How to be a healthy vegan
If the headlines have you wondering how to be a healthy vegan, you aren’t alone. Breaking Vegan by Jordan Younger (aka, the balanced blonde), might have had you wondering if veganism encourages orthorexia and restrictive eating. And recent misleading headlines in UK papers make it sound like going vegan could cause cancer and heart disease.
Top Health Concerns for New Vegans
The top real health concerns for new vegans are usually protein, iron, vitamin D and B12. All of these things are either part of a healthy vegan diet, or easily supplemented.
Protein: It’s Everywhere
If you’ve been a vegan or vegetarian for five minutes, you’ve probably already heard that vegans are protein deficient. Not true. A balanced diet with sufficient calories will generally result in plenty of protein in your diet. If you’re concerned, try using an app like myfitnesspal or Loseit for a few days and track your macronutrients to see your average protein intake.
The USDA (not exactly advocates of a low-protein diet) recommend .8 grams per kilo of body weight, or .37 grams per pound. Using these numbers as a reference, a 150 lb woman would require about 56 grams of protein, and a 200 lb man would need 74 grams or so. A glass of soy milk contains 7 g of protein.
Personally, my diet is always a bit lower in protein than recommended – but it doesn’t matter whether I’m a full-on carnivore or a vegan. Why? Because I eat too much sugar. And fat. And alcohol. And bread. But if you eat a diet chock-full of whole grains, legumes and plant foods, you won’t have a problem.
Aren’t all vegans anemic? No. And if there are sufficient whole grains and legumes in your diet, it’s not an issue. But anemia is largely a problem for young women – vegan or not – because, menstruation. Anyway, I take Nelsons Spatone 100% Natural Iron Supplement as insurance. It’s pretty popular in the vegan/vegetarian community for a reason. It’s iron rich water that comes in sachets and you just pour it in a glass and add some juice. It has a bit of an iron-y taste, but it doesn’t cause any of the digestive issues associated with other iron supplements, and it’s really easily absorbed (so you don’t have to take as much!).
Pumpkin seed butter is another great natural source of iron!
B12, D and Other Vitamins
B12 is the one vitamin that is nearly impossible for vegans to get without supplementation. Luckily, it’s added to almost all processed vegan foods (soy milk and faux meats, for example), but if you don’t eat those, you can still get it in the form of nutritional yeast (which tastes kind of like cheddar cheese and is delicious sprinkled on almost anything). If you only eat whole foods and don’t like nutritional yeast, do yourself a favour and take a supplement. A B12 deficiency can seriously mess you up, so better safe than sorry.
As for Vitamin D, if you live in a sunny place, you can get enough of the “sunshine vitamin” with 15 minutes of exposure per day, so you aren’t likely to get Rickets. For those of us living at high and low latitudes, vitamin D supplementation is a good idea.
Vitamin D3 is generally derived from lanolin, which comes from sheep wool (not vegan). However, there is a UK company called Vitashine which makes a certified vegan D3 supplement. If you can’t get a hold of Vitashine, you can also stick with Vitamin D2, which body uses almost as well. Experts may argue that D3 is slightly better, but D2 supplementation virtually eliminated Rickets in the 1930s, and there’s no question about its effectiveness when you get down to brass tacks.
Conclusion-it’s easy to be a healthy vegan
If your diet contains whole foods and a few processed vegan items (I love everything Gardein makes, and I’m lazy, so I love that it’s full of vitamins, and sometimes I’d rather have a glass of vegan wine with dinner than worry about empty calories), you are almost certainly getting all the nutrients you need. If you avoid all processed foods, then track your nutrition intake with an app and fill in the gaps when and where you see them. It’s not hard to be a healthy vegan, especially in this day and age.
Also, please know that, as vegans and vegetarians we’re already way ahead, because we actually think about this stuff! Most omnivores think they’re getting everything they need from their diet, and might only take a multivitamin if they’re especially conscientious. Being aware of the weaker points in your diet is a strength, not a shortcoming, especially when you know how to address them.