Considering a Vegan Lifestyle?

Considering starting or currently following a vegan diet? To clear up some of the recent controversy, an animal product-free diet CAN be achieved healthfully and have some very beneficial effects on health. But make no mistake, this diet takes education and work to implement healthfully. Doing your homework is necessary, and speaking with a nutrition professional to eliminate nutrition gaps is highly recommended. Vegan nutrition basics:

>>A vegan diet eliminates all foods containing or produced by animals. That means no meat, fish, eggs, milk, or products made from these foods (ie. Butter). As with any elimination diet, we want to avoid accidentally eliminating important nutrients. I personally had a long-term vegan referred to me because she was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis. She was in her 30s. She thought she was eating healthfully, but was severely deficient in many nutrients for some time. Nutrients of concern:

·      Protein. Vegan proteins include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy, tempeh, seitan, TVP (textured vegetable protein), and products made from these foods. Start with the Balanced Plate template (~1/4 plate protein foods) to get a good portion of protein per meal. To cover amino acid needs, ensure variety in proteins, and consider including soy regularly.

·      B12. This is a big one as it is almost entirely only in animal products and is needed for proper red blood cell production. Deficiencies can cause anemia. You’ll find this added to fortified cereal grains and in supplement form. Brewer’s Yeast or “Nutritional Yeast” is commonly used to supplement B12 and can be found at most health food stores.

·      Calcium/Vitamin D. Fortified grains and dairy substitutes are significant vegan sources of these nutrients. Dark green leafy vegetables also contain significant calcium.

·      Iron. Beans, lentils, fortified grains, dark green leafy veggies, and tofu will provide plant-based iron. Vitamin C helps with absorption, so adding citrus juices, tomatoes and other high vitamin C produce can increase benefit.

·      Omega 3 fatty acids. Note that most omega 3 supplements are fish oil (an animal product).  Walnuts, flax seeds/oil and canola oil are plant based food sources. Include daily.  

·      Calories. Your balanced plate still applies even in a Vegan setting.

>>Remember that everyone’s needs are little different, not everything above will be appropriate for everyone. It’s always a good idea to talk to a nutrition professional or your doctor before implementing major dietary changes. If you’re local to Maryland and need help, send us a DM for services. Otherwise, check out https://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert to find a registered dietitian in your state.