What are the common dietary recommendations for vegans?

The nutritional requirements of individuals vary, and scientific understanding of nutrition continues to evolve.  The consistent recommendation from health and dietary organization is that vegans should  (1) ensure intake of an appropriate amount of calories overall for age, sex, lifestyle, etc., and (2) eat a varied diet with foods rich in calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc and other nutrients. The following is not a complete list:

  • Protein: Plant sources of protein include soy and wheat products (e.g., tofu, tempeh and seitan), beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. (1)
  • Calcium: Plant sources of calcium include tofu, kale, turnip, collard and mustard greens, bok choy, sesame seeds, tahini and black strap molasses. (2)
  • Iron: Plant sources of iron include various beans, tofu, spinach, raisins, and black strap molasses. (3)
  • Zinc: Plant sources of zinc include beans, cashews, chickpeas, sesame seeds, tahini, and pepitas. (4)
  • Vitamin D. Plant sources of vitamin D include sunlight!  But also mushrooms grown in sunlight and foods fortified with Vitamin D2. (5) Note, however, that most sources of Vitamin D3 are not plant-derived.
  • Vitamin B12. Plant sources of B12 include B12 fortified soy, rice and nut milks, breakfast cereals and other foods, as well as nutritional yeast. (6)
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Plant sources of Omega-3s include flax seeds, walnuts, soy beans, canola and soy oil, among others. (7)

Whole foods are a good source of varied nutrition. It’s worth noting, however, that one cup of many common brands of fortified plant milks provides 45% calcium, 30% vitamin D, and 50% vitamin B12 of the daily intake requirements. Many cereals are fortified in the United States and Canada. Fortification for cereals, plant milks and other foods, however, vary by brand and by region. Many products not be fortified at all.  Be sure to check the label for nutritional information.

Supplements for B12, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and other vitamins and minerals are available. Blood tests through your physician can help you determine whether you are getting ample amounts of iron, B12 and other concerns over time. General nutritional guidance shouldn’t replace consultation with an appropriate health professional to discuss your dietary needs if you have any concerns.

  1. See http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446?pg=2
  2. See http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium#h2
  3. See http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional#h2
  4. See http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional#h3
  5. See http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional
  6. See http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional#h3
  7. See http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446?pg=2

Is it necessary to eat animal products to be healthy?

Many health organizations worldwide, including the American Dietetic Association, have affirmed that a well-planned vegan diet can be healthy. In a 2009 position paper, the American Dietetic Association indicated that:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”  (1)

Any unbalanced, unhealthy diet may lead to health problems.  Planning and balance are important, even for vegans. It’s possible to be vegan and unhealthy, but the fact remains: you can be healthy on a well-planned vegan diet.

For further confirmation and information:

1. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2009. 109(7): 1266- 1282.