The Ultimate Guide to the Vegan Diet

INTRODUCTION TO THE VEGAN DIET

A vegan diet means consuming only plant-based foods, but veganism involves more than just the things you eat. Vegans are opposed to the exploitation of animals in every way: for food, clothing, research, entertainment, or any other use. Reasons to be a vegan include health, ethics, spirituality, and environmental concerns, and there are different types of vegan diets. But one thing they all have in common is that nothing that comes from an animal is eaten, meaning no meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, honey or any other animal by-products.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet

HISTORY OF THE VEGAN DIET

Throughout most of human history, meat was difficult to obtain and expensive, which made eating it a status symbol. The idea of voluntarily not eating meat on the rare occasions you could get your hands on some seemed…a little crazy. 

Vegetarian societies have been around since ancient times, but they were always considered to be outsiders. Amos Alcott (father of Louisa May who wrote Little Women) founded a vegan commune in the 1840s in Harvard, Massachusetts called Fruitlands, but it didn’t last long. And while some interest in animal rights continued in small pockets around the world throughout the 1800s, two world wars more or less ended the idea of going meatless. For one thing, nobody cared about the fate of cows when humans were dying in droves. For another, army rations tended to be heavy on meat, so if soldiers wanted a full belly, they ate what they were given. On the civilian side, people had to give up much of their meat to send in support of the war effort. This made meat a special treat, and increased its value even more. Also, Hitler was a vegetarian, which made the diet even more suspect. (Oddly, he outlawed vegetarianism for the general public because he didn’t like the radical movements associated with vegetarianism.) 

Vegetarians continued to be viewed as strange and countercultural through the 1960s and ’70s, and the ’80s were all about materialism, which meant eating things like a big, juicy steak. It has taken a long time for concerns about the effect of meat on health, the environment and the ethics of commercial animal farming to catch on.

VEGAN DIET MACROS

A healthy, balanced diet derived exclusively from plants is absolutely doable. It takes a little more planning, but you can not only survive on a vegan diet, you can thrive. 

Carbs should come from whole, natural foods like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, as well as vegetables and fruit. Avoid processed ‘white’ carbs that only add calories without offering much in the way of nutrition or fiber.

Many people believe that you cannot get the right macros to build muscle with a vegan diet, but this is not true. So long as you enough of the right kind of calories and focus on protein, you can achieve anything that a meat-eater would do, including bodybuilding. Soy, whey and pea protein are all acceptable vegan forms.

Plant-based foods tend to be lower in calories and higher in fiber, which results in feeling fuller while eating less. So if you’re looking to lose weight, a vegan diet can be a great option to help you achieve your goals. But if you’re looking to build mass, you’ll need to pay extra attention to how many calories you’re actually taking in. Another upside to eating a vegan diet is that you can lose fat while gaining muscle, leading to a leaner physique.

On the subject of fat, be sure to get your fats from healthy sources like avocados, olive oil and nuts rather than processed vegetable oils which have been chemically altered.

Also, take care to watch your micronutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc and vitamins B-12 and D. Supplement if necessary.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Food Types

BENEFITS OF THE VEGAN DIET

RICH IN NUTRITION 

A vegan diet that contains lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes will generally provide more nutrition than a standard American diet. This means you’ll get more fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, as well as other beneficial compounds found in plants known as phytonutrients (things like tannins, catechins, kaempferol, and quercetin).

WEIGHT LOSS

While no diet can guarantee that you’ll lose weight, eating a diet that contains a lot of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help you drop those extra pounds. Unprocessed plants are generally low in calories and high in fiber, which helps you to feel full while consuming fewer calories. Plant-based diets has been proven to reduce the risk of obesity, and vegans tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who eat a diet containing meat. In observational studies, even when vegans didn’t always stick to their diet perfectly, they were still able to lose more weight than those who followed a reduced-calorie Western diet.

IMPROVE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS

A vegan diet can drastically reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes and improve insulin sensitivity. Being sensitive doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing, but in this case it is. When you are insulin sensitive, it means your body is processing sugar properly. Being insulin resistant means you are at risk for diabetes. For those who already have diabetes, a vegan diet may reduce the amount of insulin needed, often significantly. Peripheral neuropathy, a common side effect of diabetes which causes a sharp, burning pain, may also be reduced or totally relieved with a vegan diet.

