One of the biggest concerns when someone is thinking about going on a vegan/vegetarian diet is will they get enough of the different vitamins and nutrients to keep them healthy. Some people think they can’t get the correct amount of these and they use that as an excuse to not go on a vegan diet. With all the different opinions out there it’s good when one can get some information that will help them to make an informed decision about going on a vegan diet and being able to get the vitamins that one needs to keep healthy. This article explains a lot about what all this means.
Macro-Nutrients:Macro-nutrients are those that provide energy (calories), and include carbohydrates, protein and fat. A summary of each macro-nutrient is provided below:
- Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy
- Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
- Whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables are good sources
- Protein is used by the body for repair and maintenance
- Protein provides 4 calories per gram
- Dietary fat helps provide a sense of satiety after eating, and aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
- Fat provides 9 calories per gram – it is the most energy-dense macro-nutrient
- Vegan sources include nuts and nut butter, seeds, avocado, coconut, and plant-based oilsMost diet plans – whether for weight loss, a food allergy, or ethical concerns, tend to over-emphasize the importance of macro-nutrients and under-emphasize micro-nutrients. While it is important to ensure that you consume adequate amounts of each macro-nutrient, doing so is easily achieved for most people by eating a varied diet with an appropriate overall caloric intake.What’s more important for many people is taking care to evenly distribute their nutrient intake throughout the day. In particular, limiting the quantity of protein and/or fat eaten in one sitting can improve digestion and help reduce stomach upset.Very dense protein sources, especially those that are also high in saturated fat, are extremely difficult to digest. This is one reason to avoid meat and other animal products.You may also find that eating a lot of fat at a single meal causes digestive problems or just a general feeling of heaviness, or that you feel better by avoiding certain sources of fat, such as fatty meats or dairy products.
Micro-Nutrients:Diet quality and nutrient density are the most important considerations for overall health, well-being and maintaining a healthy weight. Although there are a number of sophisticated and often complicated systems for measuring diet quality (e.g. ANDI and other food rating scores), focusing on whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to ensure that your diet is nutrient-dense. Whole foods are closest to their natural form and are therefore rich in nutrients and free of unhealthy, unnatural additives.Foods with the greatest nutrient density (from most to least dense) include:
- Raw leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and mixed salad greens
- Solid green vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, snap peas and Brussels sprouts
- Non-green, non-starchy vegetables, such as beets, carrots, cauliflower and onions
- Beans and legumes
- Fresh fruits
- Starchy vegetables, such as winter squash, yams and potatoes
- Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice and teff
- Raw nuts and seedsFor optimal health, the foods listed above should form the basis of your diet. Meat, eggs, dairy and refined foods such as chips, cookies, crackers, white rice, and refined oils have extremely low nutrient density scores and should be limited or avoided.
Vitamins and Minerals:In theory, vitamin and mineral supplements should not be necessary if your caloric intake is adequate and your diet includes a variety of whole foods. However, individual vitamin and mineral needs vary with age, gender, activity level, season, and climate.A simple blood test can tell you a lot about your nutritional status, and is probably a good idea before beginning any supplement. With any supplementation regimen, tracking your levels over time is useful for ensuring your nutrition needs are met.For example, your vitamin D level may be adequate during summer months when your sun exposure is greater, but may drop below a healthy range during the winter months. In this case, seasonal vitamin D supplementation would be beneficial.The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially for vegetarians and vegans, are in iron, calcium, vitamin D and B12. Some plant-based sources of these vitamins and minerals are summarized below:
- Many brands of nutritional yeast contain vitamin B12. Try it on popcorn, with lentils, or on pasta!
- Levels of each of these nutrients should be monitored using a blood test in an annual (or more frequent) check-up to ensure optimal levels.