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Nutritioanl considerations: Vegan diet

Key nutritional considerations to be kept in mind for those on a vegan diet.

A vegan diet is the most natural form of diet meant for human consumption, and provides all the vitamins, proteins and other nutrients (only exception being Vitamin B-12) required for the smooth functioning of our bodies. However, a vegan diet comprising primarily junk foods with a low consumption of vegetables & fruits is unlikely to lead to any major health benefits.

You need to ensure you follow a well balanced vegan diet, to adequate nutritent consumption & the significant health benefits of a vegan diet. A well balanced vegan diet essentially comprises an adequate intake of:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Beans

The following are some of the key nutrients to keep in mind, while shifting towards a vegan lifestyle. (Protein and calcium intake covered in seperate tabs)

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and fortified foods, such as many breakfast cereals and soymilks. As such, most vegans are likely to be deficient in Vitamin B12.

To get the full benefit of a vegan diet, vegans should do one of the following:

  • eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (μg or mcg) of B12 a day or
  • take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms or
  • take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
  • If relying on fortified foods check the labels carefully to make sure you are getting enough B12. For example, if a fortified plant milk contains 1 microgram of B12 per serving then consuming three servings.

In adults typical deficiency symptoms include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes. Often these symptoms develop gradually over several months to a year before being recognised as being due to B12 deficiency and they are usually reversible on administration of B12.

Iron

Vegans tend to have iron intakes that are at least as high as those of nonvegetarians. However, iron from plants is generally not absorbed as well as iron from meat.

A well balanced vegan diet with an adequate consumption of whole grains and green leafy vegetables, provides all the iron required by our bodies. However, a non- balanced vegan diet not comprising enough grains & vegetables could lead to an iron deficiency.

You can ensure the required consumption of iron through your vegan diet, by including the following iron rich foods in your diet.

Iron rich plant based foods

  • Lentils or dals
  • Wholemeal bread & flour
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Greens: broccoli, spring greens, okra, watercress
  • Nuts
  • Dry fruits: apricots, prunes, figs

Zinc

The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian diets is lower than from nonvegetarian diets, mainly due to the higher phytic acid content of vegetarian diets. A well balanced vegan diet provides all the zinc required by the body, but in case your vegan diet is not well balanced it is possible to be deficient in zinc intake.

You can ensure the required consumption of zinc through your vegan diet, by including the following iron rich foods in your diet.

Zinc rich plant based foods

  • Soy and Soy products
  • Lentils & dals
  • Nuts: walnuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, macadamias and Brazil nuts
  • Beans: chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans, tofu