A Guide to Vegan Nutrition
If you are just starting on your journey to becoming a vegan, you’re already taking a great first step just by being here on this page. When adopting a vegan lifestyle, the biggest change that occurs is your diet. Oftentimes, it requires a complete overhaul of your prior way of eating. In order to successfully transition into a vegan lifestyle, it is important to learn about the benefits and the precautions that are involved with this transition. This guide will give you an idea of vegan nutrition in a nutshell and just what you can expect as you move forward.
What Vegans Avoid
To provide a foundational understanding, vegans avoid absolutely all animal-sourced products and foods. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- Meat and all animal-sourced foods (such as honey, milk, eggs and fish)
- Products that are tested on animals
- Leather, silk, wool, fur, and all other animal derived fashion products
- Home or personal care items that are made with animal derived ingredients (e.g. hand soap made with honey)
- Animals as entertainment (zoos, circuses, etc.)
Vegan Diet Basics
Unlike vegetarians, who eat a more flexible diet, vegans are restricted to eating only
plant-based foods. To begin, vegans avoid consuming any and all foods of animal origin. These include:
- Any other animal-based foods
Instead, vegans enjoy a plant-based diet that is rich in nutrients and also very delicious. Some of the most common foods you’ll find in a vegan diet include:
- Vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
- Fruits (apples, peaches, grapes, bananas, strawberries, etc.)
- Whole grains (cereals, oats, quinoa)
- Seeds (flax seed, hemp seed, chia seed, sunflower seeds)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, and peas)
- Tofu, tempeh and seitan (soy-based foods)
- Nuts & nut butters (pecans, almonds, macadamia, peanuts, peanut butter)
- Nutritional yeast
- Non-dairy milks (soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, oat milk)
- Chocolate (Cacao)
In addition to these healthy food options, there are also many junk food options available, such as processed meat substitutes, sweets, and drinks. Although many people avoid these junk foods, they can actually help make the switch to veganism easier and more enjoyable by allowing you to enjoy some tasty but not-so-healthy foods without going overboard. Aim for only eating these foods a maximum of once per week (one meal, not one entire day).
Vegan Nutrition Basics
Because vegans completely remove animal products from their diets, they need to take proper steps to replace those nutrients that are often found in animal-source foods. This is such an essential step that, if missed, can often lead to struggles with adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle. Some of the most important nutrients that need to be supplemented include:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Nowadays, there are many vegan foods that are fortified with these nutrients, such as vitamin D-fortified almond milk and many oatmeals and cereals fortified with iron. However, the nutrients listed above can also easily be found in many natural foods. Protein can be found in soy, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Calcium and Zinc can be found in beans, almonds, tofu and leafy greens (such as spinach and kale). Vitamin B12 is perhaps the nutrient least available in the vegan diet.
If you have trouble including the above nutrients in your diet, it might be wise to supplement them into your diet in the form of supplement pills. Taking vitamin pills is an easy way to add the nutrients into your diet, although you may wish to consult with your doctor before doing so. Some of these nutrients, such as iron, can be toxic and harmful if too much is fed to the body.
Bonus Myth Breaker: Despite common belief, vegan diets do indeed promote weight loss and help build a strong and healthy body. Because vegan diets tend to be naturally high in carbohydrates (40-45% of calorie intake), people tend to believe that a vegan diet does not promote fat loss. However, recent research has proven that a vegan diet, when done right, can indeed lead to healthy fat loss and improvements in overall health. Because vegan foods tend to be much less calorie dense when compared to other diets, vegans can eat a lot more food without going over their daily calorie intake limits. Furthermore, vegan diets are rich in fibre (from foods such as oats, leafy greens, nuts and seeds), which has been shown to aid in healthy digestion and make you feel full longer. When done properly, a vegan diet can allow you to eat without micromanaging and/or counting your calories daily and still lose weight.
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