As with any diet, a vegan diet requires planning. However, when properly planned, a vegan diet can be considerably healthier than the traditional American diet. In its 1996 position paper on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association reported that vegan and vegetarian diets can significantly reduce one’s risk of contracting heart disease, colon and lung cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, and a number of other debilitating conditions. Cows’ milk contains ideal amounts of fat and protein for young calves, but far too much for humans. And eggs are higher in cholesterol than any other food, making them a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Vegan foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Vegans can get all the protein they need from legumes (e.g., beans, tofu, peanuts) and grains (e.g., rice, corn, whole wheat breads and pastas); calcium from broccoli, kale, collard greens, tofu, fortified juices and soymilks; iron from chickpeas, spinach, pinto beans, and soy products; and B12 from fortified foods or supplements. With planning, a vegan diet can provide all the nutrients we were taught as schoolchildren came only from animal products.
Will I get enough protein?
Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, and Mark Messina, PhD, recommend that vegans receive 0.4 grams of protein per day for every pound of healthy body weight. If a vegan consumes adequate calories and eats a variety of foods, it is very difficult not to get enough protein. This is true for athletes as well. One need not combine foods at each meal to get “complete protein. “
The most important plant sources of protein are legumes, soy foods, and nuts. Grains and vegetables also contain significant amounts of protein. Eat a variety of protein sources throughout the day: e.g, a legume (such as beans, tofu, or peanuts) combined with a grain (such as rice, corn, or whole wheat breads or pastas). For more information, visit Veganhealth.org
How about B12?
There has been much debate as to what plant foods supply an adequate source of B-12. Many products that were once thought to be adequate, such as tempeh, are no longer considered so. Fortunately, there are easy solutions for vegans. Vegetarian B-12 vitamin pills are available at most drug stores; the ‘sublingual’ form is preferable. In addition, some foods are fortified with B-12, including Red Star Nutritional Yeast. It is essential to include a B12 supplement in your diet or eat foods that are fortified with B12 to insure that you receive the proper amount of B-12. For more information, read What Every Vegan Should Know about Vitamin B12
How about calcium?
Adequate intakes of calcium vary according to one’s age:
1200 mg for age 50 or above,
1000 mg for ages 19-49,
800 mg for ages 4-8,
500 mg for ages 1-3.
A number of vegan foods contain high levels of calcium per serving:
calcium-set tofu (120-200mg per 0.5 cup),
fortified soymilk (200-300 mg per cup
dried figs (50 mg per fig),
fortified orange juice (250 mg per cup),
collard greens (180 mg per 0.5 cup),
sesame seeds (180 mg per 2 Tbsp),
baked beans (130 mg per cup),
broccoli (90 mg per 0.5 cup)
, almonds (50 mg per 2 Tbsp),
kale (50 mg per 0.5 cup)
For more information read Bones, Vitamin D, and Calcium