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Health Matters: A Balanced Vegan Diet is Easy!
A balanced vegan diet is the healthiest diet on earth, and yet some people still have a few concerns about whether they will receive all the nutrients that they require. Let us put your mind at rest!
PS Not only are many top athletes, runners, bodybuilders and all vegan - but so are the mighty gorillas, elephants and many other strong, large animals.
It isn’t necessary to eat animal products like dairy for calcium – after all, over 70 per cent of the world’s population does not eat it traditionally because they are lactose intolerant. Moreover, such people tend to have lower rates of osteoporosis than Westerners. They get their calcium from other sources – plants.
Calcium is found in these foods below - and lots more! Order our amazing calcium foods chart here
- green leafy veg such as kale, cabbage, spinach, fennel, watercress, leeks and broccoli. One serving of broccolicontains as much calcium as 200ml of cows’ milk
- tofu - in the soya beans plus the natural setting agent usually contains calcium
- pulses (peas, beans, lentils)
- nuts, especially almonds and Brazil nuts – and seeds, especially sesame (including hummus and tahini – sesame paste)
- figs and olives
- sea vegetables such as arame – delicious in a brown rice and carrot salad
- fortified soya and almond milks (contain very similar amounts as cows’ milk)
Although we do need calcium for our bones, we can lose it through our urine. People who eat a typical Western diet – that
is, one based on animal protein (including cow’s milk) are likely to lose more calcium, and are therefore more at risk of osteoporosis than those who only eat vegetable proteins. This well-documented syndrome is called 'the calcium paradox' and occurs partly because animal protein leaches calcium out of the bones, whereas vegetable protein does not. The Innuit people – whose diet is based almost entirely on meat – have the highest osteoporosis rates in the world.
But isn’t milk natural?
It is completely unnatural to drink milk after weaning - no other mammal does it except for about 30% of the world's humans. And it's even more bizarre to drink the milk of another species - our controversial postcard opposite says it better than words...
Cows’ milk is meant for calves; goats’ milk for kids and sheep milk for their lambs! So, you see, the vegan diet really is the healthiest option. There is little chance of a deficiency of calcium, or any other food group, vitamin or mineral, as long as you eat a balanced diet. FFI our fully referenced calcium fact sheet and also our useful What I Need to Eat Each Day chart
Iron and vitamin C
According to the British Medical Association, iron deficiency can be a problem that affects everyone, whatever their diet – and particularly women. Vegans are no more likely to be iron deficient than anyone else – but it is something that we all need to take care with. Indeed, vegans often do better with iron, partly because we eat more Vitamin C rich foods which multiply iron absorption by 3-4 times! So increase your intake of iron and vitamin C-rich foods and, if necessary, take a plant-based supplement such as Floradix. Iron is found in:
- green leafy vegetables: green cabbage, curly kale, cavalo nero, Brussels sprouts, spinach, chard etc
- wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and wholegrain pasta
- dried fruit
- pulses: beans, lentils, peas – and tofu, which is made from soya beans
- black treacle (molasses)
- many fortified breakfast cereals
- cocoa and plain chocolate (small quantities)
Here are some good iron and Vitamin C combinations:
- baked beans on wholemeal toast with grilled tomatoes or tomato salad
- broccoli with a serving of freshly squeezed orange juice
- stir-fried tofu with broccoli
- curly kale (high in both iron and vitamin C) stir-fried with fresh thyme and chopped chilliesl soya milk shake with blueberries and dried dates or figs
FFI see our fully referenced iron fact sheet - and watch out for our new pictorial iron foods chart!
Protein is essential for growth, repairing tissues and protecting against infections. The British Medical Association states that the vegan diet provides all nutrient requirements, including more
than enough protein. According to leading nutritionists, it really is very difficult to suffer from protein deficiency unless you go out of your way to do so – ie starve! Get a well balanced diet from the foods listed below and your clever body will put together the amino acids (protein's building blocks) from everything you eat within a 24-hour period - so no need to worry about protein combining and all that stuff.
Protein can be found in:
- pulses: peas, beans of all types, lentils (whole and split) and soya bean products, eg soya milk, soya burgers, tofu and tempeh
- wholegrains: rice, quinoa, millet, wheat, bulghur, couscous, oats, barley, buckwheat, pasta, bread
- nuts and nut butters: Brazils, hazels, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts etc
- seeds and seed butters: hemp, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame etc (tahini paste – used in hummus – is made from sesame)
- but most foods also contain protein in smaller quantities, including green veg (that's where the animals get it after all!)
FFI see our fully referenced protein fact sheet - and watch out for our new pictorial protein foods chart!
We used to get our B12 naturally from the microorganisms in soil on fruit and vegetables but modern farming methods have put an end to that. Interestingly (and tragically), gorillas – who are vegan – naturally get enough B12 in the wild but those imprisoned in zoos have to be given a supplement. And recent studies show that elderly meat-eaters have the lowest levels, partly because ageing bodies don't store it so easily. The human body only needs a tiny amount of vitamin B12 per day (and B12 deficiency is relatively rare in the young) but it is important to get a daily dose of it because it
- maintains a healthy nervous system
- aids normal blood formation
- keeps the heart in tip top condition
Vitamin B12 is found in many everyday foods that have been fortified with it such as yeast extracts (eg Marmite or Merdian
Yeast Extract with B12), many breakfast cereals, yeast-based spreads and pâtés, nutritional yeast flakes (blue tub) soya milk and soya margarines. Foods containing soya protein are also fortified with this vitamin such as TVP (textured vegetable protein), soya sausages and soya burgers.
While the daily requirement is only 1.5 micrograms, some experts now believe that 3 micrograms per day is a more healthy
intake – and according to the National Academy of Sciences in the US, all adults over 50 – whatever their diet – should take a supplement or eat fortified foods.
Take a supplement OR eat these foods regularly
• 250ml serving of fortified soya milk
• 50g serving of fortified cereal
• Two pieces of toast with a spread of B12 fortified margarine and B12 fortified yeast extract
FFI see our B12 fact sheet
The best source is sunlight on bare skin, but many of us in the UK – whatever our diet – miss out in the winter months. Those most at risk of D-deficiency include the elderly who don't get out much; people who cover up for cultural reasons; people living in the North, especially Scotland; those with darker skin (eg people of African or Southern Asian orgin and those of mixed race). Most vitamin D in fortified foods (eg breakfast cereal; margarine) is not vegan. However, most fortified plant milks use a vegan source of Vitamin D.
FFI on nutrition, see Viva! Health for a wide range of science-based guides, nutritional fact sheets and scientific reports, including the Vegetarian and Vegan Mother and Baby Guide for pregnancy and baby nutrition and Food of Champions for sports nutrition.