HEALTHIER HEART

A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes and fiber has been linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. A vegan diet can also reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol, both of which promote a healthier heart. Whole grains and nuts, common staples of a vegan diet, also support heart health.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Healthy Heart

CANCER PROTECTION

Eating fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes has been shown in studies to reduce your risk of certain cancers, including of the breast, colon and prostate. Overall, those who follow a vegan diet have a lower risk of dying from cancer.

IMPROVED KIDNEY FUNCTION 

Studies have shown that diets which substitutes plant proteins for meat can improve kidney function in diabetics. Animal proteins are also known to cause kidney stones. Eating a plant-based diet reduces your risk of developing this painful condition.

REDUCED CARBON FOODPRINT

Greenhouse gases such as methane emitted by cows are having a serious impact on the environment. Plants don’t require nearly as many resources as animals to farm. A plant-based diet is considered to be more sustainable with the ever-growing human population.

ALLEVIATE ARTHRITIS PAIN

Studies show that a vegan diet can improve symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, including a decrease in pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, as well as increased energy and better overall function. 

GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

The lower on the food chain that you eat, the less toxins you take in. Meat, especially processed and cooked at high temperatures, has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. A plant-based diet also increases your intake of antioxidants and phytonutrients that boost your immunity and offer anti-aging effects.

DOWNSIDES OF THE VEGAN DIET

RADICAL CHANGE

Giving up all animal products can be tough, and committing to a new diet is a major adjustment. It takes time to learn new recipes, and it may feel like you’re spending your whole day thinking about food. If it seems like too much at once, consider transitioning in several phases, such as going vegetarian first, and then slowly removing dairy products and eggs. Take it one meal at a time and go easy on yourself if you slip up. One mistake is not a total fail.

LIMITED CHOICE

Eating vegan has become more mainstream, but it can still prove difficult at times, such as if you are invited over to a friend’s house for dinner. But special diets are now the norm and most people will not take your dietary choices personally.

POTENTIAL NUTRITIONAL GAPS

Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient, and hard to get through food alone on a vegan diet. Vitamin D, calcium, zinc and iron may also present a challenge if you do not supplement. Omega-3s, another important nutrient which comes from fatty fish, could be lacking. Consider working with a nutritionist or supplementing to fill any gaps in your nutrition.

MISPLACED OPTIMISM

A vegan diet can offer many health benefits, but it is not a guaranteed cure-all. The diet must be carefully planned and balanced in order to work.

PLANT PROTEIN WOES

Not to put too fine a point on it, but suddenly eating a bunch of beans can get gassy. Drinking extra water can help, but the adjustment phase can be uncomfortable at times.

POTENTIAL WEIGHT GAIN 

Rapid weight loss can lead to its inverse: packing the pounds back on. Restrictive diets can leave you feeling hungry, leading to poor food choices. Because of the popularity of veganism, pre-packaged vegan foods are now widely available, but a cookie made without dairy or eggs is still a cookie, and it might be chock-full of sugar. A vegan diet must be well-planned in order to be successful.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Weight Loss

SOCIAL CHALLENGES

With a restrictive diet like veganism, it is likely you will encounter situations where you’ll have difficult choices to make. The neighborhood barbecue or Christmas party may prove too tempting when you’re trying to eat healthfully, and you may need to explore new activities to do with your friends that don’t revolve around food.

VEGAN DIET DETAILS

Like a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet will mean different things to different people.

For a basic vegan diet, only plant-based foods are eaten, which means no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or other animal by-products.

Following are some different types of vegan diets:

Raw foods vegan diet: This diet is based on eating vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and other plant foods that are not cooked above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Thrive diet: This diet is basically a version of the raw foods diet, containing only whole, plant-based foods that receive minimal cooking, and only at low temperature.

80/10/10 diet: Also called low-fat vegan or fruitarian, this diet is similar to a raw foods diet, but with extra restrictions. Raw fruit and soft green vegetables are primarily what is eaten, while plants that are high in fat such as avocados, nuts and seeds are limited.

Starch Solution: This diet is somewhat like the 80/10/10 in limiting fat-rich foods and eating lots of raw leafy greens, but instead of fruit, starches are eaten, such as corn, rice and potatoes (and they are cooked).

Raw till 4: Another low-fat vegan diet that is a combination of 80/10/10 and the Starch Solution. You eat raw foods until 4 in the afternoon, at which time you are allowed to have a cooked (but still plant-based) dinner.

BEST FOODS TO EAT ON THE VEGAN DIET

Vegetables — Veggies are rich in vitamins, trace minerals, fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients and other beneficial compounds, all of which are necessary for optimum health. Fresh and organic is considered best by most vegans, but frozen or canned might also be acceptable. Depending on which vegan diet you follow, vegetables may be cooked or only eaten raw.

