If eating plant-based or vegan is completely new to you, you may be wondering how vegans get nutrients like protein or calcium, and can they actually get all these nutrients from plant-based foods?
A whole-food plant-based vegan diet is one of the healthiest ways of eating, but eating vegan doesn't always mean healthy. A vegan diet can still consist of highly processed junk foods.
The key to it all is eating whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. If this is your focus and you understand the common nutrient concerns, you will stay healthy and feel confident about your choice to be vegan.
Let's dive into the 7 common nutrition concerns on a vegan diet.
Proteins are the “building blocks” called amino acids that our body uses to build, maintain and repair body tissue.
The average woman needs 46 grams per day and the average man needs 56 grams per day.
Plant-Based Protein Sources: whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables.
Firm Tofu: 3 oz is 9 grams
Tempeh: 3 oz is 18 grams
Lentils: 1/2 cup (130g) is 9 grams
Beans: 1/2 cup (130g) is 7-8 grams
Soy Milk: 1 cup is 7 grams
Quinoa: 1 cup is 8 grams
Peas: 1 cup is 8.2 grams
Brussel Sprouts: 1 cup is 5.7 grams
Almond Butter: 2 tbsp (32g) is 6 grams
Check out these other high sources of vegan protein recipes:
- Crispy Tofu - a simple crispy tofu recipe, ideal for grain bowls, asian-inspired rice bowls or noodle bowls, salads, or wraps.
- Blackened Tofu - a crispy and flavorful blackened tofu recipe perfect for wraps like this creamy kale wrap recipe, adding to salads, or sandwiches.
- Tofu Scramble - a quick and easy breakfast scramble made with crumbled tofu.
- Black Bean Quinoa Taco "Meat" - a whole food plant-based protein made with black beans and quinoa perfect for tacos, mexican-inspired bowls, or burritos.
- Smoky Tempeh Sandwich - a smoky savory tempeh recipe inspired to substitute a BLT sandwich.
B12 plays a role in the maintenance of the nervous system and in the formation of red blood cells. It is produced by bacteria typically found in soil (not by animals or plants). The bacteria use to thrive in plant foods but have become less common because of sanitization and pesticides, which have resulted in soil deficiency. Animals are supplemented with B12 in their feed to make up for this.
When skipping out on animal products taking a B12 supplement or choosing foods that are fortified with B12 is ideal.
Plant-Based B12 Sources: B12 supplements, and foods fortified with B12 (like cereal + plant milk).
Zinc helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also uses zinc to make proteins and DNA.
Plant-Based Zinc Sources: whole grains, tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts, seeds.
Iron helps the body with growth and development. It uses iron to make hemoglobin, myoglobin, and some hormones.
Plant-Based Iron Sources: blackstrap molasses, lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, leafy greens.
5. VITAMIN D
Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphate in the body. This helps keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The obvious source is sunshine, but many people do not get adequate sunshine cause we spend most of our days indoors. Other than sunshine, mushrooms grown exposed to light, fortified vegan products (like milk alternatives, tofu, and yogurt), or taking a supplement are the best options.
Plant-Based Vitamin D Sources: sunshine, mushrooms, fortified vegan products, vegan-friendly supplements.
Calcium helps the body maintain strong bones and teeth. The body also needs calcium for muscle movement and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part.
Plant-Based Calcium Sources: green leafy vegetables (like kale, collard greens, spinach, bok choy), broccoli, cabbage, seeds (like poppy, sesame, chia), figs, soy products (edamame, tofu, tempeh), oranges, fortified foods + drinks, almonds.
7. OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega 3’s has many benefits that help the body work more efficiently. They play an important role in cellular function and in maintaining heart health, brain health, kidney function, eye health, and skin health.
Plant-Based Omega 3 Sources: walnuts, seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds), edamame, algae (seaweed, nori, spirulina, chlorella), kidney beans, supplements - algae oil.
If protein is a concern when switching to a plant-based diet replace dairy milk with a high-protein milk alternative like soy milk. As shown above, soy milk has 7 grams of protein in just 1 cup of milk and most store-bought soy milk products will be fortified with other important nutrients, like calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D2, riboflavin B2, and vitamin B12. Check the nutrition panel since each brand is different. Not convinced, why you should ditch cow's milk.
Nutrients for great health can be found in plant-based whole foods. Just focus meals on fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Make sure to supplement B12 and D3 (especially when you are not getting enough sunlight) or eat foods fortified with these nutrients.
Not sure where to get started eating plant-based? Check out our going plant-based guide.