Even though a properly implemented Vegan diet is amongst the healthiest diets in the world, Vegans often lack certain vital nutrients as a result of being on a diet that contains no animal products at all. Protein, calcium and iron are amongst the top three nutrients Vegans need to be concerned with because the quantities of these three vital nutrients are extremely low in plant-based foods. The good news, however, is that with a little bit of research Vegans can identify and incorporate the plant based sources of these nutrients into their daily diets.
Iron & Iron Deficiency Anemia
Dietary iron plays a vital role in transporting oxygen through the bloodstream. People who do not have adequate iron intake may develop iron deficiency anemia, a condition characterized by extreme fatigue and weakness. Adult men and post-menopausal women need about 10 mg of iron per day, while women of child-bearing age need about 15 mg per day.
There are two types of iron:
- Heme iron is derived from eating meat
- Non-heme iron is found in plants
Due to the fact that non-heme iron is generally not as easily absorbed as heme iron, the occurrence of iron deficiency anemia is notably higher in Vegans than in their meat-eating counterparts.
The good news for Vegans is that dried beans and dark leafy green vegetables such as Kale can provide adequate amounts of dietary iron if consumed on a regular basis. To boost absorption of iron, iron-rich plant foods should be consumed with foods rich in vitamin C. Since the Vegan diet is naturally high in vitamin C, iron absorption is often not a problem for Vegans.
Another important nutrient for Vegans to consider is calcium. Adults need about 1000 mg of calcium a day. Even though most people view dairy products as the only good sources of dietary calcium, which is vitally important for strong bones and healthy teeth Vegans can get plenty of calcium from dark greens, tofu processed with calcium sulfate, and other plant-based foods such as okra, almonds, oranges, spinach, broccoli and celery.
Though there is much concern about Vegans consuming enough protein, our physical need for protein is often over estimated. The all American diet contains far more protein than is needed for muscle maintenance and good overall health since high protein diets also tend to be high fat diets. Worst of all is the fact that this excess protein has the potential to damage the kidneys and contribute to the development of osteoporosis.
The recommended daily allowance of protein for an adult is 8/10ths of a gram for every kilogram of body weight or about 10-15% of total calories. Foods like soy, beans, nuts and nut butters can provide adequate amounts of protein for Vegans.
Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are often called protein building blocks. The body needs nine different amino acids from foods. Because the body cannot make these nine amino acids, they are known as essential amino acids. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are considered “complete protein” foods. Ovo-lacto vegetarians can easily get all nine amino acids from eggs and dairy products. For Vegans, soy protein, which is a complete protein, is often considered the best source of protein. Vegans can also consume adequate amounts of the nine essential amino acids by combining whole grain rice and beans. Other Vegan excellent sources of protein include the grain quinoa and spinach.
Photo courtesy of: SweetOnVeg