Fruit — Fruit also figures prominently in a vegan diet. While fruit contains sugar, it also has fiber and micronutrients which offer more balanced nutrition.

Legumes — Soybeans, red beans, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, green beans and peas are types of legumes. Soybeans offer complete plant protein but depending on your level of strictness, they may not be allowed because finding a non-genetically modified version (non-GMO) can sometimes be difficult.

Grains — Complete grains such as whole wheat, oats, brown rice, quinoa and the like are best when they are unprocessed.

Fats — Nuts, seeds, olives and avocados contain healthy plant-based fats. Depending on which vegan diet you choose to follow, these may be limited.

Herbs & spices — Variety is the spice of life and plain old broccoli can get boring. Spice it up and get extra phytonutrients from superfoods like garlic, turmeric and ginger.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Food Pyramid

FOODS TO AVOID ON THE VEGAN DIET

Animal products — Meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs and other animal by-products such as honey are out on a vegan diet.

Junk food — This one is true for everyone. Don’t be a vegan junkie, filling up on mock bacon and soy burgers. Soybeans are a healthy source of plant protein, but highly processed, refined foods aren’t good for anyone.

KEYS TO SUCCESS ON THE VEGAN DIET

PLAN AHEAD

Eating a vegan diet requires a little extra thought around mealtime, so have a gander at the menu online, call the restaurant, or check with the person who is throwing the party so you can be sure there’ll be something for you to eat. If not, pick a different restaurant, or bring your favorite vegan dish to share.

EAT WHAT YOU LOVE

Try not to get bogged down with calculating macronutrients, micronutrients or anything else. Unless you’re a professional athlete, such precision isn’t necessary. Just be sure to eat from every category (protein, carbs, fat) and you should be fine.

MIX IT UP

We all have the habit of going for our standbys. It saves time, energy and thought, but for the best chance of hitting all your nutritional bases, it’s important to eat a variety of foods.

BE PICKY

Your plate should contain a rainbow of color. Don’t fall into the trap of loading up on vegan convenience food just because it’s easy. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh, whole, natural foods every day.

RELAX

Giving up meat and dairy is already a huge step, so don’t sweat it if you can’t always find organic, local produce. A diet of whole, natural plant foods, even if they did come from the freezer, offers plenty of health benefits.

DON’T BE A JUNK FOOD VEGAN

Technically, Oreos and Pop-tarts are vegan, but junk food should not be a prominent component of any diet, particularly not a healthy one like vegan.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Foods To Avoid

LEARN TO COOK

Preparing vegetables, fruits, and grains is pretty easy. Also, you can find vegan versions for just about every single recipe out there. The internet is a fantastic resource for would-be vegan chefs.

HYDRATE

The human body is mostly water. Good health starts with drinking enough water each day.

DON’T OVERSHARE

Enthusiasm for a healthy lifestyle is great and wanting to be a positive influence is a noble goal, but you’ll find not everyone is interested in veganism. To avoid frustration, establish a common interest with new people before launching into a discussion of the benefits of a vegan diet.  

COMMON MYTHS ABOUT THE VEGAN DIET

VEGAN IS AUTOMATICALLY HEALTHIER

Any diet can be healthy or unhealthy. Convenience foods are available in every category including vegan, and eating too much of these rather than whole, natural foods will cause your nutrition and health to suffer. Vegans must be especially conscious of their intake of vitamin B-12, calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin D and omega-3s, as well as getting enough calories.

IT’S TOO MUCH WORK

Making a substantial change in what you eat will always require more effort, at least at first. But as the vegan diet becomes more mainstream, it gets easier to find foods both at the store and in restaurants that offer vegan-compatible options. And with all the food allergies these days, it isn’t strange to request ‘no cheese’ or ask questions about what ingredients are in a certain dish.

YOU WON’T GET ENOUGH PROTEIN

First of all, we’re suffering from a little bit of a protein obsession these days. Second, there are other ways to get protein besides eating meat. Most plant-based foods contain at least some protein. For example, a cup of beans has about the same amount of protein as 2 ounces of meat. To get all your amino acids, eat a variety of high-protein plants, including legumes, nuts, and seeds.

YOU WON’T GET ALL YOUR VITAMINS

Overall, vegans eat a diet that is higher in vitamins and minerals than a standard diet. While meeting all your nutritional needs through plants alone is more challenging, it is absolutely doable. Vegan-compatible supplements of everything you need from B-12 to omega-3s are also available.

