Vegan diets have skyrocketed in popularity in the past few years. You most likely know someone in your circle of friends who has dabbled in veganism, or perhaps you yourself have decided to follow a vegan diet. If so, we are happy to hear that!  A well-planned vegan diet is definitely a healthy option that is high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Research shows that vegans also have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. So what exactly is a vegan diet? Vegan eating, includes plant foods such as grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, and excludes all animal by-products such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs and honey.

A healthy vegan diet requires some planning to ensure that you are eating a variety of foods to meet your nutrient needs. It’s important to make sure that you’re substituting the nutrients that you commonly get from animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy and getting them somewhere else. The common nutrients that are important to watch for when cutting out animal products are iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and zinc. You should also make sure that you are adequately substituting meat-based protein for plant-based protein.

Iron: helps carry oxygen around the body. We don’t absorb the iron in plant-based foods as well as the iron in animal foods, so vegans require twice as much iron as people who eat meat. Vegan sources of iron include legumes, soy products, fortified pasta and cereal, dark green vegetables and quinoa. For better absorption of iron, try eating iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C. Citrus fruit, bell peppers, strawberries and broccoli are all high in vitamin C. For example, you could have a quinoa salad with broccoli and bell pepper with a lemon dressing for a meal containing both iron and vitamin C. If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, try drinking these beverages separate from your meals because some compounds in coffee and tea can affect how you absorb iron.1

Vitamin B12: keeps your nerve and blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods and fortified foods. Vegan sources of vitamin B12 include fortified soy, almond and rice beverages, red star nutritional yeast, and fortified meat alternatives. Even after including products fortified with vitamin B12 in your diet, you may still need supplementation. Speak with your doctor or Registered Dietitian for more information about vitamin B12 supplementation.1

Vitamin D: helps your body to absorb calcium. We get vitamin D from the sun, however, we often need more vitamin D than the sun provides, especially during our Canadian winter months. Vitamin D is found in certain fortified margarines and beverages such as soy, almond or rice beverage. You may also wish to speak with your doctor or Registered Dietitian about vitamin D supplementation.1

Calcium: Helps to keep your bones healthy and regulates heart and muscle contractions. Include vegan sources of calcium such as almonds, sesame seeds, dark green vegetables, and fortified non-dairy beverages.1

Zinc: contributes to wound healing and helps your immune system. Vegan sources of zinc include legumes, nuts and seeds, grains and soy products.1

Try to include vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet such as walnuts, ground flaxseed, and canola oil. Omega-3 is an essential fat that helps contribute to cardiovascular health and cognitive function.1 For the specific daily recommended intake of the above nutrients, check out the following link:

Keep protein in mind when planning your vegan diet. Plant-based proteins are often lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber than animal-based proteins. An average healthy adult requires approximately 0.8-1g of protein per kg of body weight.2 For example, if you weigh 65 kg, your protein requirement is 52-65 grams of protein per day. Keep in mind that you may need more protein if you exercise often to help rebuild your muscles after working out. Try out the following protein-rich meal ideas:3

  • Have oatmeal for breakfast. ¼ cup of oatmeal has around 3 g protein.
  • Have some almonds for a morning snack. ¼ cup almonds has around 8 g protein.
  • Add black beans to your soup or salad at lunch. ¾ cup black beans have around 11 g protein.
  • Try a tofu vegetable stir-fry for dinner. ¾ cup tofu has around 16 g protein.
  • Peanut butter on whole grain toast with a glass of enriched non-dairy beverage is a great protein-rich snack any time of the day.

One of the great things about a vegan diet is that it can be cheaper in many ways! Take a look at the below chart for a cost comparison between plant-based protein and animal-based protein. You will see that plant-based proteins are often significantly cheaper. For more ways to eat on a budget, check out our previous blog here:

Plant-Based Proteins Animal-Based Proteins
Tofu: $1.08/25g protein Flank Steak: $2.50/25g protein
Dy White Beans: $0.29/25g protein Ground Beef: $1.65/25g protein
Dry Chickpeas: $0.38/25g protein Ham: $1.75/25g protein
Dry Lentils: $0.41/25g protein Eggs: $1.64/25g protein
Barley: $1.00/25g protein Chicken Breast: $1.67/25g protein
Peanuts: $0.55/25g protein Canned Salmon: $1.74/25g protein

All prices were taken from our local Loblaws. Keep in mind that while prices fluctuate, this is a good representation of how plant-based proteins are often cheaper!

With so many different milk alternatives on the market, it can be confusing to figure out which non-dairy beverage is right for you. Soy milk is the most nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, and at 8 grams of protein per cup, it is a much better source of protein compared to other plant-based beverages such as almond and rice milk that have around 1 gram of protein each.4 So, we suggest that if you are looking to replace a significant amount of cow’s milk in your diet to replace it with soy milk to keep a similar nutritional value. If you’re only replacing small amounts of cow’s milk, such as the milk that you add to your coffee, go for whichever plant-based beverage that you prefer.

If you’re interested in plant-based eating but feel a little overwhelmed about making the change, don’t fret! Remember that it’s not all or nothing. Start with one vegan meal per week and go from there, or try swapping half the ground beef in your taco recipe for black beans. Even small changes towards vegan eating can add up to big health benefits in the long run.

  1. EatRightOntario 4 Steps to a Balanced Vegan Diet (2016)
  2. How Much Protein Do You Need per Day? (2018)
  3. EatRightOntario Introduction to Protein and High Protein Foods (2017)
  4. Milk (and vegan alternatives: a dietitian’s definitive guide

Monday, April 2, 2018 in ,
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