Myths and misconceptions abound when it comes to veganism. After all, plant-based diets can seem like a very different concept in a society where steak still rules supreme.
But perhaps the claim that humans need to eat meat in order to stay healthy is the most pervasive of all. Sure, animal products provide a whole host of vital vitamins and minerals – but luckily for vegans, it’s easy to find plant-based sources to fulfill our nutritional needs too. You just need to know where to look.
Vitamin B12 deficiency isn’t something that just affects vegans. In fact, recent studies show that as many as 40 per cent of Americans are lacking in this vital vitamin. Responsible for creating red blood cells, it helps boost energy, protect against cancer and reduce depression. So in short, it’s pretty important.
As B12 is most frequently found in meat, fish and dairy products, vegans should think about taking a quality supplement or multivitamin to get an extra boost of the vitamin.
There’s a reason Popeye ate spinach by the bucketload: it’s rich in iron – a nutrient that forms a central part of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. But it’s not just spinach that’s loaded with iron. Other foods include black-eyed peas, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and grains such as quinoa and millet.
Another thing to remember is that Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption – so stock up on green leafy vegetables like kale and bok choi.
As we all know, calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones. But contrary to what we may have been taught at school, milk isn’t the only source of this vital mineral. In fact, natural foods such as broccoli, kale, beans, almonds and tahini are abundant in the stuff.
Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin!) also helps the body to absorb calcium, helping ward off conditions such as osteoporosis. To get your fill of Vitamin D, make sure you soak up at least 15 minutes of sun a day, or consider taking a quality supplement.
Protein is vital to our exercise regime, brain function and overall health; without it, we’d struggle to work at our best. Although protein (or a lack of it) is a concern to many vegans, it really doesn’t have to be. Contrary to what many people think, protein can be found in almost any food, so as long as you eat a varied diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and nuts, there’s not much to worry about.
But if you’re after a protein boost, whether it’s for a post-workout snack or filling lunch, try loading up on black beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh and garbanzo beans.
The fact that the vegan diet cuts out animal fats is great for our health, but the absence of ‘bad fats’ should always be balanced by the inclusion of ‘good’ fats. Omega 3 fatty acids fall under this category. Essential for a healthy heart, brain, skin and joints, these fatty acids should form a big part of any diet.
But how much do you need? The RDA for Omega 3 is 1.6g/day for males and 1.1 g/day for women – an achievable amount as long as you eat foods rich in healthy fats such as walnuts, flax seeds, spirulina and hemp oil. But if you still think you’re missing out, it might be a good idea to take vegan DHA capsules, which contain Omega 3 sourced from algae.