The first thing most people will ask you when you tell them that you’re a vegan is how you make sure you get enough protein, vitamins and minerals in your diet. With enough variation, and if you know the right foods to eat, it’s really simple to make sure you’re getting enough iron, vitamin b12 and protein each and every day, and that your diet is healthy and balanced.
Meat and animal products are by no means the best or the most efficient sources of these essential nutrients. You can get everything you need from a totally vegan diet as long as you eat the right combination of whole grains, cereals, beans, legumes, essential oils and lots of fruit and vegetables.
A well-balanced vegan diet is one of the healthiest ways to eat, but it takes a lot of food knowledge to ensure that you get everything you need out of it. That’s why it’s important to make a visit to your doctor to ensure that you have the correct levels of protein, vitamins and micronutrients like iron in your system.
An easy way to ensure that you’re maintaining a correct balance and getting what you need in your diet is to take some nutritional supplements. These are available over the counter, but you should consult a nutritionist to find out exactly what you should be taking, and what you’re probably getting enough of.
Here’s a helpful guide to knowing whether or not you’re getting enough iron, vitamin B12 and protein in your diet, and everything you need to know about incorporating supplements into a vegan diet.
Getting Enough Iron in a Vegan Diet
Iron is exactly what it sounds like – the metal they make swords out of. But we need this metal in trace amounts to form haemoglobin, the chemical in our blood that carries oxygen. Without it we can develop anaemia, which is a condition where your blood can’t carry sufficient energy to keep your body working properly. Anaemia is often a symptom of somebody following a bad or unbalanced vegan diet.
Iron is often a concern for vegans because it is most commonly associated with meat. This isn’t true, however, as there are plenty of vegetable sources of iron. A recent survey of vegetarians and vegans found that anaemia frequency is no higher amongst these groups than amongst people who eat meat regularly.
This is because the iron found in a vegan diet is known as non-heme iron, which is the kind we need. Most of the iron found in meats is known as ‘heme’ iron, and is not readily absorbed by the human body. Spinach and other dark leafy vegetables are the primary sources of iron in the vegan diet, and they are so efficient that you can get the same amount of iron from 100 calories of spinach as you can get from 1,700 calories of sirloin steak!
Vitamin C and Iron Go Hand In Hand
Vitamin C is also essential for iron absorption. This is especially advantageous for vegans, because a vegan diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is usually high in vitamin C. Eating a combination of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and green leafy vegetables that are high in iron will ensure that you are getting enough iron in your body.
However, if you feel that you are tired frequently or short of breath, and you have red-rimmed eyes, you might be suffering from a minor iron deficiency. Note that these symptoms can also be caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, so seek medical advice before self-medicating! Iron supplements can be bought in supermarkets or drug stores, and as long as they are combined with a sufficient daily intake of vitamin C will provide you with all the iron you need in your diet.
Getting Enough Vitamin B12 in a Vegan Diet
Vitamin B12 is essential for the normal functioning of the brain, and for formation of blood. We need it to survive, but we cannot produce it ourselves, so we need to get it from outside sources. Fortunately, we only require tiny amounts of vitamin B12 to keep going, so it’s easy to get enough in your vegan diet.
Unfortunately, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to serious cell and nerve damage, as well as anaemia. It’s important to know whether or not you are getting enough vitamin B12 in your vegan diet, and take steps to correct your diet if necessary.
One brand of vegan yeast, known as Red Star T-6635+, or more commonly known as Vegetarian Support Formula, has been shown to be an effective vitamin B12 supplement for vegans. Nutritional yeast is also a good source of this vitamin for vegans.
You don’t have to go shopping for fancy yeasts, however. Any good fortified cereal containing whole grains is a good source of vitamin B12. Soy milk also contains loads of this important vitamin, so a bowl of your favourite cereal with soy milk should give you all of the vitamin B12 you need in your day.
If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough vitamin B12 in your vegan diet, however, there are several options. The first, and most sensible, is to go to the doctor and ask him to do a simple blood test to determine if you have low vitamin B levels. If this is the case your doctor will either prescribe vitamin B12 supplements or a vitamin B12 injection. The injection lasts for up to four months, but can have some negative side effects.
Protein Sources for Vegans
Protein is one of the most contentious issues when talking about a vegan diet. It’s a common misconception that we vegans don’t get enough protein without eating meat or animal products. Protein is one of the most important things in a diet – it provides the building blocks for cells, and for trillions of daily chemical reactions that occur in your cells all the time. Without it we have no energy and cannot repair cellular damage.
Healthy Protein Intake Is Essential
The truth is that it’s very easy to maintain a healthy protein intake in a vegan diet, as long as your calorie intake is sufficient. With a vegan diet you always want to ensure that you’re taking in a good number of calories each day, and that at a good portion of those calories contain valuable and usable proteins that your body can use for fuel.
Depending on whether you are a sedentary office worker or an athlete, your body will need different amounts of protein. However, a recent study shows that only one in every ten calories must be protein, so there is quite a lot of leeway in the vegan diet.
Good Sources Of Protein
Good sources of protein for vegans include legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and fruits. Including these things in your diet and learning to cook a wide variety of dishes with them is important if you want to maintain a healthy vegan diet. However, if you include a generous serving of beans or lentils with one meal a day, you’ll be getting plenty of protein. Likewise many fruits and vegetables contain a lot of protein, so if you’re eating these, you’re well on your way.
There are many supplements you can also take, including pure protein shakes, but these should always only be taken after consultation with your doctor – chances are it’s perfectly possible for you to get all the protein you need from a healthy vegan diet.