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How to Get Enough Nutrients as a Vegan

Vitamins for vegans

Nutrition isn’t just a vegan concern. No matter your diet, adequate intake (AI) of not just micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, & phytochemicals) but, macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) and fatty acids (ALA, LA, & EFA, EPA & DHA) is essential.  It might seem overwhelming with all of these acronyms, but, don’t worry! Ensuring a well-balanced vegan diet is easy.

While there is a veritable alphabet of vitamins to consider, most are easy to meet AI with virtually any diet.  The dietary guidelines developed jointly by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) (think old-school food pyramid, now MyPlate) are still focused on the Standard American Diet–although they have started to include mention of vegan alternatives for dairy and meat products. This organization is also responsible for the way the nutrition facts percentages are calculated on packaged foods, that is, based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. While this would work for some people, most of us need to understand how to read these labels for our own needs.

label

The best place to start is to calculate your exact needs based on your age, sex, height, weight and activity level. This will give you an at-a-glance look at how many grams, milligrams, and micrograms of all the nutrients you need.

The vegan diet gets a bad rap for being “deficient” in certain things. In this article, we hope to clear the air, and dive deeper into ways you can properly get all of the vitamins you need within a vegan diet.

Vitamin B12

Adequate intake of vitamin B12 is a valid concern while on a vegan diet. It helps keep nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. Yes, it is only found in (grass-fed) meat and animal products naturally. But the fact is most B12 rich food now, even meat, is fortified (vitamins are added to it). This is because animals do not make vitamin B12. It is caused by microorganisms in soil and water. This means only animals eating grass (and thus dirt clinging to roots) are consuming B12. So, vegans are just bypassing the transportation vehicle: animals.

This vitamin comes in three forms methylcobalamin (naturally-occurring), cyanocobalamin (synthetic, not found in nature), and hydroxocobalamin (man-made, used in injectables). Cyanocobalamin may be absorbed better in your body, while methylcobalamin likely has a higher retention rate. However, the jury is out as to which is the better form to take in a supplement. The most important thing to note with B12 is that your body can only absorb a small amount within a given time. This means eating several fortified foods throughout the day would be better serving your body than sitting down to a plate of liver!

RDA for adults: 2.4 µg/ day (no upper limit)

How to meet my needs: 2–3 servings of fortified foods like cereals, plant-based milk, tofu) OR a daily supplement (e.g., Garden of Life mykind Organics B-12 spray)

Protein

Where do you get your protein?

That’s a common question vegans hear. Luckily, there are a lot of answers. Protein is found in a variety of beans, seeds, nuts, vegan protein powders, and most non-dairy milk. Mixing up your protein sources daily will ensure you are getting all your amino acids.

Why do you need it?

Protein is essential for making muscle, blood, antibodies, hair and more. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that your body needs but only 9 of them are considered “essential,” that is, your body can’t make them naturally. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.  

RDA for adults: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (1 kilogram approx. 2.2 lbs)

How to meet my needs: Let’s look at an example:

Example Person: Susie

Gender Female
Age 25 yrs
Height 5 ft. 4 in.
Weight 125 lbs.
Activity level Active
Protein Required 45 grams

One serving of soybeans (31 g or protein) and one serving of red beans (15 g of protein) would easily meet her macronutrient goal. You can see in the graphic below how easily she could mix and match her meals to support her protein needs.

vegan protein

Calcium

We all know calcium helps build your bones and teeth. It is also responsible for a lot of enzyme activity in your body.  Thanks to the iconic Got Milk? ads that started in 1993, dairy products are often seen as the only true source of calcium. However, seeds, leafy greens, beans, oatmeal, and quinoa all pack a lot of calcium. For example, one tablespoon of poppy seeds provides 126 mg of calcium.

RDA for adults: Approximately 1000 mg

How to meet my needs: Incorporating a calcium-rich food into each daily meal is easy. Check out a sample menu below that provides almost double the minimum calcium daily requirement.

Meal Food Total Calcium
Breakfast ½ cup of oatmeal prepared with 1 cup of almond milk & topped with 2 tbsp almonds & sliced strawberries 636 mg
Lunch Tofu “egg” salad wrap

1 cup of tofu

½ tsp kala namak salt

½ tsp turmeric

Herbs of choice: chives, dill, etc.

