Updated: Jul 7, 2020
A vegan diet includes everything grown on the earth that isn’t made from an animal, animal product or animal by-product. Vegan diets can of course be healthy for most people… when well planned. I hate to say it, but if you’re not educated and aren’t mindful of your food intake - you won’t likely thrive on a vegan diet. That’s not to say it’s hard, but here’s a few things to consider. Vegan diets are typically short in protein (for poorly planned diets), iron, zinc and calcium (Cleveland Clinic, 2020). They are absent in vitamin B12, a nutrient absolutely essential for DNA synthesis, as well as brain and nervous function so this is an absolute must to supplement (Osiecki, 2007). Women may find they need to supplement with iron every now and again, but please base this on blood tests before beginning a supplement.
Protein - this one is so easy to supplement in the diet; eat your beans and rice, tofu and if you like protein powders, and eat them every day. Remember that the adequate intake is 0.8-1g per kilogram of body weight and should make up between 10-25% of your daily intake (NHMRC, 2014). Protein is essential for making enzymes, muscle tissue, chemical messengers, and general repair of the cells that reach the end of their life on a daily basis (Osiecki, 2007).
Iron - menstruating women and young children especially need to pay attention here. Plant iron (non-heme) is not as absorbable as iron from animals (heme) which makes it all the more important to ensure it’s present in your diet. Iron deficiencies are common in young children regardless of eating meat or not, and they typically present pale and lacking energy. Other symptoms may include trouble thinking, cold sensitivity, poor immunity, increased heart rate, shortness of breath on exertion and change in menstrual flow. Some vegan sources include: almonds, apricots, parsley, avocado, soybeans, seeds and a bit in wheat germ (Osiecki, 2007). Children require between 4-15mg depending on age, whereas adult men need 6-8mg and adult women need 8-18mg a day (NHMRC, 2014).
Zinc - a micronutrient found in various places (seeds, vegetables, seafood and beef). There are many symptoms associated with zinc deficiency, and as well as it being a super antioxidant, it’s important in fertility cases and helps to make various enzymes and maintain integrity of protein structures (Osiecki, 2007; NHMRC, 2014). Children require between 2.5mg and 13mg depending on age and gender. Adults between 6.5mg and 14mg, also based on gender (NHMRC, 2014).
Calcium - known to be found in dairy products, calcium is also found in spinach (please cook), rhubarb, beans, seeds, soy, and some dark leafy greens. Calcium is stored in our bones and makes them strong, though it’s also used in muscle contraction (NHMRC, 2014). It’s more important for growing children who need to acquire healthy bone mass before their 20’s and in menopausal women to prevent osteoporosis. Plant fortified milks should be a part of a vegans diet. The requirements of calcium range from 500 to 1300mg for children, based on age. For adults the daily requirements are around 1000mg, and then 1300mg when you reach 70 years (NHMRC, 2014).
Children under 2 years have been excluded here as they will likely be receiving breast milk which is based on the mother's health, or fortified formula. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers requirements will also be different and should be under the guidance of a health professional.