By: Stephanie Di Grazia, RHN
When making any drastic changes to your diet it is crucial that you consider how embracing a new dietary regimen may affect your health. Adopting a vegan diet has the potential of allowing us to enjoy several health benefits when done correctly. In transitioning to a new diet we must ensure we are obtaining all the critical nutrients necessary to maintain strength and good health.
Research has indicated there are several benefits of introducing a vegan diet. Some of these benefits may include:
.However, although there is the potential for several health benefits, if done incorrectly, a vegan diet may negatively impact your health due to a few key reasons. Here is why some vegans do not “thrive”:
1. Not Enough Calories – since plant based foods tend to be lower in calories you must ensure you are consuming enough calories to maintain your body weight and include nutrient and calorie dense foods such as nuts, seeds, and cold pressed oils in your diet.
2. Junk-Food Vegan – just because a food is vegan does not necessarily mean it is healthy! For example, refined sugar, fries, and chips are all technically considered vegan but have a very poor nutritional profile.
3. Social Isolation Syndrome – some vegans fear and avoid engaging in social events and functions due to their dietary restrictions. Fortunately many restaurants are very accommodating to vegetarian/vegan diets and there are many delicious vegan friendly restaurants to enjoy so you can still have the ability to partake in social events.
4. Under Supplemented – in eliminating animal products and by-products, it is critical that you find new plant based sources of these nutrients and/or ensure you are supplementing with certain key nutrients you may be consuming less of such as protein and iron.
5. Beat By Cravings – having a difficult time giving up animal derived foods we are accustomed to eating and enjoy and caving into our cravings due to not knowing vegan friendly versions such as decadent and delicious coconut milk ice cream or cashew cheese.
6. Not Knowing How to Substitute – not knowing how to substitute our sources of protein, favorite foods, dairy, etc. or how to utilize new ingredients that we can adopt into our diets.
In addition, there are some critical nutrients to consider and ensure you are getting through dietary sources or are supplementing your diet with. The following are a few of these nutrients and some vegan sources through which you can obtain them:
Vegan Sources: Vitamin B-12–fortified foods i.e. fortified soy and rice beverages, certain breakfast cereals, meat substitutes, B-12–fortified nutritional yeast, protein bars and powders, vitamin B-12 supplements or injections
Vegan Sources: Calcium-fortified plant foods and beverages, green leafy vegetables (i.e. collard and kale), turnips, tofu, tahini, beans, figs, broccoli, hummus, and molasses
Vegan Sources: Vitamin D fortified beverages, Vitamin D fortified breakfast cereals, SUNLIGHT!
A daily supplement of vitamin D is advisable especially in winter months.
Vegan Sources: Blackstrap molasses, tomato paste, spirulina, spinach, quinoa, dark chocolate, cashews, peanuts, almonds, seeds, lentils, and soybeans
Omega Fatty Acids
Vegan sources: Flax seed oil & ground flax seeds, hemp seed oil & hemp hearts, chia seeds, avocado, walnut oil & walnuts, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, seaweed and algae
Vegan sources: Tempeh, Lentils, Edamame, Adzuki Beans, Navy Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Chickpeas, Lima Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Tofu, Veggie burgers, Protein Powder, Protein Bars, Peanuts, Almonds, Cashews, Brazil Nuts, Meat Subs, Seitan, Buckwheat, Amaranth, Quinoa, Bulgur, Oats, Millet, Barley, Brown Rice, Hemp seeds, Chia seeds, Flax seeds, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin seeds, Spinach, Collard, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, Artichokes, Green Peas, Potatoes, Almond Butter, Tahini, Peanut butter, Cashew Butter, Hummus, Nutritional Yeast, Spirulina
It is also important to ensure you are eating a variety of plant based protein sources to ensure you are getting a full spectrum of amino acids since plant food like grains, beans and nuts are lower in at least 1 amino acid making them incomplete. You can also combine different protein sources in a meal since complementary proteins, when taken together, provide all essential amino acids, this may be accomplished through combining grains + beans, beans + nuts, and grains + nuts.
By taking these requirements into consideration it is possible to maintain strength and good health and thrive on a vegan diet. You can enjoy delicious food and maintain good health without meat and dairy.