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Regardless of whether you are just starting out on your plant-based journey or have been embracing veganism for years, understanding vegan nutrition is essential if you want to live a happy, healthy life.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths, misconceptions and outright nonsense surrounding vegan nutrition. Some people still flat out believe that is impossible to live completely free of animal products. And there was me thinking we were in the 21st century!

That being said, there are definitely plenty of wrong ways to go vegan. Therefore, we thought a guide to vegan nutrition would help the Happy Happy Vegan family get things right…and this is it!

We hope you enjoy it but, most of all, we hope that it gives you the information you need to live long, happy, healthy lives.

Here we go!

Why is vegan nutrition important?

single strawberry

Well, first off, let’s start by saying that nutrition is important for everyone, whether you are vegan or not. Getting the right amount of nutrients is essential to good health, so we welcome all of you non-vegans who may be reading this and hope that you can get something from the guide, too.

You see, vegan nutrition needn’t be solely for vegans. Meat eaters can up their health and wellbeing by increasing the amount of plant-based foodstuffs that they eat, too.

This, in turn, will prove that the vegan diet really isn’t as scary as you may think. In fact, you might just fall in love with it and want to make it a permanent fixture of your life like the rest of us have.

Unfortunately, however, the fact remains that many people have lost sight of the fact that food matters. Too many of us now opt for what makes us happy in the short term, rather than what makes us well as the years roll by.

plant based nutrition

Processed products offer a great deal of convenience in our increasingly busy lives and they can often act as a comfort food, too. So it’s little wonder that the food industry has churned out so much of this junk over the last 50 years. It sells, and it sells a lot!

But, things are changing.

People are becoming more and more aware of the importance of knowing where their food comes from and what goes into the stuff they’re consuming on a daily basis.

How did we ever let them get away with putting things we can’t even pronounce into the food we eat?

Can you really get all of the nutrients that you need solely from plants?

plant based nutrients

Some vegans will shout Yes! when asked this question, but it isn’t really the truth. We do need a little help in some areas, but it’s just a case of educating ourselves so that we don’t fall behind. It’s no real hardship, so why deny it?

The other thing to remember is that many of the vital nutrients that vegans are sometimes deficient in are often lacking from many meat eaters bodies too. Things such as vitamin D3 are often listed as an essential vegan nutrient (which it is), but many non-vegans also suffer from low levels of this important vitamin as well.

Let’s take a look at a list of nutrients vegans should be keeping an eye on.

Nutrients that vegans can’t ordinarily get from plant foods

girl in the garden planting food

Before we start, it’s important to remember that some of the nutrients included in this list are considered non-essential as they can be produced by our own bodies.

However, the reason why we have included them is so that you have full knowledge of what may be lacking from your vegan diet. Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Getting regular check ups from your healthcare practitioner is always a good idea.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is not naturally found in vegetables, fruits and grains. It’s not made by animals either. It’s actually created by certain bacteria that line the guts of animals, but that doesn’t mean that it is hard to find, far from it.

Vitamin B12 is probably the most talked about nutrient that vegans really need to keep check of. Sure, the others are important, too, but B12 is the big one.

Many foods, such as plant milks, are now fortified with B12, which gives us a boost in this vital vitamin. However, it is important to remember that most of the fortified foods will be processed to a greater or lesser extent, so use your judgement when purchasing them.

It can also be difficult to keep track of just how much B12 you have had when using fortified foods. Who wants to be weighing and measuring all day – urgh!

Probably the most effective way (it’s how we do it here at Happy Happy Vegan) is to use vitamin B12 supplements. Naturally, it’s important to check that the product is vegan. B12 itself is inherently vegan, but some supplements may use animal products in one form or another so it’s worth reading the label.

As for what best the type of B12 is – cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin – the debate rages on. We take our lead from the ever brilliant Dr Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org on this one and opt for cyanocobalamin.

How much vitamin B12 should vegans be aiming for?

While you may be able to get some B12 from certain forms of seaweed, such as Nori for example, the majority of vegans opt for either fortified foods or supplementation.

 

Fortified foods are fine and work well, but you can never be certain of the amount that you are getting at any given time. This is why we recommend supplementation as the best way to get your B12 needs met.

 

Below are the recommended amounts needed by vegans to maintain healthy vitamin B12 levels:

 

  • A minimum of 2,500 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin taken once per week, ideally taken as either a sublingual, chewable or liquid supplement on an empty stomach
  • or a minimum of 250 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin per day
  • or fortified foods three times per day, each of which should contain at least 25% of your DV/RDA (Daily Value/Recommended Daily Allowance)
  • Anyone over 65 should be taking at least 1,000 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin each day

 

It’s also important to remember that you needn’t worry about taking too much vitamin B12 as the body will just process it and pass it out in our urine.

