Whether you are a seasoned vegan or new to the diet, it can be difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals. As such, it never hurts to review, or learn, what are the some of the foods that will give your body the balanced diet it needs to be happy and healthy.
Don’t forget to listen to your body, which will give signs that it is not getting what it needs. Signs of an unbalanced or lacking diet will include unintentional weight loss, constant hunger, persistent fatigue, and brittle hair, nails, and bones.
First, you should know the main vitamins and nutrients needed for a balanced diet, and why they are important:
- Protein is critical for your muscle health and to provide your body with energy.
- Calcium keeps your bones and teeth healthy
- Vitamin D helps regulate the body’s calcium and phosphate, which maintains the health of bones, teeth, and muscles. While exposure to sunlight is the best source, you can get some traces of Vitamin D from foods.
- Vitamin B12 is for nervous system health. It is often found in fortified foods, as options are often limited for vegans.
- Iron facilitates production of red blood cells and helps it carry oxygen
- Omega-3 fatty acids are good for maintaining a healthy heart.
Vegans often have trouble getting the protein, calcium, and vitamin B12 needed for their bodies, as these nutrients are commonly found in meat and dairy products. Luckily, there are all sorts of vegan-friendly foods and ingredients that can be reliable sources of those nutrients. Here are some foods that will help you stay vegan and nutritionally balanced.
Dark, green, leafy vegetables are excellent sources of calcium, especially broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, artichoke, and okra. Spinach does have lots of calcium, but is not recommended since the body can’t digest all of its calcium. Watercress and spring greens are also good sources of iron.
Tofu and other soy products are often a vegan’s best friend, as they contain plenty of the protein, calcium, and iron you need. They’re also the go-to egg substitution for omelettes.
Dried fruits are a valuable snack. Dried apricots, figs, and prunes are sources of both calcium and iron.
Nuts and seeds can be eaten cooked or raw, and are excellent sources of iron, fiber, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and vitamin E. Hemp, flax, and chia seeds are especially filled with nutrients, with hemp seeds having 50% more digestible protein than other seeds. Walnuts and flax and chia seeds are very rich in omega-3. Kidney beans and almonds are also strong sources of calcium.
Legumes are always great sources of iron and protein. Beans, lentils, and peas contain the most grams of protein per cooked cup. However, as legumes often have antinutrients that can decrease the body’s ability to absorb minerals, they are best eaten cooked or fermented.
Seaweed is a rare iodine source, which is needed in small amounts for thyroid health. Seaweed also contains omega-3 and vitamin B12, but it is still uncertain if that particular form is active in humans, so it is best not to rely on seaweed as your source of vitamin B12.
Certain oils can be used as a source of Omega-3, such as canola, flaxseed or linseed oil, rapeseed oil, and soy oil.
Fermented foods, such as miso, pickles, and kimchi, contain probiotic bacteria and can be beneficial for digestion.
Fortified Foods can provide you with the extra nutrients you need, and may be the best choice for some vitamins. B12 for example, is best found in fortified cereals, soy beverages, and yeast extract. Some yogurts are also fortified for calcium.
Supplements are always an option if you’re struggling to meet your nutrition needs or getting nutrients in the right amounts for any reason.
Veggie burgers and patties are vegan, but because they have gone through intense processing, their nutritional value is significantly lower than the foods mentioned above. So while you can eat them every now and then, heavily processed vegan foods shouldn’t be used as healthy sources of nutrients.
Remember that this guide is no substitute for a professional nutritionist, but can at least give you the knowledge and options needed to start (or continue) eating a balanced vegan diet!
Image sources: Pinterest
Words by: Panisara Jaijongkit