1-2 collard green leaves for wrapping

881 mg
Snack ½ cup roasted chickpeas with spices of choice (we really love this recipe) 100 mg
Dinner Vegetable Stir-fry (these are easy and versatile with whatever veggies and greens you have on hand. This version packs a calcium punch!) Approx 350 mg

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our bodies use calcium. It has also been shown to affect mood. We ingest it or our bodies produce it after sunlight exposure.

RDA for adults: between 400–800 IU (10–20 micrograms) and 1000–4000 IU (25–100 micrograms) per day

How to meet my needs: Look for a D3 supplement or vitamin D-fortified foods that use cholecalciferol sourced from lichens (e.g., Vitashine) or a D2 using ergocalciferol, sourced from fungi. Avoid supplements that are sourced from fish oils or sheep lanolin.

 

Omega Fatty Acids

omegas

Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids are powerhouses for our bodies. Our bodies cannot make omega-3s (EPA, DHA), but they are essential for many functions including improving heart health, have shown signs of improving mental health, and fighting inflammation. Omega-6s also need to be obtained from our diets. They are primarily used for energy but most Western diets actually include too many omega-6s. Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fat that can be produced by the body (and is therefore not considered an “essential” fatty acid). However, studies have shown people with diets rich in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fat have less inflammation and better insulin sensitivity.

Omega-3s can be found in algal oil, nuts, and seeds. Omega-9s can be found in almonds, cashews, and walnuts.

RDA for adults: While there is no set standard, most organizations recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

How to meet my needs: Nuts, seeds, algal oil, supplements.

Eating vegan and maintaining nutrients is easy. In fact, the more we pay attention to our diets, the easier it is to recognize the best food sources of the nutrients we need.

vegan keto guide

The Vegan Keto Diet – Explained

The ketosis diet, better known as the ‘keto diet’, became mainstream in 2018 – it was the most searched for diet. The premise is simple, cut down carbohydrate intake and force your body to rely on fat for energy. In scientific terms, when your body switches from a glycogen (carb) burning state to ketosis, ketones will be released into the blood as an energy source for your body.

It’s important to note, although keto is a popular diet, there is no ‘right’ way to be vegan. Everyone can find a vegan diet or vegan snacks that fit their lifestyle.

*Disclaimer – it is recommended to consult a dietician or your physician before making any significant dietary changes.

The basic formula looks like this:

  • Low carbohydrate intake (less than 50 net carbs per day)
  • High fat intake (between 111–167 grams of fat per day depending on your total calorie intake)
  • Moderate protein intake (0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight)

Keto formula

To figure out your exact macro nutrition amounts for your body, check out this ketosis calculator.

When switching to this diet, it will take your body 1-2 days to get through all of your glycogen stores (energy from carbohydrates), and start burning fat. During this transition into the state of ‘ketosis’, you may what’s called the keto flu, where you may start to experience flu-like symptoms.

How can you tell if you’re in Ketosis?

After a couple of days on the ketogenic diet, you will be in the state of ketosis. However, if you’re eager to see when your vegan diet has kicked you into a fat-burning state by way of ketosis, you can purchase keto strips, which will detect the ketone levels in your urine. This is for those who are very serious about their ketone levels.

What side effects should you look out for?

The main side effects from switching to a vegan keto diet are (i) dry mouth, (ii) bad breath, and (iii) the keto flu (explained above). It should also be noted that you may want to increase your salt intake while on the keto diet to assist with replenishing electrolytes.

What are net carbs?

Net carbs are the total carbohydrates you intake minus the carbohydrates you intake via fiber. Let’s use brussels sprouts as an example:

A single cup of brussels sprouts has 8 grams of carbohydrates, with 3.3 coming in the form of fiber. Therefore, they would give you 4.7 net carbs.

An easy way to figure out how many carbohydrates you’re consuming is to download a tracking app such as Lose it or MyFitnessPal.

But is this healthy?

The jury is still out on this.

Ketosis is a relatively new diet and has literature both supporting it and against it. It has shown promising signs for lowering and regulating blood sugar, as well as positively affecting cholesterol levels, by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.

The biggest concern with the keto diet is the lack of data regarding the long-term effects of following the diet.

Is a vegan keto diet possible?