 

If you are experiencing B12 deficiency issues, the best test is a urine MMA rather than a serum B12 level.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

mackerel swimming free

DHA is one of the essential omega-3 fatty acids that is largely found in fish oils and fatty fish such as mackerel. But what about for us vegans?

Nutrients like DHA are vitally important if we want our brains to function normally (which I assume we all want!), so where do we turn to in order to get our recommended daily intake?

Thankfully, there are vegan DHA supplements on the market that do a great job, so we can leave our fishy friends in peace!

Some will claim that we can get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from foods like walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds, all of which contain another omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic (ALA).

However, studies have found the conversion rate of ALA into DHA to be inefficient. This is despite the fact that our bodies have the capability to make DHA from ALA.

Some research suggests that limiting the amount of omega-6 fatty acids can improve conversion rates – and the majority of plant foods have a good omega-3 to -6 ratio – but monitoring levels can be tough.

So, in order to ensure that we are getting enough DHA, supplementation is advised. That being said, do be careful of clever marketing ploys when choosing your supplements. Many of them come from the same company, but vary in price significantly.

How much DHA should I be taking on a vegan diet?

DHA deficiency can impair brain function and cause mental health issues. Children are especially susceptible and pregnant women are strongly advised to keep a close eye on their DHA intake as low levels can affect the brain development of their baby.

 

Heart health was always stated as the key reason for DHA supplementation, but new studies show that long-chain omega-3s do not appear to help with either the prevention or treatment of heart disease.

 

However, brain function is still an issue, so supplementation is still recommended. Current guidelines recommend a minimum daily intake of 250 mg for long-chain fatty acids (DHA/EPA). Up to 3,000 mg can be taken each day unless your medical practitioner has advised otherwise.

 

Another thing to bear in mind is the source of these long-chain fatty acids. Make sure you are getting yours from algae- or yeast-derived supplements as these are pollutant free and completely vegan.

Vitamin D

vitamin d vegan nutrition guide

Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D can be produced by the skin when exposed to enough sunlight. However, regardless of diet, many of us simply do not get enough sunshine to build up the vitamin D levels that we need.

We all seem to be working longer and longer hours stuck inside offices, so lots of people are lacking in vitamin D whether they are vegan or not. Plus, during the winter the sunlight is weak, so our bodies draw on the reserves that we built up in the summer months.

All this means that getting enough vitamin D is vitally important to good health. Let’s take a look at this vitamin in a little more depth.

This vital nutrient comes in two different types: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is commonly found in plants, whereas D3 (cholecalciferol) is largely found in animal products – hence the common vegan nutritional wisdom that states supplementation is important throughout the winter months.

Vitamin D3 is at its richest in foods such as fatty fish and is considered to be more effective at raising the levels of vitamin D in our blood than D2.

However, many people across the western world simply do not eat enough wild-caught salmon or canned mackerel to make a significant difference to their vitamin D levels. Therefore, it’s not just us vegans who would be wise to take action when it comes to vitamin D.

Why vitamin D is so important

sunshine vitamin d

Vitamin D is important for a whole host of reasons. It helps the body absorb calcium, so it is vital for bone health and good teeth. Deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis, increased risk of fractures and even rickets in severe cases. Our immune systems are affected by vitamin D levels, too.

Just like DHA, vitamin D is essential for healthy brain function and can even be a cause of mental health issues if deficiency occurs. Children and those entering their later years are especially vulnerable when it comes to the correlation between vitamin D deficiency and brain function.

Brain development in the young can be affected if levels are too low. Similarly, the elderly increase their risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s if they become deficient.

So, all in all, vitamin D is pretty vital stuff and many of us are simply not getting enough of it.

We are naturally wired to make the vitamin ourselves, but our increasing tendency to be indoors rather than out is preventing that production from occurring.

Even when we are out in the sun, many of us now smother ourselves in sunscreen that blocks the process of turning our cholesterol into vitamin D. And then there’s the matter of getting the right kind of sunlight.

For much of the year, the sun is simply at the wrong angle for us to start making vitamin D. That’s okay if we have got enough through the summer months, as our bodies store a certain amount, but if we are already deficient it can be disastrous.

Check out the video above to find out how to work out if you can get your vitamin D from the sun. For those of you who live outside the US, Dr Mercola explains how to calculate your sun exposure from around 6m 20s. The website mentioned in the video can be found here.

How much vitamin D do I need to stay healthy?

