Vegans, or those who abstain from consuming animal products, have many different reasons for their dietary choices. Some are allergic to foods like eggs and dairy products, while others eat the way they do for cultural, health or religious reasons. Regardless of someone’s reasons for being vegan, however, their need for balanced nutrition is just as important.
Many vegans only worry about replacing the proteins they would get from animal sources, but proteins aren’t the only things they miss out on. Vitamins, trace minerals and other nutrients can be difficult to find in vegetarian and vegan foods. Fortunately, the increasing amount of data on this lifestyle indicates that there are different ways to get each type of essential nutrient even without eating animal products.
Proteins are composed of numerous different amino acids, nine of which are designated as essential to human dietary health because they cannot be produced inside the body. Complete proteins like those found in dairy and animal sources usually have all the essential amino acids. Vegans who don’t ingest these foods must simply vary the protein sources they do consume.
For instance, legumes, vegetables and even complete-protein grains like soy or wheat all have different protein compositions. By varying one’s intake, it’s possible to maintain a diet that incorporates sufficient quantities of all the essential amino acids. This technique is pretty easy to practice with healthy combinations like rice and beans. Items like chick pea flour, mixed nuts, quinoa, barley and hempseed are also effective.
Vitamins and Minerals
Many vegan diets are deficient in vitamins like B12 and D. These vitamins are typically found in milk, they can also be obtained from vitamin supplements. The same is true of calcium and zinc, but a lot of vegans simply go to the source.
Many of the vegan-appropriate vitamin supplements on the market derive vitamins from sources like yeast, algae and other microorganisms that synthesize them naturally. Vegans can find these substances in the form of brewer’s yeast or Spirulina algae. These deactivated organisms come in capsules or as powders that can be added to beverages, and they contain a healthy amount of amino acids.
Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
Although these nutrients have a bad reputation, they’re nonetheless essential to proper bodily function. They help brain function and proper cardiovascular development, but they’re mostly found in animal foods.
Along with all-important omega-3 fatty acids, fats and cholesterol are present in many vegan foods. Nuts like the walnut, hempseed oil, flaxseeds, olive oil, avocado, algae and chia seeds all contain healthy fats. As with proteins and vitamins, fat consumption can be increased with varied vegan diets.