WEIGHT LOSS IS GUARANTEED

While a vegan diet tends to be lower in calories, no diet can guarantee that you’ll lose weight. All calories count, even when they come from fruit and nuts. And with so many vegan convenience foods available, you’ll have to pay even closer attention to hidden calories and sugar. A soy burger isn’t automatically healthier than a burger made from beef. It might even be more processed and contain a bunch of artificial ingredients. A healthy diet is one that contains a variety of whole, natural foods.

YOU’LL BE HUNGRY AND TIRED ALL THE TIME

Check out the list of vegans at the end of this article. There are tons of professional athletes on it. If a ultra-marathon runner, a MMA fighter and a pro tennis player can eat vegan and still perform, you can too.

VEGANS ARE WEIRD

Most ideas that go against the status quo are considered odd — until they catch on. If caring about animal welfare and eating a sustainable diet is strange, then guilty as charged.

IT’S NOT SAFE FOR PREGNANCY OR KIDS

If you’re already a healthy vegan when you learn that you’re expecting, it should be okay to continue. Vegan moms will need to pay extra attention to getting certain nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamins B-12 and D, as well as taking in enough calories. They should also go for prenatal check-ups and take the supplements the doctor prescribes, just like any mom-to-be.

Likewise, children can be healthy and thrive on a vegan diet so long as care is taken to meet their nutritional needs.

COMMON MISTAKES ON THE VEGAN DIET

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON

One of the fastest ways to fail is to make radical change all at once. Chowing down on triple cheeseburgers one day and eating only raw carrots the next practically guarantees you will not stick to your new diet. A tiny percentage of people have the will power to flip the switch and never look back, but it is often due to major health concerns or other non-negotiable reasons. For most people, immediate and total change is asking too much. Take your time, let your body and mind get used to this new way of eating, and you’re far more likely to succeed.

PASSING ON PROTEIN

Protein is essential to life. It is a building block in every cell, and we need it to build new tissues, and to keep our muscles and immune system strong. That said, you can certainly overdo the protein, and excessive animal protein in particular can have a negative impact on health. But you can go too far the other way too, and it’s easy to not get enough protein on a vegan diet. 

Besides being necessary for health, protein helps you to feel fuller, longer. Legumes (beans, lentils and peas) are a great source of plant protein, as well as fiber and other micronutrients. If you’re concerned you’re still not getting enough protein, there are plenty of vegan protein powders out there.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Protein

BEING A JUNK FOODIE

You can get vegan versions of everything these days: vegan hot dogs, chicken nuggets, bacon, you name it. This doesn’t mean you should be filling up on these convenience foods, nor should your kids. Often high in calories, expensive, and low in nutrition, vegan fast food should be a last resort, or an occasional treat.

CUTTING (TOO MANY) CALORIES

Most of us could stand to eat a little less, but we still need a certain number of calories to function each day. Veggies and fruits are bulky, but they don’t contain as many calories as a similar portion of meat. You may find you have to eat more in order to feel full. Load up that salad plate.

MISSING OUT ON IRON

Iron is essential to health and a deficiency can cause anemia, which can leave you tired, dizzy, and short of breath. While iron is available from plant sources, the kind of iron that comes from plants is a form that the body cannot easily absorb. To improve assimilation, you should have iron-rich foods (like coconut, sesame seeds and Swiss chard) with a food containing vitamin C, (like bell peppers, citrus fruit or strawberries). This requires planning and it’s a good idea to eat fruit and vegetables with every meal to increase iron absorption. If you’re not getting enough iron, consider supplementing. 

BOMBING B-12

Vitamin B-12 is used by many important organs, including your heart and brain. B-12 is also needed for the proper functioning of nerves, to make red blood cells and to synthesize DNA. A deficiency of B-12 can cause fatigue, tingling, numbness and memory problems. B-12 is found primarily in animal products, and while some vegan-compatible foods are B-12 fortified, consider taking a supplement. It’s also not a bad idea to have your B-12 levels checked if you begin to feel tired or run down.

FORGETTING FAT

We still haven’t recovered from the biggest myth of all: that fat is bad for you. Certainly trans fats aren’t doing us any favors, but there are plenty of healthy fats that our body needs to function. Skipping out on healthy fats is as bad as gobbling down the junky ones. Things like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of healthy, vegan-friendly fats.

