kind permission to use some of her materials

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