When planning your diet, it is important to consider some macro- and micronutrients that are commonly low in vegan options. These nutrients include protein, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc and omega-3 fats.
We need protein for many reasons, including building and maintaining muscle and red blood cells health. All our tissues are made of protein so it is important to include protein rich foods throughout the day. Protein sources that you can include are:
– Soy and soy products like tofu
– Tempeh and fortified soy beverages
– Dried beans (kidney, black and white beans)
– Peas (chickpeas)
– Textured vegetable protein (TVP) and veggie burgers
– Grains (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur and oatmeal)
– Nuts and nut butters and seeds
– Peanuts and peanut butter
Iron helps transport oxygen to different parts of the body for proper functioning. Vegans need twice as much dietary iron than non-vegetarians because the iron from plant foods is not as well absorbed as the iron in animal products. In addition to the foods mentioned above, good sources of non-heme iron include dried apricots, vegetables like cooked spinach, kale and potatoes with their skins and black strap molasses.
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For increased iron absorption, eat these foods with vitamin C-rich foods. These include oranges, lemons, limes, kiwis, mangos, green leafy vegetables, potatoes and more.
3- Vitamin B12
This vitamin has many important functions which include making healthy blood cells and to keep nerves working properly. Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products but is also found in fortified foods. Vegetarian and vegan dieters should include vitaminB12-fortified foods such as certain soy products, fortified textured vegetable protein, veggie burgers, and meatless chicken, fish, and meatballs.
4- Vitamin D
Did you know that vitamin D is one of the four vitamins that can be stored in your body? Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium and phosphorus – two important nutrients for bone and teeth health. Vitamin D also keeps your immune system healthy.
This mineral is important for bone and teeth health, muscle function and heartbeat. Fortified soy beverages and other fortified non-dairy beverages like rice and almond milk are also good options. Soybeans, navy beans, almonds, sesame butter, figs, fortified orange juice are other calcium food sources to include.
Zinc is important for normal growth, strengthens the immune system, helps heal wounds and helps your body use carbohydrates, protein and fat. Most of the foods mentioned above also contain zinc!
These fats are important for nerve and brain development, important for the eye and helps prevent heart disease. You can get your omega-3 fats from oils like canola, flaxseed, walnut and soybean, ground flaxseed, soybeans, tofu and walnuts.
Stephanie Aboueid, RD
Nutrition: A functional approach by Judy Sheeshka, Pearson Education Canada; 2 edition