It’s definitely not for everyone. Maintaining a state of ketosis on any diet is a challenge.

If you search for keto diet recommendations online, you’ll be inundated with blogs and information suggesting you eat stark amounts of meat, and cheese–both, obviously not vegan-friendly.

The good news is that a vegan keto diet is attainable and full of great food options. You need to be careful about which fruits and vegetables you put into your diet, as some are full of sugar and carbohydrates.

What vegan foods are keto friendly?

vegan keto foods

Fats

The name of the game with fat intake is to use your favorite dairy alternatives, mixed in with fats from whole foods such as nuts, and avocados. Let’s just say if you like guacamole, you’re in luck.

-Coconut yogurts and milk alternatives

-Vegan cheeses

-Coconut oil, Olive oil, MCT oil, avocado oil,

-Avocados

-Mixed Nuts

Proteins

Your favorite vegan proteins will be essential to you getting the proper nutrition while on the vegan keto diet. If you’re buying any processed meat/dairy alternatives be on the lookout that their net carbs are low.

-Tofu

-Vegan eggs/meat alternatives

-Seitan

-Tempeh

-Vegan protein powder

Carbs

Although your carbohydrate intake will be limited while on a vegan keto diet, you will want to leverage the micronutrients and vitamins included in the food listed below. Things such as spinach cooked in coconut oil is a great side dish for any vegan dinner.

-Spinach, kale, mixed greens, etc.

-Above ground veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, etc.

sauerkraut, kimchi

-mushrooms

Supplementation

We recommend taking several vitamin supplements while on the vegan keto diet. That is to help you cover your bases from a nutritional standpoint as you get used to your new diet. According to Healthline, there are seven must-have supplements vegans should incorporate into their diets.

What vegan foods should you stay away from?

When it comes to vegan foods, even ones that we think of as ‘healthy’ they can be counterproductive to the vegan keto diet. Many of the foods from standard vegan diets, such as legumes, sweet potatoes, and fruits should be avoided if you want to get into a state of ketosis. That means checking your favorite vegan foods and seeing their net-carbohydrate level.

-Legumes

-Potatoes, Yams, etc.

-Most fruits

-Grains

-Carrots

Keto was the craze in 2018, and many vegans took note of it. Although it was popular last year, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain a balanced plant-based lifestyle, with some great tasting vegan snacks in the mix.

Ultimately, there’s no ‘right’ way to be vegan. If you’re taking steps towards reducing animal suffering through choosing a plant-based diet, with or without carbs, you’re making a positive impact.

 

5 Ways to Detox

 

Vegan Detox and Cleanse Options 

If “eat, drink and be merry” is the mantra of the holiday season, then “get back to business, exercise and detox” is surely the refrain of the New Year. If you’re feeling a little sluggish after the holiday’s indulgences and are looking to give your body a break, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve lined up our top 5 vegan detox picks to help you feel your best.

Read more…

Starting Your Practice: Aligning Vinyasa Yoga

 

Yoga-Header-2

Have you heard? We teamed up with Laura Ahrens, a yoga teacher and the co-founder of Miakoda, for our Vegan Yoga Box. Along with helping us choose the perfect products for the shanti-promoting Box, Laura gave us a few tips on aligning Vinyasa yoga in the form of a handy sheet. Of course we want to share it with you!

Read more…

3 New Year’s Resolutions That Are Better Than “Go Vegan”

resolutions

Okay, okay—we may have misled you a little with that title. While we’re always supportive of people who use any reason to take the plant-based plunge, we’ve found that such a general statement—’I resolve to go vegan.’—can be easier to neglect than a more focused goal. Read on for our three suggestions for making your vegan resolution stick through 2015 and beyond.

Already vegan? Don’t stop reading! These resolutions are perfect because they help newbies learn the healthy ropes but they can also help veteran vegs refocus their commitment to the movement. We’ve got some nuggets of wisdom in there for you, too.

Read more…

What to Eat for Healthy, Clear Skin

Blog-HealthySkin

A healthy complexion is a real confidence booster.  By intentionally eating foods with specific nutrients, you can improve your overall skin health to attain your dream glow.

To help you get started on the road to picture-perfect skin, we’ve created a menu that will make it easy for you to target your skin concern, whether it’s dryness or wrinkles, sun damage or blemishes. Read more…