It’s often assumed that vegans generally survive off a varied cocktail of supplements and super foods in order to be truly healthy. True, any form of veggie eating needs a level of awareness to ensure you get everything you need for a balanced diet; but generally this is no different for meat, egg or dairy eaters too! In fact, it’s a myth that by eating animal products you are someone how immune to deficiencies; especially when your meat or dairy consumption actually decreases the amount of veggies you eat as a result.
In fact, some studies have found that whilst vegans may be prone to B12, Calcium and Iodine deficiencies; an average no vegetarian diet is not only deficient in calcium and iodine, but vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, folate, and magnesium as well! So vitamin deficiencies aren’t always just a veggies problem.
That said, when choosing to cut down – or out – animal products for a healthier lifestyle, there are still a few key things worth keeping an eye on; and they really don’t need to involve supplements. In fact, as a lazy (and very forgetful) vegan, I am terrible at remembering to take supplements at all, and am proof that you can live a healthy vegan lifestyle without popping the pills!
Disclaimer: advice which follows is based on my own personal experience of veganism over the last year; in which regular tests have confirmed I have no vitamin deficiencies. I am NOT a nutritionist by any means but I do love to eat!
This is an obvious one for most veggies and vegans as it simply doesn’t occur in the plant world like it does in animal products. The highest sources of B12, in fact, are things like shellfish, eggs and Beef livers!
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause some pretty crappy side effects such as anaemia, nerve damage, heart disease or pregnancy complications; so it’s really important to get the required 3 micrograms each day. Though you could pop a supplement every day, or every week (depending on strength) I prefer to eat my way to B12 heaven and enjoy these delicious favs:
- Yeast Extract – adding a tablespoon to pasta sources, warm crusty toast, soups or directly into your gob is a delicious way to add flavour to food and stock up on B12!
- Nutritional yeast (the B12 fortified version) – is yummy sprinkled into salads or onto chilli’s and pasta; and can be ground with cashew nuts for a vegan version of parmesan. 1 tablespoon covers your daily allowance too so a great lazy way to get that box ticked!
- Nut and soy milks – these days most of these are boosted with B12 too. So in many ways that morning coffee is kind of healthy….
- Fortified Tofu – yes, yes most people think tofu is a bit weirdy beardy; but it’s so versatile you can make anything from burgers and stir-fry’s, to tiramisu and smoothies. But I do limit how much soy I consume in general (see my post on Soy’s sustainability and heath credentials) so I don’t rely on this for all my B12 needs.
As a passionate historian I can appreciate the complex relationship the West has with the dairy industry and its relationship with health, economics and politics (this is a whole other blog post!) but the crux of it is – and this is a shocker – you do not need dairy to get sufficient calcium! FACT!
The natural world has so many sources of calcium we really don’t need to buy in to images of “happy” cows to get our fix. We need between 1000 and 1200 milligrams of calcium per day and I fill that need quite quickly by munching on a selection of the following:
- Kale (1 cup contains 180 mg)
- Collard Greens(1 cup contains over 350 mg)
- Tempeh (1 cup contains 215 mg)
- Hemp milk (1 cup contains 460 mg)
- Tahini (2 tablespoons contains 130 mg)
- Almond butter (2 tablespoons contains 85 mg)
- Broccoli (1 cup contains 95 mg)
- Raw fennel (1 medium bulb contains 115 mg)
- Blackberries (1 cup contains 40 mg)
- Black Currants (1 cup contains 62 mg)
- Oranges (1 orange contains between 50 and 60 mg)
- Dried apricots (1/2 cup contains 35 mg)
- Figs (1/2 cup contains 120 mg)
- Dates (1/2 cup contains 35 mg)
- Artichoke (1 medium artichoke contains 55 mg)
- Roasted sesame seeds (1 oz. contains 35 mg)
So, a delicious nutty stir fry of tempeh, broccoli and kale with a tahini and almond butter sauce, finished off with some dried figs and a glass of orange juice and you have your daily allowance. That’s not to mention the other vitamin boxes you have ticked off in one meal!
While lots of plant based foods contain iron, your body absorbs the iron they supply less efficiently than iron from meat. Consuming foods high in vitamin C, however, increases iron absorption. Beans, Quinoa, Pumpkin seeds, lentils and green vegetables – such as spinach and kale – are all good sources of the approx 1.5 mg iron we need; and can easily be added to most veggie meals.