This is a tough one to answer as there are so many variables concerned with vitamin production. However, below are the guidelines laid out by Dr Michael Greger on NutritionFacts.org:

 

Anywhere below roughly 30° latitude (south of Atlanta/Dallas/Los Angeles/Cairo)

 

15 to 30 minutes of midday sun (15 minutes for people with lighter skin; 30 minutes for people with darker skin)

or take 2,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D

 

Anywhere between 30° latitude (check the cities listed above) and 40° latitude (Chicago/Portland/Boston/Beijing/Rome)

 

Time of year: February through November

 

15 to 30 minutes of midday sun (15 minutes for people with lighter skin; 30 minutes for people with darker skin)

or 2,000 IU supplemental vitamin D

 

Time of year: December through January

 

2,000 IU supplemental vitamin D

 

Anywhere between 40° latitude (check the cities listed above) and 50° latitude (London/Edmonton/Moscow/Berlin)

 

Time of year: March through October

 

15 to 30 minutes of midday sun (15 minutes for people with lighter skin; 30 minutes for people with darker skin)

or 2,000 IU supplemental vitamin D

 

Time of year: November through February

 

2,000 IU supplemental vitamin D

 

Anywhere above approximately 50° latitude (north of London/Edmonton/Moscow/Berlin)

 

Time of year: April through September (or even briefer above 60° latitude (Stockholm/Anchorage))

 

15 to 30 minutes of midday sun (15 minutes for people with lighter skin; 30 minutes for people with darker skin)

or 2,000 IU supplemental vitamin D

 

Time of year: October through March (or even longer above 60° latitude (Stockholm/Anchorage))

 

2,000 IU supplemental vitamin D

Creatine

creatine nutrient

Creatine is produced by our kidneys and livers, so it is largely thought of as being non-essential to our diet.

That being said, it is an important molecule and many people who shun meat and dairy can have low creatine levels as dietary creatine is only found in products derived from animals. Not good if you’re vegan.

While most of us will get by on what our livers and kidneys churn out, those who work out regularly a lot or play a lot of sports may feel that they need to take creatine supplements.

Creatine is essentially an easily drawn upon energy reserve for our muscle cells, allowing them to grow stronger, gain more mass and increase stamina, which is why body builders (both non-vegan and vegan) supplement creatine so often when training.

Exercise rapidly depletes phosphocreatine levels, so topping up to help increase athletic performance would seem to make sense.

Creatine is also pretty well researched and widely regarded as being safe to take. However, for the sake of clarity, there was a 2011 study that found a large amount of creatine supplements which contained organic contaminants and heavy metals.

Do vegans need creatine supplements?

In short, no. While it would appear at first glance that supplementation would be a good idea for all vegans as we are not getting any dietary creatine, we really do not need to supplement creatine.

 

That being said, vegan athletes, body builders, weight lifters and pretty much anyone who trains hard, will tell you creatine supplements are an essential part of their routine and dietary intake.

 

So, that leaves the decision down to you. Check out this excellent resource from Examine.com for more on creatine so that you can make an informed decision before opting to add it to your supplements list.

Taurine

nutrition taurine

Taurine is another nutrient that is only found in animal products and, again, is non-essential as we are able to produce small amounts ourselves.

Nevertheless, some vegan nutrition studies have shown that taurine levels can be low when sticking to a plant-based diet as the dietary intake of taurine does seem to contribute to the overall amount of taurine found in our bodies.

The thing is, what taurine actually does for us humans is still up for debate.

Taurine is an organic acid and it is found in multiple parts of the body, including our heart, kidneys and brain. Research is being carried out on its anti-diabetic qualities at present and it is thought to help control blood sugar and reduce certain types of insulin resistance.

Are taurine supplements worth considering?

Despite not being found in plant foods, taurine supplementation is relatively rare in the vegan community.

 

Providing you are getting the recommended daily amounts of protein (non-animal, of course), you should be fine without supplementation.

 

Our bodies make taurine from cysteine and methionine. These sulfur-containing amino acids are found in a number of vegan nutrition staples such as garlic, sunflower seeds, broccoli, oats, red peppers, spinach, squashes and onions to name but a few, so it’s easy to see why we can probably do without supplements.

 

However, for those who are severely lacking in taurine, the current guidelines are as follows:

 

500 mg daily is considered to be the standard dosage, but anywhere below 3,000 mg per day is considered to be within safe limits. Exceeding 3,000 mg can cause unintended side effects and it is important to remember that taurine studies are still very much in their infancy.

Carnosine

man lifting barbell

Composed of two amino acids (histidine and alanine), carnosine is an antioxidant that is part of the body’s protection against free radical damage.

