What food to eat on a vegan diet and how to make sure you get all the nutrients your body requires as a vegan.
This is one of the most common questions when going vegan – What should I eat so I don’t die of malnutrition? Is bread vegan? Am I going to be protein deficient without chicken? What supplements should I take? You must be deficient in calcium because you can only find it in milk, right?
Calm down, Susan. if you eat a whole food plant based diet there is no way you will be deficient or die of starvation and malnutrition. If you have a certain condition or illness that needs to be treated with different supplements or medication, you will need to consult with your GP the same as you will as omnivore but besides that, it’s the best and the healthiest diet ever.
I will share with you what food you’re supposed to eat every day to get all the nutrients you need and thrive on a vegan diet. Bear in mind, when I say diet I don’t mean counting calories and obsessing about the food you eat, I mean in terms of a lifestyle.
Protein provides energy, transports nutrients and it keeps our body healthy. It’s very important for building and repairing body tissues. Consuming the right amount produces stamina and energy.
Vegan source of protein:
Soya products – tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, soya milk, soya yogurt
Legumes – lentils (green, red, yellow…), beans, chickpeas…
Seeds and nuts – pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds…
Nutritional yeast (it’s a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids our body needs)
Carbs are supplying our body with energy, body fat and fibre. They manage blood sugar, insulin levels and prevent constipation.
Fruit and vegetables – aim for 10-15 different portions a day. I know it sounds a lot but if you make a smoothie with bananas, kale and/or spinach, frozen summer fruit which has 3-4 different berries and let’s say mango that’s already 7 of your daily dose. Make some lentil stew or veggie pasta sauce that would be another 7-8 different veggies. See? Easy-peasy.
Try to buy all your fruit and veg in season. That way you know you’re getting more nutrition and more flavour. Plus, it’s cheaper. Another advice is to get it from your local market AND buy those that have been grown in your country. CO2 emission is lower and there’s no need to pick them before they are ripe.
Vegan source of carbs:
Fruit – Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries etc.), bananas, apples, grapes, watermelon, pineapple, melons, pears, mango etc.
Vegetables – cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) , leafy greens (kale, spinach, watercress, romaine lettuce, microgreens), red and orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, squash, red bell pepper, tomatoes etc.
Whole grains – oats, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread and cereals
Fibre is a vital part of our diet. It’s a type of complex carb and it’s found in fruits, veggies and grains. It does not digest nor does it provides energy but it’s important for digestion and absorption of other food. It also helps you feel fuller for longer, can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can help in preventing some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.
Vegan source of fibre:
All fruits and vegetables (veg- the darker the colour, the higher the fibre content), beans and legumes (red, green and yellow lentils, red kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas etc), nuts, wholemeal or granary bread, whole-wheat pasta, bulgur wheat, brown rice, new potatoes and sweet potato with skin
You don’t have to worry much about your fibre intake as plant based diet is very rich in fibre. If you are a new vegan, start slowly. Omnivore diet lacks in fibre so high intake at the start of your vegan journey may cause some digestion issues. Start with ½ a cup of beans a day then add more with time.
RDI (recommended daily intake) in the UK – 2-5yo 15g a day, 5-11yo 20g a day, adults 25g a day
Calcium is a building material of bones and teeth. It’s needed for the heart and muscles. It also plays an important role in blood clotting and nerve functioning.
Vegan source of calcium:
Calcium-set tofu, fortified plant-based milk, fortified plant-based yoghurt, edamame beans, tahini (sesame seed paste), broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage, nuts, spirulina or supplements if needed
RDA (recommended daily allowance) for adults is 700mg
Vitamin B12 is required for normal growth and development. It plays a vital role with folate (folic acid) for the production of normal red blood cells. It’s very important in the protection and function of nerve cell, the manufacture of DNA and metabolism of fats and carbs.
Vegan source of B12:
Fortified plant-based milk, yoghurt, fortified nutritional yeast, Marmite, dairy-free spread, supplements
RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for adults is 1.5mcg
Vital function this vitamin plays is in bone health: vitamin D helps to increase the absorption of calcium in the gut, helps to regulate calcium levels in the blood. It also has functions in the brain, the nervous system and cellular growth. So you should make sure you are eating enough calcium to be able to absorb vitamin D into your bloodstream. The thing is, vegan or not vegan, you have to take care of your vitamin D intake. Especially if you have an office based job and you are not able to get enough sun exposure.