OVERLOOKING OMEGA-3S

Another essential nutrient that can be tough to get through a vegan diet is omega-3s. These fatty acids reduce inflammation and are good for your brain and your heart. Plants contain a type of omega-3s called ALA, but unfortunately ALA is not the most useful to our body. Some vegan sources of ALA are Brussels sprouts, nuts, and seeds, but vegan supplements of omega-3s made from algae are also available.

MISCALCULATING CALCIUM

You probably already know that calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, but you may not know that it is also necessary for healthy nerve and muscles function. A deficiency in calcium can result in osteoporosis (weak, fragile bones). Dairy products are one source of calcium, but leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collard greens also contain calcium. So do things like figs, almonds, and oranges. You can also supplement, or find vegan foods have been fortified with calcium.

WELCHING ON WATER

We should all be hydrating every day, but this habit is especially important for people who eat a diet that is high in fiber. Water is what moves food through the digestive tract. It helps prevent the unpleasant side effects of eating a high-fiber diet, such as constipation, bloating and gas. Drink plenty of clean, fresh water every day.

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE VEGAN DIET

DOES A VEGAN DIET OFFER COMPLETE NUTRITION?

Short answer: It depends. Longer answer: Just about any diet can be healthy, or not, based on what you choose to eat. Fries and soda are technically vegan, but they don’t provide much in the way of nutrition. A well-planned vegan diet can provide excellent nutrition, as well as offer important health benefits, like a lower risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. No matter what diet you pick, every one of us needs to think about what we’re putting in our mouth.

DON’T YOU NEED TO EAT MEAT?

So long as you learn enough about nutrition to make sure you cover all your nutritional bases, no. Eating a plant-based diet goes back millennia. Ancient Greeks who called themselves Pythagoreans (after the philosopher Pythagoras) ate a vegetarian diet for the same reasons we do today: for health, to conserve resources, and for spiritual reasons. A carefully-planned plant-based diet covers all your nutritional bases, and offers major health benefits. The way animals are being raised these days leaves a lot to be desired. At this point in our history, eating meat may be doing more harm than good.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Meat

HOW DO YOU GET PROTEIN ON A VEGAN DIET?

The building blocks of proteins are amino acids, and amino acids can be found in both plant and animal sources. Your body doesn’t care if the amino acids came from a pinto bean or a cow; it will use whatever it gets. A bonus of getting your proteins from plants is what you’re not putting into your body: things like antibiotics, growth hormones, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

DOESN’T A VEGAN DIET CAUSE NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES?

For strict vegans, there is a risk of a deficiency in vitamin B-12, iron and zinc. However, there are vegan-compatible supplements for these and every other nutrient, including other things that might present a challenge for vegans, including calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3s.

IF A VEGAN DIET IS SO HEALTHY, WHY DOESN’T MY DOCTOR RECOMMEND IT?

Unfortunately, medical doctors don’t get a lot of training in the area of nutrition. But the effect of diet on health has become clear and more doctors are taking the trouble to become informed on the subject. Check out the list of people at the end of this article for some very famous doctors who endorse a vegan diet. 

Also, knowing how human nature is generally resistant to change, especially radical change, doctors may hesitate to recommend a course of action that most people are unlikely to follow through on.

ISN’T A VEGAN DIET BORING?

A vegan diet can be as varied, or as repetitive, as any other diet. It’s up to you how much exploration you want to do. The fact is, you can make pretty much any recipe into a vegan dish.

VEGAN VS VEGETARIAN

Both a vegan and a vegetarian diet tend to be higher in micronutrients and fiber, and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than a standard diet that contains meat. A poorly-planned vegan or vegetarian diet might be deficient in iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin D (and possibly other nutrients). Both vegan and vegetarian diets tend to be low in vitamin B-12 without supplementation.

While both vegans and vegetarians eschew meat, vegans avoid all foods and by-products that come from animals. This includes dairy products, eggs, honey, whey, gelatin, casein and certain forms of vitamin D. 

Vegans are generally against the use of animals for any purpose. They often will not wear leather, and oppose using animals for research. Vegetarians might eat eggs and dairy products, although they may only buy from sources where the animals have been treated humanely.

VEGAN VS RAW FOODS

A raw foods diet and a vegan diet have much in common, and in fact, many raw foodists are also vegan. A raw foods diet involves eating only foods that have not been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas a vegan diet allows for cooking. The foods in a raw food diet must be completely unprocessed, and are preferably organic. Raw foodists say that eating food in its natural state will detoxify your body, and that uncooked food gives you more of the nutrients, enzymes and vitamins it needs. A vegan diet is also made of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, but it is not required that they be unprocessed or organic.