Carnosine is thought to boost the immune system, help strengthen the cells within our bodies and rid the body of toxins by safely eliminating heavy metals and other metabolic by-products.

As with many of the other nutrients found in our vegan nutrition guide so far, carnosine can be lacking in vegans because of the lessened intake via dietary means. This is largely because beta-alanine (one of the building blocks of carnosine), is an amino acid only found in animal products such as meat and fish.

Carnosine is also linked with muscle function. Higher levels of the non-essential nutrient have been linked with improved muscle performance and reduced fatigue, although research shows the magnitude of effect from beta-alanine supplements to be fairly minor.

While it is considered non-essential as we can produce it naturally, studies have shown that vegetarians had 50% or less carnosine in the tissues of their muscles. Therefore, one can safely assume that vegans would experience similar results, too.

Should vegans take beta-alanine supplements to boost carnosine?

Should we take beta-alanine? Well, the only answer we can give to that is that you don’t need to take it.

 

However, if you are someone who lifts a lot of weights and is looking to improve muscle function, beta-alanine is thought to help in that regard.

 

For most of us, though, this is another supplement we can safely do without.

 

If you do decide to take beta-alanine, here are the recommended daily doses:

 

Standard daily dosage is set at anywhere between two to five grams. Some people may experience paresthesia (a tingling sensation) when taking high doses. This is a harmless side effect and it can be avoided by taking smaller doses across the day rather than loading up all at once. Time release formulas can help with this as well.

Important nutrients that vegans can (and should) get from plants

young boy getting nutrients from vegetables

While it is vitally important for vegans to know about all of the nutrients they’re missing out on because of their decision not to consume animal products, it is equally essential for good health to know how to get all of the other nutrients that we need, too.

Unfortunately, going vegan does not guarantee good health. The food industry is now well aware of the sea change happening amongst the public, so more and more vegan junk food is hitting the supermarket shelves. This is bad news for new vegans who may think that simply giving up animal products is the route to a healthier, happier life.

For optimum vegan nutrition, one should follow a plant-based whole food diet as closely as possible and ditch the processed foods in exchange for food with very little human interference.

At the very least, keep your consumption of all things processed to a minimum and keep checking those food labels for things that simply don’t sound like food! If you can’t pronounce it, the chances are good that you really shouldn’t be eating it.

So, what about the healthy stuff? What vegan nutrition should we getting from our daily dietary choices?

Let’s take a look.

Calcium

calcium for vegans

“But, where do you get your calcium?”

Sound familiar, vegans? Yep, it’s a favourite question posed by our non-vegan friends.

Oh, that and, “So, what exactly do you eat?”

I digress.

Contrary to the belief of many, calcium is easily obtained without interfering with Daisy’s udders. Plenty of plant foods are extremely rich in calcium and, if you are wondering which ones they are, you can check out our fabulous list of foods that will boost your calcium intake once you’ve finished up here 🙂

Many grocery store staples will also be fortified with calcium, but getting it naturally is always the best way to go if you possibly can.

How much calcium is recommended?

The daily amount of calcium that we need varies according to our gender and as our age changes. The following are the current guidelines for calcium intake:

 

Men
19 to 50 years of age

1,000 mg per day with an upper limit of 2,500 mg

51 to 70 years of age

1,000 mg per day with an upper limit of 2,000 mg

71 and above

1,200 mg per day with an upper limit of 2,000 mg

 

Women
19 to 50 years of age

1,000 mg per day with an upper limit of 2,500 mg

51 and above

1,200 mg per day with an upper limit of 2,000 mg

Getting calcium from vegan foods

Remember that, unlike some of the other nutrients discussed in this vegan nutrition guide, our bodies do not produce calcium by themselves – we need to get it from our diet.

So, do check out our list of vegan foods that contain calcium to make sure that you are getting enough each and every day, and remember to take your vitamin D supplements, too. Without vitamin D our bodies struggle to absorb calcium, so having both is vital to good health.

Check out some more facts about calcium here.

Fiber

breakfast high in fiber

Fiber is possibly the most discussed part of our diet, and yet many of us still aren’t getting enough. Many nutritionists believe that insufficient fiber intake is the main cause of much of America’s health problems, so we really should pay more attention to the amount we are getting each day.

Fiber is the indigestible parts of the plants that we eat and it is vital to our digestive health. Thankfully, fiber is really easy to get when you follow a whole food plant-based diet.

Commonly referred to as roughage, fiber takes on water as it passes through our digestive system. This helps keep us regular because it adds weight to and increases the size of our stools. It also softens them, making them easier to pass. Eating plenty of fiber is probably the best way to ensure good bowel health and lower the risk of conditions such as haemorrhoids.

