When we hear someone say they are “vegan” we might assume that their diet is really healthy. But is it really?
After all, a vegan diet is quite restrictive, excluding all meat, poultry and seafood products (as a vegetarian diet does), plus it cuts out animal byproducts such as eggs, dairy products — even honey.
The truth is that a vegan diet can be extremely healthy and nutritious if done properly, and downright unhealthy if not. What matters with any diet, vegan or otherwise, is that it must be moderate in calories, low in saturated fat and it must draw essential nutrients from a variety of quality sources.
The vegan diet can be balanced because the nutrients in foods they don’t eat can be found other ways.
Pack on the Protein
A common criticism is that vegans can’t get enough protein, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s actually quite easy because plant-based proteins such as legumes, soy products, whole grains, and nuts, are rich sources of protein. And it’s a real plus that these plant-based proteins contain more fiber and less saturated fat than animal sources!
Tanya’s tip: Make a conscious effort to eat at least one plant-based protein at each meal. For example, at breakfast have a soy product, such as soymilk, for lunch switch to whole wheat bread, and always include a legume such as peas, beans or lentils, at dinner.
Gotta Get Vitamins
Skeptics figure that without animal products, vegans are losing out on vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, iron, and vitamin B12, which are all mainly found in animal products. The truth is you can get these nutrients and more from other sources:
Calcium and vitamin D are found in kale, broccoli, spinach, bok choy, and fortified non-dairy soymilk. By eating a wide range of leafy greens and calcium-fortified foods such as fortified cereals, orange juice and tofu, a vegan should have no problem getting enough calcium and vitamin D. In fact, some studies have found that vegans may actually absorb calcium better than meat-eaters! So you see, vegans can have strong bones too!
Tanya’s tip: Foods high in vitamin C can significantly increase iron absorption, so it’s a great idea to include citrus fruits, citrus juices, or tomatoes when eating foods that are high in iron.
Everyone associates iron with red meat, but the truth is you absolutely can get enough iron without ever touching a steak or burger. Actually, it’s simpler and even more beneficial to get your iron from non-meat sources such as fortified breakfast cereals, whole grain products, soybeans, nuts, leafy greens and beans. And there’s no ignoring the fact that these foods are all lower in saturated fat and calories than animal products!
Vegan-compliant sources of vitamin B12 are hard to come by, so vegans need to be sure they the right eat foods to avoid becoming B12 deficient. This means eating foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as non-dairy soymilk, dairy-free meat substitutes and fortified breakfast cereals
Bottom Line: A vegan diet is healthy provided you are eating the right foods that ensure you are well nourished. True, being vegan means cutting out lots of commonplace foods, so to be a healthy vegan you’ll need to study up on the many delicious ways to eat a nutritionally-balanced diet.