NUTRITION ON A VEGAN DIET

“Where do you get your protein from?”

“What about vitamin B12?”

“How about calcium?”

Following a vegan diet almost always leads to friends or family members asking these sort of questions. Many people believe one can’t obtain all required nutrients, or reach optimal health on a vegan diet. Well, sorry folks, it ain’t true! For those of you who don’t know, vegans don’t consume any animal products, or any animal by-products such as dairy, eggs and honey. Some people would respond with “what’s left to eat then?”, well… just take a look here!

Replace cows milk with: soy or almond or rice or cashew or coconut or oat or hemp milk! Talk about variety! You can get yogurt, cheese and ice-cream made of these too.

Replace meat with: beans, lentils, legumes, peas, chickpeas, mushrooms, tofu, tempeh or seitan. At the grocery store, you can buy vegan sausages, mince, polony, schnitzels, nuggets, burger patties, stir-fry strips and even pies — all filled with plant-based protein!

Replace eggs with: tofu for scrambled eggs/omelettes and Orgran, banana, apple sauce, flax seeds or chia seeds for baking!

For optimal nutrition, we should include whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens) in our diet. By eating a variety of plant-based foods, vegans can meet and exceed all dietary recommendations.

PROTEIN

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein is 0.8g per kg. So for example, someone who weighs 70kg requires 56g of protein daily.

Examples of plant-based sources of protein: 

  • 1 cup brown rice = 5.5g
  • 1 cup of green peas = 8.2g
  • 1 cup broccoli = 2.6g
  • 1 cup spinach = 5.3g
  • 1 cup brussel sprouts = 3g
  • 1 medium banana = 1.3g
  • 1 cup almonds = 27.5g
  • 1 cup corn = 4.2g
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter = 2.6g
  • 3 Tbsp chia seeds = 5g
  • 1 cup soy milk = 7g
  • 1 cup baked beans = 12.1g
  • 1 cup red kidney beans = 16g
  • 1 cup lentils = 18g
  • 1 cup chickpeas = 10.7g
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds = 17.6g
  • 3 Tbsp hemp seeds = 9.5g
  • 2 tsp spirulina powder = 6.6g
  • 1 cup avocado = 5.1g

IRON

The RDI of iron for adult males is 8mg and for adult females it is 18mg.

Examples of plant-based sources of iron: 

  • 1 cup red kidney beans = 2.7mg
  • 1 cup black beans = 4.1mg
  • 1 cup lentils = 6.6mg
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds = 1.85mg
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste = 0.5mg
  • 1 cup spinach = 0.8mg
  • 1/2 cup raisins = 3.1mg
  • 3 Tbsp chia seeds = 4.9mg
  • 1 cup Kellogg’s corn flakes = 8.1mg
  • 1 cup soy milk = 1.1mg

Vitamin C increases iron absorption, so be sure to combine foods rich in iron and vitamin C at mealtime! Also, avoid drinking coffee or tea with meals as it inhibits iron absorption.

CALCIUM

The RDI of calcium is 1000mg.

Examples of plant-based sources of calcium:

  • 1 cup fortified soy milk = 300mg
  • 1 cup kale = 100.5mg
  • 1 cup bok choy = 73.5mg
  • 1 cup broccoli = 42.8mg
  • 1 cup chickpeas = 210mg
  • 1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses = 200.1mg
  • 3 Tbsp chia seeds = 189.3mg
  • 1 medium orange = 52.4mg
  • 1 cup tofu = 868mg
  • 1 cup fortified orange juice = 1364.8mg
  • 1/2 cup carob powder = 179.2mg

IODINE

The RDI of iodine is 150mcg for adults. You can use iodized salt when cooking or eat seaweed!

VITAMIN B12

The RDI of vitamin B12 is 25-100mcg daily. Vitamin B12 is a bacteria found in animal products. Most plant-based sources of B12 are lost during the sterilization process of food production You can find vitamin B12 in fortified plant-based milks, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast. Going for a blood-test can help you determine if you are getting enough B12. If not, do not fear! Many vegans use a vitamin B12 supplement. I use this one.

VITAMIN D

The RDI of vitamin D is 1000 IU or about 20 minutes of direct sunlight. If you aren’t spending time in the sun, look into taking a supplement.

VITAMIN C

The RDI of vitamin C is ±100mg.

Examples of plant-based sources of vitamin C: 

  • 1 medium orange = 70mg
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper = 95mg
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper = 60mg
  • 1 kiwi fruit = 64mg
  • 1/2 cup cooked broccoli = 51mg
  • 1 medium tomato = 17mg
  • 1/2 cup raw cauliflower = 26mg

SELENIUM

The RDI of selenium is 55mcg — simply eat 2 brazil nuts daily!

ZINC

The RDI of zinc for adult males is 11mg and for adult females is 8mg.

Examples of plant-based sources of zinc:

  • 1 cup cooked spinach = 1.4mg
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds = 3.3mg
  • 1 cup cashew nuts = 7.7mg
  • 1 cup chickpeas = 2.5mg
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder = 0.3mg
  • 1 cup mushrooms = 1.4mg
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds or tahini = 5.5mg

OMEGA 3

Omega 3 fatty acids come in various forms: DHA, EPA and ALA. DHA and EPA are found in fish, while ALA is found in both animal and plant foods.

Examples of plant-based sources of Omega 3 ALA: flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, seaweed. Vegans often have low levels of DHA, so a supplement is often taken.

*Tip: If you are just transitioning to veganism and are worried that your nutrition intake isn’t adequate, take a look at this app. For 1 week, track what you are eating and the app can help you check your nutrition intake, ensuring you meet your RDI for protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals.