Are you overwhelmed by vegan nutrition? Whether you’re considering going plant-based or have been vegan for years, you’re probably wondering how to meet all your nutrient requirements. When I first adopted a plant-based diet in 2010, the number one question I was asked was where oh where would I get my protein? Sound familiar? 🙂 Back then, my honest answer was that I didn’t know. Like most people, prior to going vegan I didn’t give nutrition a second thought, I was only concerned about calories. Going and staying vegan has revolutionized my relationship with food, and been an education in nutrition.
THE BASICS OF VEGAN NUTRITION:
Before we dive into the best plant-based sources for the main nutrients you need, I want to reassure you and recommend the number one resource that will help you thrive on a vegan diet.
First of all, if you focus on eating a diet full of whole foods you are going to be well on your way to optimal vegan nutrition. When you first go vegan, I recommend getting blood tests done every year to monitor your nutrient levels. This is not because I believe the vegan diet is lacking, it’s because most people have never had it done before, and it’s a great time to take charge of your health. Once you know your results, you will have a good idea of which nutrients you need to focus on.
In my opinion, both vegans and non-vegans should be taking a great food based multivitamin. I emphasize food based because they are much higher quality than multivitamins created from powder and packed with fillers. Deva’s Vegan Daily Multivitamin is a great choice because it’s specifically formulated for vegans.
OVERWHELMED? THIS FREE APP IS ALL YOU NEED
Now, let’s talk about my number one resource for vegan nutrition. If you’re feeling overwhelmed then Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist app is an easy, free and uncomplicated solution. Dr Michael Greger is a very well known plant based doctor and author of the #1 Best Selling Book How Not To Die.
He’s also created this genius, free app that helps you track your daily intake of the top twelve most nutritionally important plant foods. All you do is tick off when you’ve had your daily servings of beans, berries, fruits, cruciferous vegetables, flax-seeds and more. You can watch Dr Greger’s explanatory video and find download links here, and below is a quick infographic that gives an overview of the daily dozen. You can easily tick off six servings in your first meal of the day! Think a bowl of oats with cinnamon, blueberries, apple, ground flaxseed and chopped walnuts 🙂
NUTRIENT RICH PLANT FOODS
Gaining a basic understanding of nutrition can be easy and fun. I started off by googling one food at a time. After eating a snack of pineapple for example, I’d search ‘heath benefits of pineapple’ and read all the vitamins and minerals that were now nourishing my body. It made me feel so good! Below is an excerpt from Chapter Six of my book Lessons From Veganism, which is all about nutrients. It’s a list of my favorite plant sources of macro-nutrients like protein, iron, calcium as well as the all important omega 3s.
SOURCES OF PROTEIN:
- Quinoa: Contains all nine essential amino acids that the body needs for growth and repair. I love putting quinoa in a soup with a base of veggies, stock and canned tomatoes. It’s chewy, slightly nutty and delicious.
- Spinach: Filled with flavonoids, (a phytonutrient with anticancer properties). Super good for healthy skin, eyes and bones. I almost always have spinach cooked, usually in a pasta sauce, curry or wilted in a bowl of veggie soup.
- Oats: A great source of fibre and good at stabilising blood sugar levels. I eat oats every single day for breakfast, I love getting oat flakes, or thin cut oats and letting it soak with chia seeds, frozen berries and almond milk.
- Pumpkin Seeds: Full of amazing vitamins and minerals! Manganese, phosphorus, copper, vitamin K, vitamin E and folate. They are perfect for using as a topping a hearty meal or just snacking on.
- Spirulina: Has amazing anti-inflammatory properties, a source of B12 and is around 65% protein! Definitely try a spirulina based smoothie next time you have the opportunity.
- Broccoli: Good for balancing oestrogen, also is high in vitamin A & C. It’s not my favourite veggie, but my partner loves it. I like having it cooked in curries or steamed with lemon juice squeezed on top.
SOURCES OF IRON:
- Kale: Better than spinach! It’s also rich in Vitamin C so you can easily absorb the iron. Other sources with high vitamin C content are strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes (especially in their skins).
- Dark Chocolate: Happily, dark chocolate is rich in iron, magnesium, copper, zinc and antioxidants. I barely ever eat any other type of chocolate, a dark chocolate and orange block is my go-to, but I even like the super bitter types. Just be careful to keep an eye on the amount of sugar you’re consuming. 7 teaspoons or 28 grams is a good daily guideline.
- Lentils: Packed with iron and protein as well as fibre, folate and manganese. Lentils are a fantastic winter staple for soups, stews, curries and pasta sauces.
- Seeds (Sesame, Hemp and Flax): I’m all about hemp seeds, I love sprinkling them over basically every meal. Sesame seeds are a must whether you’re making sushi or stir fry.
- Hummus: A great choice for iron as it’s made from chickpeas and tahini (sesame seeds) which are both rich in iron. I eat it basically everyday whether it’s on bread or dolloped on top of mashed potatoes… Don’t knock it until you try it!
- Tomato Paste: I love this as a base for pizza, pasta, enchiladas and curries. Raw tomatoes aren’t super high in iron, but as a concentrated paste it is quite high at around 22% of RDI per half cup.
SOURCES OF CALCIUM:
- Fortified plant milk: Almond is my absolute favourite, then soy and then coconut then rice milk. I have some kind of plant milk everyday at breakfast, other than that I use it in my favourite hot drinks – hot chocolates and turmeric lattes.
- Bok Choy: Easily one of my all time favourite greens. I could eat it everyday, it’s so crunchy and has such a nice, light flavour. I often wilt it in a pan full of sauteed shiitake mushrooms with ramen noodles and lots of broth.
- Tempeh: So. Freakin’. Delicious. If you haven’t tried tempeh you are missing out! It’s a lot more flavourful than tofu, if that’s your gripe. I’ll always choose a tempeh dish if it’s on the menu but rarely make it at home, I should do something about that…
- Figs: Probably my favourite dried fruit. They’re also high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A, E and K.
- Almonds: Raw almonds are great, but toasting them dry in a hot pan is next level tasty. The way they swell and their crunch is very satisfying. They’re full of fibre, manganese, and vitamin E.
- Tofu: I wasn’t a big fan of tofu initially, but I really like it now. Try frying sliced tofu with barbecue sauce and making ‘BLT’ sandwiches with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, avocado and vegan mayo. They’ll be TLCAMT sandwiches then, but definitely taste as good as a BLT. Tofu is also a great source of protein, selenium and zinc.
SOURCES OF OMEGA 3:
- Chia Seeds: These are my favourite seeds and I eat them everyday. They also contain omega 6 fatty acids and are the best source of vegan omega 3.
- Mangoes: I had no idea mangoes contain omega 3 and 6 until recently! I ate these in abundance when living in Thailand and love them as a smoothie base when buying them frozen.
- Blueberries: Everyone knows that blueberries are basically superfoods. I personally prefer them raw over frozen as I think they lose their delicious tartness when frozen. A cup of blueberries contains around 174 mg of omega 3.
- Walnuts: Of all the nuts, walnuts are the best source for omega 3 fats. They’re brain superfood with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals. I eat them straight out of the bag as a snack.
- Wild Rice: If you compare rice to bread, first you have white which isn’t very healthy, then brown which is much better. So then wild rice is like that super dense, dark rye bread you get in Scandinavia.
- Seaweed: Nori is absolutely delicious whether it’s wrapped around rice as sushi, shredded over a salad or fried into chips.
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A NOTE ON VITAMIN B12 & VITAMIN D:
After almost decade of being plant-based, I’ve learned that the two most important vitamins I need to supplement are B12 and D. Both vitamin B12 and vitamin D are what I call ‘environmental’ vitamins, meaning you get B12 from dirt (yup, dirt) and D from the sun.
I got a blood test within a month of becoming a vegetarian as my family was concerned about how it would affect my health. Surprisingly, I already had low (but still okay) B12. Unfortunately, anybody can have low B12 levels. B12 is a waste product of bacteria that can be found from two sources; in dirt and in the intestines and mucus of animal’s bodies. Obviously the vegan source is from the fruits and vegetables that grown in B12 rich soil, but often the soil used to grow our food is often not particularly nutrient rich. Years ago when soil was rich with organic matter and we didn’t put chemicals all through our crops, it was easy to get B12 from our produce. However, in today’s industrial agriculture world, our soil has been sterilized and contains at most 1-2% organic matter.
Vitamin D is also another important vitamin for me to supplement as I live in Europe and work from home, so during fall and winter I very rarely get enough sunlight for my body to convert into vitamin D. I take a multivitamin every day that has both vitamins B12 and D as well as many others, and recommend you do the same.
LESSONS FROM VEGANISM
Are you interested in learning more about veganism? I wrote extensively about how veganism healed my relationship with food in Chapter 3 of my book, Lessons From Veganism. I’ve decided to give this chapter away for free because I want it to reach as many people as possible. I’d love to share more about this journey with you.
Simply click here or the image above, and you’ll be on my Freebies page. There you’ll find Chapter 3, as well as my two self-care e-books, Revamp and Refresh. You can click any of the buttons on that page, fill in your details and check the boxes of the freebies you’d like in the form provided. Then, you’ll receive an email from me with your download link within five minutes.
Thanks for reading my vegan nutrition guide, I hope you it helped you! What nutrient rich plant food are you most excited to incorporate into your diet? Let me know in the comments!
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