Veganism and Proper Nutrition

BerriesBy now, you probably know that vegan foods are far healthier than animal products. They’re cholesterol-free, and they’re more likely to be low in saturated fat and calories and high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to a diet consisting of only vegan cookies, candy, and potato chips! In order to reap the health benefits of a vegan diet—a slim waistline, normal blood pressure, lots of energy, and a reduced risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—you should eat an array of fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, nuts, and other wholesome plant-based foods.

Protein-Packed Plant Foods: Almost every food contains protein, so it’s nearly impossible not to get enough if you’re consuming sufficient calories. Soybeans, a vegan super-food, are packed with protein and essential amino acids. Other beans, as well as chickpeas, lentils, seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, corn, nuts, nut butters, and quinoa are also good sources of protein.

Calcium Plus Compassion: Cows don’t have to suffer in order for people to consume calcium. It’s abundant in collard greens, kale, broccoli, beans, sesame tahini, and almonds. It can also be found in calcium-fortified soy or rice milk, orange juice, and some brands of tofu.

Fish-Free Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart, brain, skin, and joint health. Fortunately, you can get them without all the cholesterol and contaminants found in fish. Walnuts, ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and canola oil are good vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a good idea to take vegan DHA capsules, which contain omega-3 fatty acids derived from algae (the same source of omega-3s for fish!).

Make Popeye Proud: Eat iron-rich foods to build strong muscles. These include beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, chickpeas, oatmeal, dried fruits, nuts, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, molasses, spinach and other greens, and grains such as quinoa and millet. Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, so for optimal health benefits, consume foods that are rich in both nutrients, such as dark-green, leafy vegetables like kale and collards.

Vitamin B12 for Vegans: Leading health experts encourage everyone to take a multivitamin or supplement to get ample amounts of vitamin B12. It’s also found in fortified nutritional yeast, some supermarket cereals, and fortified soy and rice milks as well as in some meat analogs.

Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin: Sunshine is one of the best sources of vitamin D. During warmer months, your skin should manufacture enough of the vitamin if your face and forearms are exposed without sunscreen to midday sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes per day. But many students and people who work indoors don’t get enough exposure. And in many areas, sunlight during colder and cloudier months isn’t strong enough to give you a sufficient dose of vitamin D.

Many brands of nondairy milks contain some calcium and vitamin D, as do some brands of fortified orange juice. But doctors say that no matter what you eat, it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement of at least 1,000 IU on the days that you aren’t getting sufficient sunlight exposure.