It seems like every day a new or different eating style or diet emerges. But instead of just jumping on the bandwagon, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research to see if the trendy diet is going to be best for your health.
While the vegan diet has been around and is pretty common, there is still some confusion about this diet. A vegan diet focuses on plants for food, including fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, grains, seeds and nuts and excludes all meat and animal products.
While there are obvious animal products, there are many animal byproducts that are excluded from the vegan diet including:
- Cochineal, a red food dye derived from an insect
- Gelatin, derived from meat byproducts
- Honey, from bees
- Rennet, an enzyme found in the stomach of calves, young goats and lambs that’s used in cheese
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” It’s important to note that this statement emphasizes “appropriately planned” since there are a few nutrients vegans should make sure to prioritize when starting this diet.
Vitamin B12 is important for metabolism as well as heart, nerve and muscle health. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, so it is difficult for vegans to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets. Fortified foods like breakfast bars and cereals can be a good source of this vitamin as well as nutritional yeast. In addition, a multi-vitamin supplement can help vegans meet their vitamin B12 needs.
CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D
Calcium and vitamin D go together like peanut butter and jelly or wine and cheese. Joking aside, you’ll usually hear these two micronutrients mentioned together since calcium absorption depends on vitamin D. Most of the calcium in food is in its inactive form, meaning it needs to be activated to do its job. Vitamin D helps activate calcium so foods containing vitamin D like eggs, fatty fish and fortified foods like cereals, milk and milk alternatives are important to consume when eating foods with calcium. Calcium is found predominantly in animal-based foods like yogurt, milk and cheese but you can find it in fortified foods and vegetables like broccoli, kale, bok choy and mustard greens.
Iron-containing foods include fish, chicken and beef, which is why iron can be a top priority for vegans. However, many grains are fortified with iron, so bread, breakfast bars, cereal and some whole-grain products can also include iron. Iron deficiencies are also common in women and children who aren’t following a vegan diet, so it’s important to consider this as well.
Omega-3’s are a type of unsaturated fat found in plants and animals. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant source of omega-3’s and can be found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and some vegetable oils. However, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are animal-based omega-3’s so it can be difficult for vegans to get enough EPA and DHA in their diets. Vegan sources of EPA and DHA include microalgae and seaweed food products.
If you are thinking about going vegan or already are vegan, great! It’s a healthy eating style that may deliver additional health benefits. Just make sure you are keeping track of a handful of nutrients to ensure optimal health.