The only rule regarding meat, fish, eggs or dairy products in a raw food diet is that they be whole, natural, unprocessed and raw, so eating them is not out of the question, even though it is uncommon. Eating whole, natural foods is absolutely better for you than eating a bunch of processed foods. But cooking is not harmful, and while it does destroy some vitamins like B and C, it makes other nutrients more available, like beta carotene, lycopene and certain antioxidants.

VEGAN VS PALEO

Vegan and Paleo share the focus of eating plenty of fresh vegetables, but they are actually more different than alike. Vegans will eat grains and legumes while Paleo eaters avoid these things. Meat is also an essential component of the Paleo diet. As for fruit, there are no restrictions with vegan, but Paleo dieters only eat fruit rarely, and it meant to be organic, and preferably locally-sourced. The oversize hybrid fruits that have been brought from thousands of miles away are not on a Paleo menu. Sugar must be from a natural source and is only eaten in very limited amounts with Paleo, and honey is allowed. Vegan eaters are probably careful about sugar, but there is no rule against eating it (except for honey, which is not allowed because it comes from an animal).

BEST VEGAN DIET SUPPLEMENTS

Vitamin B-12 — B-12 is part of the process that synthesizes red blood cells and DNA, and it is important for a healthy nervous system. B-12 is found in the soil, so in theory we should be able to get it through plant sources, but we don’t because we must wash our vegetables and fruit before consuming them. Because B-12 is difficult to get through a plant-based diet alone, it is recommended that vegans and vegetarians supplement with this vitamin.

Zinc — Zinc can be tough to source from plants only, but it is essential for a strong immune system, building DNA and protein, enzyme function, and proper growth and wound healing.

Iron — While iron is best known for its job of transporting oxygen in red blood cells, every cell in the body contain some iron. Iron from plants is poorly absorbed by the body and many vegans have low iron levels. Anemia can result from low iron levels. Symptoms of low iron include headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. 

Omega-3s — Omega-3 fatty acids do a lot. They reduce inflammation which either causes or exacerbates most disease. They reduce your risk of age-related mental decline, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders and metabolic syndrome which is a precursor to diabetes. Taking omega-3s may lower your chances of developing depression, anxiety, and mental disorders. While plant sources of omega-3s contain a lot of ALA, this form of omega-3s is not as easy for the body to absorb. A good source of EPA and DHA (which are more readily absorbed by the body) is made from algal oil, which comes from algae.

Calcium — Calcium is not only necessary for strong bones and teeth, but it also keeps your heart, muscles, and nerves functioning properly. Studies show that most vegans do not get enough calcium. Calcium is derived from stone which is acceptable to vegans, but it is often paired with other vitamins that are derived from animal sources. Check to be sure your supplement is labeled ‘vegan.’ 

Vitamin D — Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins we can manufacture ourselves by the sun hitting our skin, but most people do not get enough of it through this method. Like calcium, vitamin D is necessary for strong bones, but it does much more than that. Vitamin D offers protection against cancer and other diseases, and it also used to process other vitamins. This means that a deficiency in vitamin D can cause deficiencies in other nutrients. Vitamin D supplements can sometimes be tricky for vegans to find because they are often made from animal sources, such as sheep’s wool. Check for a ‘vegan’ label before buying.

The Ultimate Guide To The Vegan Diet Vitamin D

VEGAN DIET RECIPES & RESOURCES

The Dirty Dozen

Vegan Recipes

Vegan Resources

Vegan Society

VEGAN DIET STUDIES

Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets

Health and Nutritional Aspects of Sustainable Diet Strategies

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Vegan Diet

Vegan Nutrition for Mothers & Children

PROPONENTS OF THE VEGAN DIET

  • Joel Fuhrman, MD
  • Dean Ornish, MD
  • Neal Barnard, MD
  • Garth Davis, MD
  • Colin Campbell, MD
  • Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
  • Brooke Goldner, MD
  • Pam Popper, PhD
  • Ginny Messina
  • Rich Roll 
  • Nate Diaz
  • Venus Williams
  • Abel ‘Killa’ Trujillo
  • Timothy Shieff
  • Liam Hemsworth
  • Lewis Hamilton
  • Scott Jurek
  • Barney du Plessis
  • Kendrick Farris
  • Hannah Teter
  • Jermain Defoe
  • David Haye
  • Joaquin Phoenix
  • Woody Harrelson
  • Ellen Degeneres
  • Alicia Silverstone
  • Ellen Page