Looking after your nutritional needs on a vegan diet, will enable you to stay healthy, happy and vegan.
Gloucestershire Vegan Group thought it would be good to swot-up on a few nutritional facts, and learn some more about how to eat healthfully. We were lucky enough to have a local and vegan-friendly nutritional therapist come to speak to our group. She guided us carefully through the essentials of vegan nutrition, answering any questions about vitamins, minerals, eating habits and health generally.
Below are some key points from the Gloucestershire Vegan Group nutrition talk with a few bits added in from the Vegan Society’s webpage – where you can find plenty more details on nutrition if you wish to read up:
Vegan Nutrition Top Tips:
• Eat locally grown, seasonal, organic, freshly cooked food, where possible – it’s good for you and for the environment, organic food has a higher mineral content because the soil is nurtured and replenished. Organic farming methods are wildlife friendly, vegan organic farming methods even more so.
• Eat a variety of whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds and vegetables everyday – try not to become overly dependent on one kind of foodstuff (e.g wheat or soya)
• Try to avoid too many foods that have been heavily processed
• Eat foods you like!
• Tune into your body – listen out for signs and symptoms
B12 is perhaps the most important vitamin for vegans to be aware of because it is not reliably supplied in a plant-based diet. Vitamin B12 is crucial to the functioning of our central nervous system, so clinical deficiency can damage this, as well as causing anaemia.
The only reliable source of B12 for vegans comes from foods fortified with B12 (Some plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, yeast flakes, yeast extract) and B12 supplements. Sublingual supplements such as this one: http://www.devanutrition.com/vitamin_b12.html work best (these diffuse into the blood through tissues under the tongue).
The vegan society recommends:
• eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (μg or mcg) of B12 a day or
• take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms or
• take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
Symptoms of B12 deficiency include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes.
If in doubt you can ask your GP for a blood test to check B12 levels.
Iron is needed in the body for the formation of blood. Good vegan sources of iron include:
pulses, nuts, seeds green leafy vegetables. Iron absobtion is improved by combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods such as a fresh salad, cauliflower or orange juice.
Is produced naturally by our bodies, by sunlight on our skin. To ensure adequate amounts, try to regularly expose at least your arms and face directly to the sun (without sunscreen on) between the hours of 11am-3pm – when the sun is hottest, being careful not to overdo your sunbathing and burn.
A dietary intake of vitamin D, from fortified foods or supplements may be necessary for some in the winter. If you chose to supplement Vitamin D, there are two types of vitamin D: D2 and D3. D3 is more potent – most forms of D3 are not suitable for vegans, as it is typically produced from sheep wool. There is however, one kind of commercially available D3 suitable for vegans called Vitashine.
Calcium is needed for bone health. Plant-based sources of calcium include: green leafy vegetables
(especially kale!) tahini, figs, kombu, fortified foods such as soya milk.
Calcium does not work alone in improving our bones, other nutrients such as Vitamin D, Vitamin K, protein and potassium also have a role to play.
Weight bearing exercise is also important to increase bone density – weight bearing exercises are any where your feet and legs support your weight such as walking, running, skipping, dancing or aerobics.
Omega 3 (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is converted by the body into Eiocosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which is used by the body to regulate many processes including inflammation and blood-clotting .
Dietary sources of ALA include flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and rapeseed, and also oils made from these seeds. Flax seeds need to be ground because otherwise their hard casing makes the nutrients less available.
Vegan Nutrition Websites:
Organic food can be expensive! Here are some places to buy good value organic food locally:
Newark Farm stall – at Stroud Farmer’s Markert, Cornhill Stroud – every Saturday – probably the best value organic vegetables you’ll find locally.
StroudCo Food Hub – a not for profit organisation, with no retail shop to keep costs lower. StroudCo Food Hub sells organic grains and pulses amongst other things and delivers to drop-off points locally. Order online from their website.