An Introduction to Vegan Nutrition
Will a vegan diet meet all my nutritional requirements?
A balanced vegan diet provides all the protein, calcium, iron and iodine required by our bodies. Vitamin B12, once the bane of vegans as it was thought to be exclusively animal-sourced, is now readily available in vegan-friendly supplement form and is also used to fortify many vegan products such as soy-milk and meat substitutes. Even Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, traditionally found in fish oil extracts, can be obtained from algae, flax, canola and hemp seed.
It’s not just vegans that think a vegan diet is fine – the evidence that a vegan diet is 100% healthy is available from anywhere you care to look. A vegan diet is endorsed by organisations like the World Health Organisation and the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada and the American Diabetes Association (veganism can help with diabetes). Some health insurance companies offer discounted rates to vegetarians and vegans!
What are the advantages of a vegan diet?
A growing number of nutritional specialists support the conclusion that veganism is in fact healthier than either a vegetarian or meat-based diet – potential benefits include lower levels of saturated fat, low cholesterol, lower risk for cancer and heart disease, higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, antioxidant vitamins C and E and phytochemicals, and maybe even, according to some controversial new research, a higher IQ! A major recent study, The China Study strongly supports these conclusions.
Another advantage of veganism, is not having to indirectly consume artificial substances like growth hormones and antibiotics which are often given to farmed animals; yet another is not having to consume cows’ milk, a powerful allergen for many humans which has been widely misrepresented by the dairy industry as an essential part of a growing child’s diet.
Yet another is that going vegan encourages you to learn more about nutrition, meaning you can make more informed choices about what you do and don’t put in your body.
Are there any special precautions I need to take?
Vegans need to be extra-sure they get enough essential fatty acids in the right ratios, enough vitamin B12 and enough iron. Don’t be too worried about nutritional deficiencies though: a recent study of nutritional deficiency has found the average meat eater to be deficient in 3 times as many areas (calcium, iodine, vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, folate and magnesium) as the average vegan (calcium, iodine and vitamin B12)!
A vegan diet is at least as healthy, and likely healthier than, either a vegetarian or a meat-based diet. Still, we know it can be a bit worrying reading all this technical stuff about long-chain fatty acids and vitamin interactions. If you have any concerns about a vegan diet, feel free to contact us!
Essential fatty acids:
- α-Linolenic acid (the shortest chain omega-3 fatty acid)
- Linoleic acid (the shortest chain omega-6 fatty acid)
Essential amino acids necessary for all humans:
Essential amino acids necessary for human children and not adults:
- Vitamin A (retinol)
- Vitamin Bp (choline)
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin, vitamin G)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin, vitamin P, vitamin PP)
- Vitamin B4 (adenine, epileptic biotin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, or pyridoxal)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin, vitamin H)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid, folate, vitamin M)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin D (ergocalciferol, or cholecalciferol)
- Vitamin E (tocopherol)
- Vitamin K (naphthoquinoids)
Biochemical studies reported in 2006 indicate that the following elements (aside from H, C, N, and O) are required for human health:
- Calcium (Ca)
- Chloride (Cl−)
- Chromium (Cr)
- Cobalt (Co) (as part of Vitamin B-12)
- Copper (Cu)
- Iodine (I)
- Iron (Fe)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Manganese (Mn)
- Molybdenum (Mo)
- Nickel (Ni)
- Phosphorus (P)
- Potassium (K)
- Selenium (Se)
- Sodium (Na)
- Sulfur (S) numerous roles
- Zinc (Zn)
For information about specific dietary requirements, navigate to one of the articles in the main menu.