Most vitamin D is obtained through the action of sunlight on skin during the summer months.
Another way is through a diet – you should include this food into your diet BUT not rely on it completely:
Mushrooms enriched with Vitamin D, fortified plant based milk, yoghurt, fortified orange juice etc.
I’m taking a vitamin D supplement during winter months and during summer I enjoy 10-15mins a day outside without sunscreen. There are 2 types of Vitamin D which are Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. I will write a separate post about it to explain everything in details.
In a period from late March/April to September (in the UK) there is no need to take supplements if you are able to be exposed to the sun for at least 10-15min a day.
RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for adults is 10-20 mcg (400-800 UI/day)
Iodine is a trace mineral and is found in seawater, rocks and some type of soil. Your body uses iodine to make thyroid hormones which control our metabolism. It’s also needed for our hair, skin, nails and teeth. It’s hard to say how much iodine is in a certain vegetable as, nowadays, our soil is very depleted.
Vegan source of Iodine:
edible seaweeds (kelp, wakami, nori and hijiki), iodised salt, asparagus, green leafy vegetables and fortified foods, supplements
RDA (recommended daily allowance) for children aged 1-3 is 70mcg, for 4-10 is 100mcg and for adults 140mcg
Iron is a mineral and it can be found in every human cell. It carries the oxygen around your body which means it keeps your body healthy. Iron is also a key element in DNA synthesis and the production of energy in the cells. Iron intake can vary from person to person as pregnant women, children, elderly people, people who consume high fibre diet or menstruating women are prone to iron deficiency more than others.
Vegan source of Iron:
Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard), oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, beans, edamame, apricots, raisins, seeds, fortified breakfast cereal, spirulina anddd..wait for it…DARK CHOCOCOLATE.” Yes, doctor..I just had to have that whole packet of dark chocolate to increase my iron intake. “ Not bad, eh?
There are iron enhancers and iron inhibitors which means some food can help with absorption and some can decrease it.
Enhancers are food rich in vitamin c (try eating your oatmeal with some kiwi, mango, berries…), add some lemon juice into your salad, dice red bell pepper and dip in hummus or simply eat a fruit rich in vitamin C after your main meal.
Inhibitors are tea and coffee – black tea, some herbal teas, espresso, or coffee. Try to consume it at least 30 minutes before or after meal.
RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for women is 14.8 mg and for men is 8.7mg
OMEGA 3 & OMEGA 6
Omegas are essential fatty acids meaning our body can’t make them and it needs to be taken by food or supplements. They are important for functioning of cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous system. I will do another post about this separately as it would be too long if I include all the info in this one.
Vegan source of Omega:
Tofu, chia seeds, ground linseed (flaxseed), hemp seeds and walnuts, pecans, olive oil, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, green leafy vegetables, fortified bread, some fat spreads and use vegetable (rapeseed) oil as your main cooking oil, supplements
RDI (recommended daily intake) for adults is 250-500mg
Zinc is important for growth, repair and sexual maturation. It is also required for the functioning of the immune system and in the structure and function of the skin, and hence plays a vital role in wound healing
Vegan source of Zinc:
Whole grains – wheat, quinoa, rice and oats, tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts- peanuts, cashews, almonds, seeds- hemp, pumpkin, squash and sesame, fortified breakfast cereals
RDA (recommended daily allowance) in the UK for women is 9.5mg, and for Men is 7mg
Selenium is an important part of the body’s antioxidant defence system and it protects the cell structure against the harmful effects of oxidative and free-radical damage. It is also necessary for the use of iodine in thyroid hormone production, for immune system function and for reproductive function.
Vegan source of Selenium:
Brazil nuts, bread. Only two brazil nuts a day will meet your daily intake.
In the UK selenium intakes have fallen with the decline in import of North American selenium-rich wheat and the increased use of European cereals which are less rich in the mineral. However, some bread manufacturers still import wheat from North America.
RDA: Women 60mcg, men 75mcg. Also, a higher intake is required for people with a higher body weight.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website (thymewithtina.com) is for information only. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.
Additional References: Department of Health, 41 Dietary Reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom, The Vegan Society, vegansociety.com, British Nutrition Foundation, nutrition.org.uk