However, the benefits of a high-fiber diet do not stop there. Dietary fiber also helps in other ways, too. Amongst other things, a diet that is high in fiber can:

  • Lower cholesterol levels – The soluble fiber found in vegan staples such as beans, flaxseeds and oats is thought to help lower our total blood cholesterol levels. By reducing our low-density lipoprotein (aka “bad” cholesterol), these foods can bring more balance to our bodies. Some research suggests that they can even lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation, too.
  • Help with weight issues – As they are generally more filling than low-fiber foods, high-fiber foods will often leave us more satisfied and lessen the amount that we want to eat naturally. They are also less energy-dense and have fewer calories when compared to the same volume of low-fiber food. These are all things that can help us maintain a healthy weight.
  • Bring blood sugar under control – People who have diabetes can benefit from increased soluble fiber as it will slow the absorption of sugar into the body. This will, in turn, help to improve their blood sugar levels. However, all of us can benefit from increasing our fiber intake, and a diet high in insoluble fiber might even help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes developing in the first place.

What are the daily recommendations for fiber intake?

The current dietary recommendations for adult fiber intake are as follows:

 

Men
Under 50s

38 grams per day

Over 50s

30 grams per day

 

Women
Under 50s

25 grams per day

Over 50s

21 grams per day

Vegan foods high in fiber

If you feel as though your diet is lacking in fiber, there are a wealth of delicious foods that will help put that right. Lower the amount of processed food you are eating and start introducing and increasing the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables – Frozen, fresh or tinned, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure that you are getting enough. We recommend going above the popularized five-a-day, aim for closer to ten portions daily.
  • Legumes – Eating more beans, peas and lentils can significantly increase the amount of dietary fiber you get each day. Try adding them to soups, smoothies, casseroles and curries. Oh, and don’t forget hummus. Chickpeas contain 30% of our daily fiber requirements in just a 100g serving!
  • Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds make great snack alternatives, and switching from potato chips to these beauties can have a dramatic impact on our health. Reach for the almonds in the afternoon and you’ll be boosting your dietary daily values by 11% every quarter cup that you eat. Add a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to your smoothie every morning for another 15%.
  • Whole-grains – Switching from white to brown can be extremely beneficial. Ditch the white rice, bread and pasta, and opt for whole-grain alternatives instead. Refined grains have the bran removed from them, making their fiber content far lower than unrefined grains. Many people consider whole-grains to be far superior when it comes to flavor, too.

If you are extremely deficient in fiber, go easy on introducing too much too quickly. Adding lots of fiber too quickly can cause problems such as stomach cramps, bloating and excess gas. Try and increase your intake gradually and let your body be your guide.

Vitamin A

vitamin a symbol

Vitamin A is an odd one. First of all, there isn’t just one type of vitamin A, there is a huge range of nutrients that are related to it. These include:

Retinoids

  • Retinol
  • Retinal
  • Rethonic acid
  • Retinyl esters

Retinoids are only found in animal foods.

 

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are divided into two main types: Carotenes and Xanthophylls.

 

Carotenes
  • Alpha-carotene*
  • Beta-carotene*
  • Gamma-carotene*
  • Delta-carotene
  • Epsilon-carotene
  • Zeta-carotene
Xanthophylls
  • Astaxanthin
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin*
  • Canthaxanthin
  • Fucoxanthin
  • Lutein
  • Neoxanthin
  • Violaxanthin
  • Zeaxanthin

*These carotenoid types of vitamin A, once consumed, may convert into retinoid types in the body under certain conditions.

The pre-formed variety of the vitamin can only be found in animal products, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use plants to get enough. You see, there are around 50 carotenoids that our bodies can convert into vitamin A, with beta-carotene the most prevalent.

The current wisdom on vitamin A conversion is that around 12mg of beta-carotene will produce a single microgram of vitamin A. This means that getting enough regular vitamin A on the vegan diet can be challenging and should be closely monitored.

However, if you include certain foods into your diet daily, satisfactory vitamin A levels can be achieved through plants. One cup of sweet potato, for example, has over double the required daily amount of this essential vitamin.

How much vitamin A do I need?

