As I mentioned in my last blog post in this new Becoming Vegan series, being vegan does not equate being healthy, however some believe that being vegan does equate an unhealthy existence. A common misconception about the vegan (and sometimes vegetarian) diet is that you are depriving your body of essential nutrients like protein, B12 and calcium. This can be true for new vegans, or for vegans who don’t like fruits, vegetables, nuts or grains (yes – even some vegans are not fans of eating their veggies). But honestly, it’s terribly easy to make sure you are consuming these things that are supposedly only ingested if you eat meat, dairy or eggs.
Protein is found in a wide variety of foods, but most vegans consume it through legumes, grains or nuts. Lentils, pinto beans, or garbanzos are a few protein sources, as well as tofu and other soy bean products. Almonds, walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds are some nut and seed sources. Grains like quinoa, amaranth and rice give you an excellent amount of protein.
This is a little bit more tricky because it’s not often easily found through a vegan diet. You’ll hear from many sources that vegans have to take a supplement to get B12. So far I have found this to be true, however I am not a fan of supplements because it’s just something else to take. My favorite supplement, or rather, condiment to get B12 from is nutritional yeast, which you can put on or in many dishes. You can also get B12 from Brewer’s yeast. Both are excellent resources for many many other nutrients (like calcium and iron) and are very tasty – although you may find that you have a preference for how one tastes over the other. IMPORTANT: Not all nutritional yeast and Brewer’s yeast products contain B12 – so if you are buying them for B12 read the label to make sure!
Believe it or not you don’t need to get calcium from milk – you can get quite a bit of it from dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and collard greens, and you can also get it from sprouts which are highly nutritious. Other foods may have calcium added in like tofu or soy milk.
The bottom line is that if you are concerned about doing damage to your body because of a lowered or zero intake of protein, B12 or calcium, you needn’t be. You can still ingest all of these on a daily basis. You can be unhealthy, but it’s possible to be unhealthy with any diet. Just don’t abandon the idea of practicing a vegan diet because you’re afraid you won’t get enough nutrients.
Go to The World’s Healthiest Foods and identify (maybe even write down) all of the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains you enjoy. (Obviously this list is not comprehensive, but it does give you a good start if you are trying to figure out how to get more nutrients in your diet.) Figure out ways that you could incorporate these foods into your daily life to make sure you get enough protein or calcium. As an added step, go to a health food store or a store like Whole Foods or Wild Oats and purchase nutritional yeast or Brewer’s yeast. They are both expensive, so if you are trying them out for the first time I would highly recommend purchasing a small amount in bulk. In the next few days I’ll share ways you can incorporate these two items into your diet, but feel free to go ahead and try them out.
If you are currently a vegan, how do you respond when someone asks you how you get enough protein, B12 and/or calcium?