As a vegan I am often asked whether vegan nutrition is really that much better than following “regular” nutritional guidelines. The answer is yes… and no. The truth is that you can be a vegan and still not be eating a truly nutritious diet. In fact, many vegans tend to load up on carbs and processed vegan foods, which can not only cause weight gain, but can also contribute to other nutrition-related ailments.
On the other hand, if you follow a vegan diet that is balanced and insures that you have covered all the nutritional bases, you will undoubtedly lose weight, lower your blood pressure and keep yourself clear of diabetes. Here are a few guidelines to insure that your vegan nutrition plan has everything it needs:
Vitamin B12 – This is probably the biggest issue for vegans. Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin B12 is not produced in animals. It is actually manufactured by microorganisms that live primarily in soil and water. When animals eat food that is grown in soil containing these microorganisms, they get the B12 and pass it on to the humans who eat them. Because vegans don’t eat meat, they often develop B12 deficiencies.
There is actually an easy solution to the B12 issue. You can take a methyl B12 supplement (the most bio-available kind of B12), or you can get your B12 and a boatload of other nutrients from nutritional yeast. I highly recommend the latter as it is food-based. In particular, I recommend KAL nutritional yeast. It is grown on molasses and is completely plant-based. It has a terrific nutty flavor, and you only need a couple of tablespoonfuls a day. I throw it in smoothies, in soups, on cereals, and in my salad dressing. It actually contains the entire compliment of B vitamins.
Vitamin D – As a vegan, you can still eat foods that have been fortified with vitamin D. If you are very particular, you’ll want to be sure you are taking vitamin D2 rather than D3. D3 comes from the lanolin of sheep and is therefore an animal product. D2 is synthetic and vegans consider it to be an acceptable alternative. Unfortunately the research tends to show that D3 is more effective than D2. Either way, make sure you are taking supplemental vitamin D of some kind, and spending some time in the sun!
Iodine – This one is often overlooked by vegans. It is critical for thyroid health, reproductive health and it helps to keep your nails and hair strong. You can get your iodine through iodized salt, but you’re better off using sea salt. One of the best ways to get iodine is from seaweed. You can get it from nori-wrapped vegan sushi, or just throw a small amount of kelp powder or dulce flakes on a salad. It’s delicious and in addition to the iodine, you’ll be getting lots of wonderful minerals.
These three essentials, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iodine, are all critical for good health. If you insure that you include these in a diet consists mostly of vegetables, fruits, and legumes, along with a few nuts, seeds and whole grains, your vegan nutrition will be in great shape and so will you!