The amount of vitamin A in foods is now measured in Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE). Currently the guidelines on vitamin A intake are:

 

Men

Aged 14 and above – 900 mcg RAE

 

Women

Aged 14 and above – 700 mcg RAE

 

Pregnant women

Aged 14 to 18 – 750 mcg RAE

Aged 19 to 50 – 770 mcg RAE

 

Breastfeeding women

Aged 14 to 18 – 1,200 mcg RAE

Aged 19 to 50 – 1,300 mcg RAE

Vegan foods high in vitamin A

Getting a range of carotenoids each and every day is advisable. Foods to start including in your diet are:

  • Sweet potato
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Most types of greens (mustard, collard, turnip, beet etc.)
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Chillies

Vitamin C

vitamin c

When it comes to nutrients, vitamin C (AKA ascorbic acid) is the one that everybody knows about. Pretty much everyone knows where to get vitamin C from, yet many people still don’t get enough.

This is all the more surprising when you consider that there are six common foodstuffs which will provide you with enough vitamin C for the whole day in one single serving! If you ever need proof that we are not eating enough plants, vitamin C is it.

Vitamin C is a fantastic antioxidant, can boost our immune system, helps to produce collagen and improve brain health. It can also help regenerate and repair tissues, help lower the risk of heart disease, increase iron absorption and may even protect against certain forms of cancer. Who wouldn’t want all of those benefits? Especially when you can get them from eating pineapple and strawberries!

What amount of vitamin C should we aim for?

The amount of vitamin C that adults need is as follows:

 

Men

Adult males – 90 mg per day

 

Women

Adult females – 75 mg per day

When pregnant – 85 mg per day

When breastfeeding – 120 mg per day

Best vegan foods for vitamin C

As we have already touched upon, there are many excellent sources of vitamin C. The top six are:

  • Papaya
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple

All of these foods will give you your daily recommended intake in just one serving. Is there really any reason not to get all of the vitamin C that you need?

Vitamin E

vitamin e

Similar to vitamin A, vitamin E is the broad term used to describe numerous nutrients. Vitamin E is made up of eight naturally occurring nutrients which are split into two categories: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Collectively, these eight molecules may be referred to as tocochromanols.

Vitamin E has many benefits but it’s widely known as being an extremely potent antioxidant. It can help with our immune system and keep our skin and eyes in peak condition, too.

However, previous claims that vitamin E can help protect against strokes, cancer and heart disease now seem to be unfounded. Many people were supplementing vitamin E with the belief that it would help against these killers, but a 2005 study showed no significant benefits from doing so. In fact, excess vitamin E from supplementation may even increase the risk of heart failure.

As with any nutrient, wherever possible, you are far better off getting your vitamin E naturally through your diet.

What are the right levels of vitamin E?

Unlike many of the other nutrients on our list, vitamin E is not really age or gender specific. From the age of 14, both men and women need only 15mg per day to meet the recommended amount.

 

The only real difference in adult requirements is for women who are breastfeeding. In this instance, 19mg is recommended.

Vitamin E rich foods

Food that are really high in vitamin E are relatively rare. Only sunflower seeds can give us over half of the recommended daily intake in one serving. However, anyone following a well-balanced whole food plant-based diet should be just fine.

The best sources of vitamin E are:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Avocado
  • Peanuts
  • Greens (beet, mustard, turnip etc.)
  • Asparagus

Magnesium

magnesium rich foods for vegans

Responsible for over 300 different chemical reactions in our bodies, magnesium possibly doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves.

Amongst others, this vital mineral is essential for the following reasons:

  • Allows energy to be produced within the body
  • Improves our ability to control inflammation
  • Improves bone integrity (around half of our magnesium is stored in our bones)
  • Helps level out our nervous system
  • Gives us greater control over blood sugar

What are the recommended daily magnesium guidelines?

Magnesium needs vary throughout our lives. The current guidelines are:

 

Men

Aged 14 to 18 – 410 mg per day

Aged 19 to 30 – 400 mg per day

Aged 31 and above – 420 mg per day

 

Women

Aged 14 to 18 – 360 mg per day

Aged 19 to 30 – 310 mg per day

Aged 31 and above – 320 mg per day

 

Pregnant women

Aged 14 to 18 – 400 mg per day

Aged 19 to 30 – 350 mg per day

Aged 31 and above – 360 mg per day

 

Breastfeeding women

Aged 14 to 18 – 360 mg per day

Aged 19 to 30 – 310 mg per day

Aged 31 and above – 320 mg per day

 

As with most of the nutrients on our list, the average American simply isn’t getting enough magnesium in their diet. Most people have a magnesium shortfall of around 100 to 125mg. Thankfully, this can be easily rectified with a few dietary changes.

Plant foods high in magnesium

Again, it is important to have a varied and balanced if you want to hit your magnesium requirements every day. No food on the list below will provide you with more than 48% of your daily recommend intake per serving, so mixing things up is essential.

