Veganism can be great for your health, and for your family. Veganism has been shown to reduce or reverse many diseases, and more and more doctors are advocating a plant-based diet– not to mention the environmental benefit that is healthy for us all. It’s no wonder that I find myself wondering why everyone isn’t already vegan!
While being vegan CAN be healthy, being a junk-food vegan is also possible. For example, you could go home and eat the totally indulge-worthy Beyond Burger for every meal, and you would probably not end up with the most balanced diet ☺ And, the animals need you in fighting shape!
While there is a lot of confusion out there about nutrition in general, and for vegans in particular, with this handy guide, I hope you’ll find great ways to manage your whole-health, mostly with whole plant foods, and maybe sometimes with a very well researched vitamin supplement here and there, and the healthy food shopping list found at the bottom of each article in this series. And remember, balancing nutrition is not a Vegan problem, it’s an everyone problem, and healthy vegans are definitely better off.
Are fortified foods enough to replace supplements….?
Yes, and no. The truth is, without fortified foods many of us would vitamin deficient, which is why we started fortifying our food almost 100 years ago, and nowadays we have a tendency to allow the nutrition info on packaged foods to make our nutrition decisions for us. Most breakfast cereals, plant and dairy milk, breads and pastas, and many other common food products, are fortified with everything from extra fiber to vitamin A-D, B12, and more.
We intuitively know relying on packaged foods isn’t a great idea for health, and vitamin fortification isn’t a magical exception to this. Food, and its nutrients, straight from the whole plant is always best, followed by fortified foods combined with their complimentary partners, and then straight-up vitamin supplements who have been routinely demonstrated to have low absorption rates and maybe even to cause/prevent absorption for other nutrients.
The USDA recommends that every person supplement their diet with a multivitamin to ensure being be able to hit optimal levels of nutrients like Calcium, Vitamin D, and B12.
However, if you are trying to avoid or transition off of supplementing, then consider keeping a daily log of your food, and do a weekly total to see if you are ingesting enough of these nutrients, and even better yet get your blood nutrients tested after eating the recommended amount to check your personal absorption success. There are many diet logging apps (like Livestrong and Sparkpeople) that can monitor your vitamin levels for you, too. Once you do it for a month or so, you’ll know what you need to eat without needing to log anymore.
Supplements to consider:
As with all supplements, the efficacy and content of vitamin supplements stirs up heated debates. However, there are some nutrients that are very difficult to keep at optimal levels through diet alone, especially if you aren’t able to prepare all of your own meals, or eat large quantities of fresh fruit and veggies everyday, a problem almost everyone has!
Prominent plant-based ?nutritarian” doctor, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, has observed that certain essential micro-nutrients, like the Omega fatty acids, iodine, and zinc, are often lost in the diet shuffle, with most people focusing on fat, carbs and protein, along with the better known micro-nutrients vitamin c, d, and b12. However, Dr. Furhman stresses that choosing animal sources for these nutrients is choosing to increase heart disease and cancer, which is not an advisable trade-off. So, play it safe and take a supplement when advised by a physician, or seek out flax seed for Omegas, moderate amounts of table salt for iodine, and peanuts and other legumes for zinc.
Without Vitamin D we are not able to absorb calcium, which is kind of important if you like having bones, teeth, and being able to do stuff. Vitamin D also helps regulate the immune system, and keep inflammation under control, and chronic inflammation may mean you’re always sick, in chronic pain, have trouble healing injuries or all the above.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with diseases like rickets, but were mostly eradicated when dairy milk was fortified, in the early part of the last century. Luckily, this is something almost all plant milks also do. In other words, it’s not the dairy, but what they add into the dairy, that help you get your vitamins. In fact, there’s reason to believe that dairy may do more harm than good, which is something plant-milk does not do.
There are a few different Vitamin Ds; usually, you see vitamin D2, also called ergocalciferol, and vitamin D3, also called cholecalciferol. D2 is almost always available vegan, and D3 is usually vegetarian. However, most medical data suggests that dosages, tolerances and absorption of each are the same, so it is easy to stick with the vegan D2. Make sure to take that D2 on a long walk, with your skin exposed to the sun, and eating
some broccoli 😉
Can we get Vitamin D without pills?Absolutely. Step one: don’t be a vegan vampire (as cute as it is to let beet juice drip down your face and pretend). So, unless it’s Halloween, go and get some sun! Medical studies have found that a mere 30 minutes of sun hitting your skin between 10 AM and 3 PM twice a week, without sunscreen, can produce a good amount of Vitamin D (that’s right, our bodies can actually make this vitamin!)
There are also some commercial tanning beds that can help with this, but I don’t encourage that , unless sun exposure is truly hard to come by in your life.
Some research has also suggested that chest and stomach exposure is the more likely to promote Vitamin D synthesis, so when you walk the dog or go out to grab groceries, show off your tummy a bit and you could boost your Vitamin D numbers even higher.
There are also food sources for Vitamin D. Vitamin D is highest in fish and in the liver of land mammals because the body stores Vitamin D long-term in the liver and body fat. What this means is that when you do accumulate Vitamin D, you’ll hang onto it, unlike vitamin C that goes right through you when you pee. There are mushrooms with good concentrations of D2, ergocalciferol, and they even grow some with extended UV exposure to enhance this, which is available in powder form as well.
Vitamin D supplements are recommended for some people, and some medical conditions. According to the National Institutes of Health:
- Individuals with limited sun exposure
- Breastfeeding infants, and their moms, should consider talking to their doctors about getting enough Vitamin D, and whether to add a supplement.
- People with digestive issues, or that are likely to have nutrient absorption issues from certain conditions like stomach and intestinal cancer.
- People with darker skin have a harder time absorbing Vitamin D from the sun.
- People who are obese, have compromised kidneys or livers, or have had weight loss surgery, may also be in low absorption categories.
Below is a list of every health-happy food mentioned in this article. Basically, if you just take this list shopping with you at the grocery store, and eat some of them in one meal and some in other meals, you’ll be happy and well-fed.
Condiments and Oils
Himalayan Pink Salt
Nuts and Seeds
Vegetables (and things treated as a vegetable)
Dried shitake mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms
Dried seaweed (nori sheets, lavar)
Bell peppers, like green peppers
Citrus fruit, like oranges and lemons
Grains (and things treated as grains)
Steel cut oats
Soy milk protein powder
Peanut flour (protein powder)
Plant milk (like rice milk, soy milk, cashew milk, flax milk, and almond milk)