What does Good Vegan Nutrition Actually Look Like?

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation out there about which plant foods are good sources of key nutrients. There was an image going around that stated that broccoli had even more protein per calorie than beef does. This is incredibly misleading. Think about how caloric beef is compared to broccoli. Now imagine how much broccoli you would need to eat in order to match the amount of calories and get that amount of protein. If someone saw that and didn’t analyze it further, they could easily walk away believing broccoli is an amazing source of protein. It is not. It does have some, mind you, but there are many superior plant-based alternatives that don’t involve eating huge quantities to meet your needs.

This inspired me to compile a list of good sources of the nutrients vegans sometimes struggle to get adequate amounts of. These lists are obviously not all-inclusive, but I tried to include all the heavy hitters.

Protein: Protein is relatively easy to get on a vegan diet, but it’s the nutrient everyone is always worried about.

Chickpeas are a personal favorite. Not only do they make hummus, but their mild taste allows them to be thrown in with a wide variety of dishes.
Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Good Sources

  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, and soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy meats, etc.))
  • Quinoa
  • Seitan
  • Amaranth
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Protein Powders

Iron: The iron found in animal products (heme iron) is more readily absorbed by the body than the iron found in plant foods (non-heme iron). For this reason, it’s recommended that vegans eat up to 1.8 times more iron per day than the recommended daily value (RDV). Food combining is not generally necessary, but be aware that plant iron is better absorbed by the body when eaten with foods high in Vitamin C.

Good Sources

  • Certain Cereals (Grape Nuts, Total)
  • Molasses
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Beans (garbanzo, kidney, pinto)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Supplements

Good Sources of Vitamin C

  • Oranges
  • Broccoli
  • Grapefruit
  • Peppers (yellow, red)

Calcium: Foods high in a food compound called oxalate infringe on the bodies ability to absorb calcium. There are foods that are high in calcium, but also oxalate, basically making it a wash, including: spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens.

Good Sources

  • Dark, Leafy Greens (kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, bok choy)
  • Oranges
  • Figs
  • Fortified Soy Milk or Juice
  • Calcium-set Tofu
  • Supplements

Zinc: Zinc is not found in high amounts in plant foods, but it’s recommended that vegans/vegetarians get 1.5 times the RDA due to absorption concerns.

Oatmeal is nice because you can keep it interesting by pairing it with a lot of different fruits and nuts.

Good Sources

  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu/Tempeh
  • Seeds (sunflower, chia)
  • Beans (Especially garbanzo, kidney, pinto)
  • Lentils
  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans)
  • Supplements

Iodine: The amount of iodine in plant sources varies greatly dependent on the soil. Plants grown near the ocean tend to have higher iodine levels.

Good Sources

  • Iodized Salt
  • Seaweed
  • Prunes
  • Supplements

Omega 3- Fatty Acids: These are often associated with seafood, but there are plenty of plant-based options.

Good Sources

  • Flax
  • Camelina
  • Chia
  • Hemp
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Supplements

Vitamin D: The amount of sun exposure required to meet daily needs will vary and be more or less challenging depending on skin color, age, climate, and lifestyle. It’s more reliable to get your Vitamin D through other forms.

Good Sources

  • Fortified Foods
  • Supplements

Vitamin B12: Keep in mind that prolonged exposure to light causes inactivation of B12, so it’s imperative to store your B12 source accordingly.

Good Sources

  • Fortified Foods
  • Supplements

A vegan diet can be healthy, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s healthy because it’s vegan. There are a lot of people out there promoting diets that are not only inadequate, but flat out dangerous. Please don’t blindly trust social influencers. It doesn’t matter how happy or healthy they look, that does not mean that their diet is healthy, balanced, or sustainable. Focus on meeting your nutritional needs in a way that is sustainable for you. It doesn’t need to be pretty for Instagram or use expensive exotic ingredients. You don’t need to be scared of supplements to fill in your weak points. This is about nourishing your body, not shaping every aspect of your day to fit some aesthetic or fantasy narrative. Let go of all those preconceived notions and just focus on taking good care of yourself. You’ll be much better off physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I enjoy a good smoothie as much as the next person, but do I want to live off of them? Not really. This is just another example of something normalized by social media when it’s definitely not.
Image by marijana1 from Pixabay

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-supplements-for-vegans#section5

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/vitamin-b12

https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa166321

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/iodine-rich-foods#section10

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