These are your best sources of magnesium:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Soybeans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Black beans
  • Cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Navy beans

Potassium

This mineral is thought to be a key element in maintaining kidney health and normalizing blood pressure levels. Potassium is an electrolyte, which means that it helps all of those tiny electrical charges in our bodies conduct, making this mineral absolutely vital for our very existence.

However, as the video above shows, only 2% of all Americans are hitting their daily potassium targets. Two-percent!

Luckily, our bodies are extremely clever and we have systems in place that moderate blood levels and keep them within a given range. This is clearly a good thing because if our potassium levels fall to low or get too high our nervous system and heart will simply shut down.

While most of us are not getting enough potassium, our bodies are sorting out the problem. So, no need to worry, right?

Err, not quite.

Low potassium levels may cause symptoms that, while mild, can lead to our day-to-day lives being adversely affected. These include:

  • Tiredness, weakness and cramps
  • Tingling sensations and/or numbness
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Palpitations
  • Abnormal thirst
  • Depression

Daily recommended potassium intake

The daily recommended potassium intake for both men and women aged 14 and above is 4,700 mg per day. Breastfeeding women are advised to up their intake to 5,100 mg.

Getting more potassium in our diet

You would think that with 98% of the population falling short it must be almost impossible to get enough potassium in our daily diet, but this really isn’t the case.

Again, variation and balance are the key factors to hitting the guidelines. Many of the foods mentioned below have already come up in our research, so make sure that you include these usual suspects into your diet regularly. Potassium-rich foods include:

  • Beet greens
  • Lima beans
  • Swiss chard
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Soybeans
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils

Many people will now be screaming “WHAT ABOUT BANANAS?” at their screens, and they’d be right to do so. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, but they are far from the best. In fact, when looked at from a potassium per calorie point of view, 32 other foods come in higher!

So, while bananas are certainly a good thing to reach for, don’t ignore the other foods that’ll give you a bigger potassium bang for your buck.

Iron

iron rich vegan foods

Ask anyone about dietary iron and it’s likely that they’ll mention red meat pretty quickly. We have been conditioned into thinking that animal products are the only source of iron in much the same way as we have with calcium, but it really isn’t true.

Sure, there is a difference between the iron that we get from plants (non-heme) and that which comes from animals (heme), but that doesn’t automatically mean that vegans will become iron deficient. Plenty of plants can provide us with sufficient iron on a daily basis, you just need to know which ones.

Iron is essential for hemoglobin formation, muscle health, brain function, temperature regulation and oxygen transportation throughout the body. Low iron levels are thought to be the cause of more health problems globally than any other nutrient deficiency.

However, having too much iron stored in our bodies can also causes a whole raft of issues. It is, therefore, vital that we understand the balance needed and look at the foods that will provide the optimal levels of this all-important mineral.

How much iron should I be getting each day?

Here are the current recommend guidelines for daily iron intake:

 

Men

Aged 14 to 18 – 11 mg per day

Aged 19 and above – 8 mg per day

 

Women

Aged 14 to 18 – 15 mg per day

Aged 19 to 50 – 18 mg per day

Aged 51 and above – 8 mg per day

 

Pregnant women

Aged 14 and above – 27 mg per day

 

Breastfeeding women

Aged 14 to 18 – 10 mg per day

Aged 19 to 50 – 9 mg per day

Getting enough plant-based iron

As we have already touched upon, meat is a great source of iron but it is far from the only way to fulfil our daily needs. Heme iron (that found in meat) is also more bioavailable than non-heme, which means that is easier for our bodies to absorb.

However, increasing our intake of vitamin C can help enhance the non-heme iron’s bioavailabilty considerably. Some studies show that as little as 50mg of ascorbic acid may triple the amount of iron absorbed into the body.

Conversely, some foods, such as grains, will have the reverse effect on absorption. Phytic acid and polyphenols, commonly found in black tea, can inhibit the amount of iron that our bodies can absorb. That being said, consuming foods containing these compounds is not thought to cause iron-related issues for healthy individuals.

Here’s a list of iron-rich plant-based foods that you should consider adding to your diet:

  • Soybeans
  • Spinach
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Lima beans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Olives
  • Navy beans (haricot)
  • Swiss chard
  • Kidney beans

Protein

Ah, protein. Possibly the most widely discussed nutrient in the world. Vegans across the globe have grown tired of the whole protein thing, but we couldn’t leave it out!

Protein, like so many other nutrients, has a lot of misconceptions attached to it. It is perfectly possible to get enough protein from plants, despite what you may have heard elsewhere. In fact, the average American is taking in way too much protein – including vegans and veggies!

