How to be a healthy vegan

October 6, 2017

Vegan diets contain only plants, and therefore excludes food from animals such as milk and dairy.

Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.

Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholegrain where possible.

Have some dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts). Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options.

Eat some beans, pulses and other proteins.

Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts.

Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6-8 cups/glasses a day.

Vegan sources of calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is needed for strong and healthy bones and teeth. Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt), but vegans can get it from other foods.

Good sources of calcium for vegans include:

  • fortified, unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
  • calcium-set tofu
  • sesame seeds and tahini
  • pulses
  • brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)
  • dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

A 30g portion of dried fruit counts as one of your 5 A DAY, but should be eaten at mealtimes, not as a between-meal snack, to reduce the impact on teeth.

The body needs vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Vegan sources of vitamin D are:

  • exposure to summer sunshine (late March/April to the end of September) – remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn; see vitamin D and sunlight
  • fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and unsweetened soya drinks (with vitamin D added)
  • vitamin D supplements

Read the label to ensure the vitamin D used in a product is not of animal origin.

Vegan sources of iron

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. A vegan diet can be high in iron, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less well than iron from meat.

Good sources of iron for vegans are:

  • pulses
  • wholemeal bread and flour
  • breakfast cereals fortified with iron
  • dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens
  • nuts
  • dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and figs

Vegan sources of Vitamin B12

The body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources. Sources for vegans are therefore limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include:

  • breakfast cereals fortified with B12
  • unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12
  • yeast extract such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12

Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily those found in oily fish, can help to maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegans include:

  • flaxseed (linseed) oil
  • rapeseed oil
  • soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu
  • walnuts

Evidence suggests that plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits in reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish.

However, if you follow a vegan diet you can still look after your heart by eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, by cutting down on food that is high in saturated fat, and watching how much salt you eat.

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Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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