In fact, 97% of Americans are getting plenty of protein in their diets, whether they eat meat or not. Fiber is the real issue for Americans, not protein.

How much protein should we have each day?

As you have probably gathered, getting enough protein is not difficult. Here are the recommended guidelines:

 

Men

Aged 14 to 18 – 52 g per day

Aged 19 and above – 56 g per day

 

Women

Aged 14 and above  – 46 g per day

Plant-based protein-rich foods

There are numerous ways to get your protein from plants. Some of the best include:

  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Greens (beet, mustard, collard etc.)
  • Bok choy
  • Swiss chard
  • Tempeh
  • Lentils
  • Dried beans and peas (Navy, black, kidney, lima, pinto, chickpeas etc.)
  • Pumpkin seeds

It’s also worth pointing out that the old belief about having to combine certain foods in order to get complete proteins is a vegan myth that has long since been busted. For more information, check out this article from Forks Over Knives.

Iodine

iodised salt

Getting the right level of iodine can be a challenge. Too much or too little can play havoc with our thyroid, so it’s important to know how to get the recommended daily intake.

Getting the right amount solely from our food proves to be difficult simply because of the variation in crops. You can take the same food, grown in different regions, and it is possible that they will have different iodine levels; it’s all about the soil.

You may read elsewhere that sea vegetables can be used for iodine, but we would strongly discourage that. Iodine levels in sea vegetables tend to be extremely high and they can be contaminated with other toxins, too. Iodised salt can help, but we really need to keep check on the amount of salt that we’re eating.

Therefore, the best way to get the correct levels of iodine would be from supplementation, despite the fact that we can get it from plants.

Iodine recommended daily amounts

For both men and women, taking a 150 mcg supplement every day is recommended.

 

Pregnant women are recommended to up their intake to 220 mcg, while those who are breastfeeding should be getting 290 mcg.

Selenium

brazil nuts for selenium

The richest selenium foods usually come from animals, but plants can provide all that we need.

Selenium plays an important role in normalizing our thyroid function by helping to transform the thyroid hormone T3 into T4. T3 is generally considered to be less active than T4, so selenium can help bring balance to our bodies.

This mineral is also a great protector against oxidative stress. Enzymes known as glutathione peroxidases, need selenium in order to operate properly. It’s these enzymes that are key to the bodies detoxification system, helping us stay healthy and free from toxins.

Selenium daily intake recommendations

Both men and women above the age of 14 are recommended to get 55 mcg of selenium every day.

 

Pregnant women should be aiming for 60 mcg, moving up to 70 mcg when breastfeeding.

Getting your daily selenium from plants

Selenium is another mineral that is richest in non-vegan foods, but it’s easy to get enough from plants, too. The following will help you get what you need:

  • Mushrooms (Crimini and Shiitake especially)
  • Asparagus
  • Barley
  • Brazil nuts
  • Mustard seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Swiss chard

Final thoughts

nutrients for vegans

That’s it. We’ve come to the end of our mammoth vegan nutrition guide.

We hope you found it useful and that it shed a little light on what can be a controversial subject. One thing that really stuck out from our research was just how few members of the public are hitting the nutritional guidelines.

This increase in nutritional deficiency is a health time bomb, and it really all comes down to education. Increasing our awareness about the food that we eat can help us to not only lengthen our lives, but also allow us to enjoy every second even as we age.

So, with this in mind, make sure that you bookmark this page for future reference and share it amongst your friends – both vegan and non-vegan!

Oh, and if you want to really drill down to specifics, check out this nutrition calculator. It will help you get the correct DRI for your body.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to hit us up in the comments below.

Vegan nutrition guide sources

http://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/12/dr-gregers-2011-optimum-nutrition-recommendations/

http://nutritionfacts.org/questions/which-type-of-b12-is-best/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/020810p22.shtml

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19609891

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10227320?dopt=Abstract

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22796576

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23042216

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23359064

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14561278

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21118604

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14600563

http://examine.com/supplements/Creatine/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3354491

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3676193

http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-011084000000000000000-1.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22327512/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20865290

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19276843

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17690198

http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/21/6/A944-a?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&author1=Harris+RC&fulltext=carnosine&andorexactfulltext=and&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=59

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983?pg=2

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/146935.php

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=106#foodchart

http://veganhealth.org/articles/vitamina

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/#h2

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/#h2

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=109#foodchart

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/#h2

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-Consumer/

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=111

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22854410

http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/potassium_intake_printversion.pdf

https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/minerals/health-benefits-of-iron.html

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=70

http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf

http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.php

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=92#foodchart

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=95

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/

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